Sales Commissions and Planning: Paul Barnhurst on the Being Planful Podcast

Sales Commissions and Planning: Paul Barnhurst on the Being Planful Podcast

Our Being Planful podcast has become a great forum for conversations about the people, processes, and purpose of finance, accounting, and FP&A. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can scan our growing list of episodes here and subscribe using your podcast app of choice. 

On a recent episode (listen here), I was joined by Paul Barnhurst to talk about the outsized influence Finance and Accounting can have on an organization when they take the time to get out into the business. For background, Paul graduated college and joined the Navy as a procurement analyst. He then went back to school, gaining a Master of Science in Information Management and an MBA, which he put to work as an FP&A manager at American Express. After nearly a decade, he moved to Solera, a provider of data, applications, and services for the insurance and automotive industries. 

Paul is an outspoken FP&A leader, especially across social media. He’s known as #TheFPandAGuy on LinkedIn and consistently engages his more than 5,400 followers with thoughts on FP&A, careers, technology, and other topics. At Solera, which Paul left after this episode was recorded, he owned full P&L responsibility for sales, revenue account management, operations, and more. 

Here are a few highlights of this episode.

Diving Into the Business

Paul’s journey at Solera has had its share of twists and turns. The company completed nearly 60 acquisitions in 10 years and installed a new CFO just before Paul joined. He then spent some time on technology projects that were later shelved and saw the company’s CEO get ousted. It was a bit chaotic, and with so many prior acquisitions, the company had a real opportunity to bring some calm simply by streamlining processes and systems across the entire company. So Paul got to work. 

“Over the last 18 months, we’ve overhauled inside sales, standardized a lot of our operations, and just doing what you normally see in an operational business,” explained Paul. “With that, I’ve had the opportunity to get heavily involved in sales and sales operations, helping design commission plans, working with the head of Sales, helping with go-to-market, product, and pricing. So beyond just your typical FP&A.”

One interesting area Paul dived into was sales commissions and incentive modeling. It’s interesting for businesses to understand not only the fiscal impacts of sales commissions, but if and how they materially drive business outcomes. 

“Working with the salespeople I learned a ton about the importance of incentives, how salespeople work, and that it’s so much more than just a finance exercise,” Paul explained. “There are some people that just look at a sales plan and say, ‘What’s the right rate to pay? Let’s minimize our risk and put in some kind of cap. Let’s do quota ratcheting and be done with it.’ But working with Sales really helped me see that it’s the blueprint for the salesperson. You give them a plan and they look at it and go, ‘Okay, I need to do this if I wanna earn this.”

The Agility to Change

Getting out of FP&A and into the business gave Paul real insights into how different stakeholders approach commissions and incentives. Those views changed as Paul moved from reorganizing Inside Sales to working with Outside Sales, and changed again as a new VP of Sales came in with new ideas. But being the FP&A steward, Paul had to bring it all together with what’s best for the business. That became more complex as new products and changing incentive plans forced constant remodeling. 

“They’ll ask me to model different things and we’ll see what we think makes sense, but ultimately, the business owns it,” said Paul. “As long as I’m okay from an expense side, I’ll sign off even though sometimes I’ll express why I have some concerns. But we come together and make the decision we think is best for the business.”

Partnering with the business to make these types of granular decisions helps FP&A explain the financial considerations while the business adds in the people, competitive, territory, and other aspects. Of course, there are always changes, new revelations, and improvements, even when you’re working together. 

“We do the models, take it to the CFO, get everybody’s approval,” added Paul. “As soon as we put them in place, of course, they brought up a few things and want to make a few tweaks or bring up things we didn’t think about.”

But having built those relationships drives agility and flexibility, giving both sides the resilience to quickly understand the need, make changes, and move forward. Along the way, Paul is not only increasing the value FP&A delivers to the business, but he’s also increasing everyone’s financial IQ. That can’t be done over email or without side-by-side collaboration, and Paul’s a master at it.

 Subscribe to Being Planful

To hear more insights from Paul and learn how he built bridges to Sales, worked with HR to streamline compensation programs, and more, listen to this episode of Being Planful

This podcast series explores the benefits of adopting a “Planful” mindset by inviting your FP&A, finance, and accounting peers, analysts, industry experts, and more to share their experiences and insights. To subscribe, click on your podcast platform of choice (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify), or just search for “Planful” wherever you listen. We release new episodes often, so be sure to subscribe. And, if you have any comments, questions, or think you’d make a great guest, send me an email at beingplanful@planful.com.

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