How to Manage Career Growth for Sales Compensation Teams – Lessons from Zoom, Ceridian, and Korn Ferry

How to Manage Career Growth for Sales Compensation Teams – Lessons from Zoom, Ceridian, and Korn Ferry

Strong sales compensation teams don’t exist by coincidence. They’re molded by strong leaders who prioritize continuous career development, driving their employees to sharpen their skills and reach their full potential.

We were recently joined by Dal Sidhu (Head of Global Sales Compensation at Zoom), Erin Shulan (Global Director of Sales Compensation at Ceridian), and Marc Wallace (Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry), on a live panel to explore what it takes to be the kind of sales comp leader who champions growth and long-term success for their employees.

In this post, we’re reviewing their advice and best practices for developing a high-performing team.

What Makes a Good Sales Compensation Analyst?

A good sales compensation analyst must be technical, analytical, and a great stakeholder manager. Their job is to simplify complexity, distilling complex data pipelines and underlying business rules into a digestible package for stakeholders.

This responsibility often results in one hard conversation after another. A good sales comp analyst must be able to communicate sales compensation plans in the face of pushback. They have to stay focused on the facts and take in what they hear without reacting on impulse. Most importantly, they have to communicate with empathy while detaching their personal feelings from hard conversations. This takes patience and, more often than not, thick skin.

In addition to expert communication skills and an intimate familiarity with both qualitative and quantitative analysis, sales comp analysts must maintain an extensive, holistic understanding of how the business operates.

"Sales comp requires you to be very knowledgeable about the business, the customer journey, and the impact every seller role has on that journey." - Marc Wallace, Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry

Understanding Sales Compensation Career Progression

Managing career growth for your sales comp team begins with understanding what their aspirations are. Sit down with your team and help them define a career path. Show them what career progression looks like, what advancement opportunities are available, and what steps they can take to prepare.

Here’s a list of potential role sales compensation analysts can work towards:

  • Manager/Director
  • Vice President (VP)
  • Sales operations
  • Consulting/Advisory roles
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Specialization/Vertical growth
  • Educational roles

What Skills Are Necessary to Advance From a Sales Comp Analyst to Manager?

For an analyst to progress into a manager role, they should start thinking like a business leader. This requires a shift in focus from execution to strategy and the ability to make impactful decisions rather than simply follow instructions.

Managers must also learn to see the gray. Sales compensation can appear black and white, but the gray in between is where the hard questions live. Managers must account for all factors at play before making the decision they believe is right.

"Start to think more like the business leaders do. I would look for somebody who can execute and make decisions, not follow them." - Erin Shulan, Global Director of Sales Compensation at Ceridian

They have to answer complex questions like:

  • Where is the organization headed?
  • What is the best way to scale?
  • What is the best way to segment?

Lastly, managers must learn to recognize when exceptions are appropriate and reconcile how their decision will impact precedent moving forward.

What Skills Are Necessary to Advance From Manager to Team Lead?

Managers progressing to team lead should focus on working with executives at the highest level. They’ll be participating in strategy conversations with executives. Team leaders have to translate high-level strategy into execution for the working managers and analysts, and simplify the strategy so that they can communicate and advocate for it to executives.

In a way, this makes team leads responsible for elevating the entire organization to a higher strategic level. The team lead is a trusted advisor to executives and a coach to managers and analysts.

Team leads are expected to cross boundaries into other departments, wear all hats, and speak different languages based on who their audience is. While doing so, they must also help team members cultivate the soft and hard skills necessary to level up.

"Great comp leaders encourage their teams to have tough conversations. To enable your team’s growth, they must know that they can challenge senior stakeholders and question the SOP for sales comp when necessary." - Nabeil Alazzam, Founder and CEO of

The Individual Contributor Route

Analysts can bypass people management responsibilities by taking on an individual contributor (IC) role. IC positions can be more flexible. ICs aren’t responsible for developing other people on the team, putting more focus on strategy work.

As a result, ICs develop skills that managers don’t. They can devote more time to interdisciplinary work or specialize their focus, which can make them more valuable to the organization and the external market.

IC vs. manager

ICs are recognized for their technical ability, mentorship, architectural skills, and strong thought leadership. They often end up leading by influence.

Managers are recognized for leadership and organizational abilities, which makes advancing into higher positions easier for them than for ICs. On the downside, managers have a harder time crossing between divisions and companies than an IC.

Ultimately, the choice should be determined by the employee’s strengths and interests.

How to Help Your Sales Compensation Team Advance From One Level to the Next

Moving up the corporate ladder looks a lot easier when you’re standing at the top. Your junior analysts may know where they want to end up, but the path to that end goal is probably pretty fuzzy from their point of view.

A big part of managing career growth is uncovering a roadmap that shows the employee what they need to accomplish to reach their final destination. Accomplish this through:

Skill Development

Familiarize your team with the skills they’ll need to advance into their next role, then help them develop the skills they’ll need to make that move.

Simply doing the work is one of the most effective methods for developing both hard and soft skills. Leaders can fast track their team’s growth by setting them up for success and then handing over the reins. Check-in regularly so that you can course correct when necessary.

Here are some ways to deploy this strategy:

  • Plan Design Involvement: Involve analysts in the process of designing new sales compensation plans. This hands-on experience helps them understand plan structures and strategic considerations.
  • Ownership of a Plan Segment: Assign analysts ownership of a compensation plan segment to encourage strategic thinking and accountability.
  • Participation in Plan Rollouts: Include analysts in the process of rolling out new compensation plans to the sales team to develop their change management and communication skills.

Professional Development Opportunities

Create learning opportunities that further your team’s career progression goals. Skills training can help analysts understand the full compensation ecosystem and how it fits into the organization while letting them practice the strategy and leadership skills necessary for higher-level roles.

Try these methods for facilitating learning opportunities:

  • Advanced Data Analytics Training: Offer training for advanced data analytics tools and techniques specific to sales comp data. This will diversify their exposure to data analytics platforms and teach them how to extract deeper insights.
  • Case Study Projects: Assign complex case study projects that simulate real-world sales compensation challenges. This hones the problem-solving skills and communication skills necessary in higher-level positions.
  • Commission Plan Audits: Task analysts with auditing commission payouts to ensure accuracy and fairness. This hands-on experience improves their understanding of plan mechanics.
  • Incentive Plan Simulation: Run simulations that allow analysts to model the impact of different incentive plan scenarios on sales performance. This teaches forecasting and scenario analysis.
  • Market Research Projects: Assign research projects focused on industry best practices and competitive sales compensation benchmarks. This will enhance plan design expertise.
  • Certification Support: Sponsor employees pursuing a Certified Sales Compensation Professional (CSCPTM) certification.
  • Leadership Training: Offer leadership skills training for aspiring managers.
  • Industry Conference Attendance: Sponsor attendance at sales compensation-focused industry conferences to learn about best practices and network with experts.


Participating in real conversations with stakeholders allows analysts to practice skills essential for leveling up to a more strategic role. Experiencing tough conversations early on helps analysts learn to navigate them once they’re in the hot seat as a manager or team lead.

Bring them on calls. Take them to meetings. When the conversations are finished, have a reflective conversation. What went well? What could have gone better? What would you have done differently? These discussions magnify the impact of a single conversation and can fast-track an analyst’s skill development.

Additionally, speaking with stakeholders builds subject matter expert (SME) credibility across the organization. The goal is to make them recognizable as an up-and-coming thought leader. Networking is an important step in sales comp career progression due to how often the work crosses department boundaries.


Mentoring programs connect members of your team with higher-level colleagues. Mentors offer guidance and support to mentees. Mentees get to learn from the experience of someone in their future position.

These relationships improve employee satisfaction and create an inviting workplace culture that inspires all employees to reach their full potential.

The benefits of mentorship are far-reaching. As of 2023, 92% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. Furthermore, a comparison of median profits found that Fortune 500 companies with mentoring programs had 3 times the profit of those without. Companies with mentoring programs were also reported to be more resilient to the recent quitting and disengagement trends.


In the world of career development, recognition is a silent hero. Employees recognized by their managers, supervisors, or other leaders in the organization only a few times a year are 5 times more disengaged, 74% more likely to leave the organization within the year, and 27% more likely to be struggling.  

On the flip side, employees who feel fulfilled by recognition are 4 times more engaged, less than half as likely to be looking for job opportunities, and 44% more likely to be thriving in life. And when that recognition feels authentic, employees are 5 times more likely to see a path to growth within the organization. So, how can you support your team’s career development by offering adequate recognition and rewards? Make recognition habitual. The bulk of survey respondents believe recognition should occur more than a few times a month. Accomplish this frequency by training managers on the impact of recognition and implementing it into weekly workflows.

Rewarding employees is slightly more complicated due to budget and approval constraints, but not all rewards have to break the bank. For Dal Sidhu, rewarding employees can be as easy as saying “Hey, take a couple of days off. Don’t worry about putting it as a day off, just enjoy yourself and spend an extra long weekend with your family. Simple things like that can go a long way.”

Because simple acts of appreciation are rewarding in and of themselves, being intentional about telling your team “thank you” after they do a good job can go a long way.

"The more frequent check-ins (with your comp team), the better. Keep them informal, so addressing conflicts becomes easier." - Dal Sidhu, Head of Global Sales Compensation at Zoom

Measuring Success

By choosing SMART career objectives and strategic KPIs, you facilitate tangible career growth for your team. Start by setting growth expectations in the form of SMART career goals.

To get the conversation started, have your team answer the following questions:

  • What specific advancement are you working towards? What steps will you take to get there?
  • What key performance indicators (KPIs) will you use to measure progress?
  • What is your timeline for this goal? How often will you review your progress?

A SMART goal isn’t SMART without metrics for determining individual performance. Have your team choose relevant KPIs for each career objective. Here are some examples:

  • Networking: Number of networking events, conferences, and conversations with stakeholders
  • Learning: Learning opportunity participation, certificates earned, and new skills acquired
  • Positive feedback: Good feedback from stakeholders and fellow analysts
  • Independence: When analysts get the job done without much manager involvement. To managers, silence shows the analyst’s ability to get their work done independently, without any conflict

Revisit these goals during performance reviews or meetings dedicated to career development. Take some time to go over the analyst’s progress, offering guidance as needed.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, being a strong leader is about supporting your team’s growth, both as a collective and as individuals.

Fostering an environment of growth and empowering your team members to pursue their career aspirations lays the foundation for a strong team of analysts and a culture of excellence—one that elevates the entire organization.

Talk to one of our experts to learn more about how helps your sales compensation team to design, execute, and optimize their comp strategy within a single platform.

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