The Story vs. The Analyst: How good communication gets ruined!

The largest part of our business is developing communications for sales incentive plans.  We create presentations, develop plan books, and design flash and other forms of communication. We got into this work by accident (one client many years ago asked us to create a “meeting in a box” for his IC plan – the rest, as they say, is history), but now we embrace it and have carved out a niche.  That niche is taking highly analytical and dry plan data and making it more interesting, more engaging, and more motivating for the sales representative.  Over the past 10 years we have done just this for thousands of plans and hundreds of thousands of participants.

We strive to tell a visual and emotive story with our work.  We work hard at capturing the vital information that is important to a sales person and making that information understandable and engaging.  I like to think we do a good job – when our clients allow us to.  You see, telling a story about incentive compensation and creating captivating visuals to convey that information isn’t easy.  It requires that we make choices about what information we share.  It means that we may have to simplify the message.  It may mean changing how we present and what types of communication that we use.  This, for some clients, is easier said than done.

The Problem

There isn’t always one…but when there is, it usually comes down to working with the analyst (and sometimes legal).  I don’t mean this in a negative light towards analysts (or legal) – well maybe just a little.

Details, details, details…

You see, it is often hard for the analyst or lawyer to let go of the details – which we sometimes have to do.  This isn’t to say that the details are not important, but we need to look at the objective of the particular communication piece we are working on.  Often, we are trying to get people excited about a plan or engaged with how much they can earn if they maximize the potential.  Details can muck that objective up.  Some analysts feel that they need to have everything included in any document that goes out to the sales force.  As Garr Reynolds states in PresentationZen Design, “the fundamental concepts related to communication are restraint, simplicity, and naturalness.”  This is important.  Too often we are specifically directed to go back and add in more information that would be better presented in a separate document or different format.

Before
Before
After
After

Painting the story

Other times the analyst (or lawyer) is not adding detail, but removing content.  Let me explain by using an example.  Most of the sales incentive plans that we work with have a targeted incentive payout associated with them.  This is a number that the average performer should earn.  What company’s typically want however is to motivate people to move beyond the average and reach for the top performance.  To achieve this, we try to paint a picture of what it means to be the top performer – both from a monetary perspective (how much they can earn) and from an achievement perspective (what that means for them on a psychological/social basis) and from a behavior perspective (what they need to do to be on top).

Some analysts (and some lawyers) have a problem with adding in the achievement and behavior aspects – since they are not specific parts of the plan.  They want the black and white drawing without any of the color.  Anything that is thought to be fluff or fanciful or pushing the envelope we are told to remove. We are left trying to tell a story but being limited in what we can say and how we can say it.

Mountain Picture

The Final Story

In the end, we typically work out a compromise with the analyst (but usually not with the lawyer).  We suggest other ways around the issue.  We convey the reason behind why we have only a picture of the mountain on the slide or why we did not include all the eligibility rules in the PowerPoint presentation.  We get the Director or VP involved.  But sometimes, we don’t get our way and we have to add in more detail or take out the story aspect.   When this happens, it means that the company loses.  They don’t get the strong, memorable communications piece that they need.  They instead, get a communication piece that might explain, but doesn’t inspire; a piece that contains all the information, but doesn’t create understanding; a piece that covers all the bases, but doesn’t do anything to motivate.

Tell me about your experience with incentive communications in the comment section – the good, the bad, and the ugly…

3 thoughts on “The Story vs. The Analyst: How good communication gets ruined!

  1. Pingback: The lost art of sales incentive communication « What Motivates You?

  2. I recognis the frustrations laid out above; it can seem that ‘subject experts’ refuse the validity of the communication’s goal, and remain focused on the data.

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