The remainder of this article provides some guidelines and background that will help you to get there.
1. Salesforce sales teams earn commissions on incremental revenue
Account Executives (also called “reps”) and their management are paid based on incremental revenue, not total revenue. If you don't buy additional licenses (or spend additional money), they don't earn commissions. More specifically, if your total spend this year is not more than last year’s, they don’t earn commissions this year. They are indifferent to whether you purchase licenses for more users, add-ons licenses for existing users, or you swap out one type of license for another, as long as the total spend is more. This is actually a good thing for the customer because it gives you more leverage and allows you to adjust your purchasing to your needs.
2. Salesforce AE’s are paid when the deal is signed
SF reps and management are paid in advance for the 12-month value of whatever you are deploying now. While they will ask for a longer contract such as three or five years, they are open to a shorter term, since most, if not all of their commissions are based on first-year revenue only. This varies from year to year, but the first year is always more important.
3. Timing matters
Salesforce's fiscal year ends in January. While this may seem strange, it is actually quite intentional. They can work with a customer the entire year to justify a new purchase, and wait until that customer's new fiscal year starts in January when the budget becomes available. And since the sales team gets paid on an annual quota they are quite happy with January deals. This often leads to very large February commission checks!
But it's not only the end of the year that matters, as management and reps are often encouraged through bonus payments to close deals at the end of a quarter.
Customers can take advantage of this quarter and year-end effect by asking for and often getting discounts that would otherwise not be available.
4. Discount authority is distributed
There are many articles in the public realm indicating that the rep has no power, and all of the decision-making lies with a special team that has the authority. This is not quite correct. Your rep has access to a discount/approval matrix indicating what level of discount is available, by license and quantity, and what organizational level is needed to approve it. They know how much of a discount they can get approval for, and whom they need to get that approval from.
In general, each level of management has a specific level of discount they can approve. So for example, for a given size deal, your rep may be able to offer you a 10% discount without additional approval. His manager may be able to approve an additional 5%, and each level of management above can offer some additional discounting. The special approvals team is involved only when a deal requires additional discounting, beyond what a given size of deal and management level can approve. A good rep knows how to work this structure, and will do so to get you the best deal they believe they need to have to get your signature.
So while the rep doesn't necessarily have the authority to grant you the discount you might want, they are your advocate and absolutely control the path to get you a better deal. So keep pushing and asking for more - as you get closer to year-end or quarter-end, more of the management will be interested in helping your rep get you a bigger discount. And it is highly likely that your rep’s manager (Salesforce calls the first-line sales manager a “Regional Vice President”, or “RVP”) is fully knowledgeable about every deal, so going above the rep does not necessarily get you better discounts.
5. Discounts depend on both deal size and customer size
Larger deals and larger customers generally get larger discounts. The combination of order size and customer spend leads to the discount they might offer you for a particular purchase. For example, a $100k purchase from a customer spending $2M annually will likely get a larger discount than that same $100k purchase from a customer spending $500k annually.
Conversely, a $2M customer making a $10k purchase may get a larger discount than a $100K purchase made by a new customer.
While deal size determines the discount level, customer size determines where the discount level for the deal starts.
6. Consolidating purchases increase your discount
Salesforce loves it when you make lots of little purchases. Each one is considered as if it were the only purchase you are making, and thus separate individual purchases lead to higher overall spend (see #5). When you are about to make a purchase, be sure to consider if any other groups in your organization are doing the same, as well as purchases you might be making in the short term future. If you can consolidate the orders into a single request, your deal size goes up, and your discount level will likely improve.
7. Consider near term future demand in your current purchase
As an extension to the previous point to consolidate your purchases, this can be extended to include purchases that will likely be made in the next few months or even the next year. Providing this to the account team will allow them to provide several options to you, and you will be able to see larger discount levels that might be available to you. This will likely include making the full year’s purchase upfront, which will lower your cost per license, but potentially increase your short-term spend.
The downside of advancing purchases before you need them is that there will be licenses that are unused for part of the contract term. You can then compare which is better for you, both in the short term and the long term, since your renewals will start from a lower price per user. You may find that even though some licenses are unused for a time, your overall cost is lower, especially when you consider the cost of several years in the future. Most good account teams will be able to provide you sufficiently better deals to make this worthwhile for you to make the purchase up front. And since you have already paid for the licenses, the faster you can deploy them, the more you will benefit, without incurring additional costs.
Bonus - Not all licenses need to be activated concurrently
Let's say you are planning on deploying 900 licenses in the next 12 months, with a schedule of 300 in month 1, 300 in month 4, and 300 in month 7.
You will almost always get a better price if you purchase all 900 at once, rather than 3 purchases of 300, but you will end up with licenses that you are paying for and not using for some of this time. Conversely, if you make three purchases, you are not paying for anything prior to actually deploying them, but the cost per license will be higher.
A better option is often available that combines the best of both. You can agree to purchase the 900 licenses in a single order but delay the activation dates for the licenses you will not be activating in the next few months. Your order form will have three line items, one for each activation date. But since your discount will be based on the full 900 license purchase, they will all be less expensive, and you are not paying prior to when you need them! Salesforce calls this a “staggered deal” structure.
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About Steve Krumenaker
Steve Krumenaker spent six years at Salesforce negotiating deals of all sizes, and is now providing consulting services, to drive improved customer engagement as well as helping customers maximize their Salesforce investments. His experience includes leading both technology and sales teams, on the vendor and customer sides of the table. Follow Steve Krumenaker on LinkedIn.