Javelin Sales Compensation Reports

The User Experience team at ZS is growing by leaps and bounds!  For the past couple of years, I have been deeply focused on managing and building out the team.  As a result, when people ask what it’s like to work at ZS, or they’re interested in what kinds of problems we work on, I realize I haven’t shared enough about either one.  So, hopefully this will be the first in a series of posts that closes that gap.  This post is about the UX team’s impact on the development of ZS’ new mobile sales compensation reports for pharmaceutical sales reps.


I first joined ZS four years ago in the Software Development group, which includes product management, engineering and quality assurance (QA), operations and technical support.  And of course, user experience.  In my role as Associate Principal for User Experience, I reported to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Bill Sudlow.  In my previous job I had been working with C-level executives as my customers, but the move to ZS afforded me the opportunity to report to and learn directly from a C-level executive.  I wrote about my initial impressions of ZS in this blog posted entitled Picked, if you’re interested.

Those first few years at ZS were very exciting. I spent a lot of time learning about the different products in our Javelin suite, as well as deepening my understanding of our two main solution areas – Sales Planning and Sales Compensation.  We had over 40 products at the time, including our core customer-facing applications and a number of other products (we call them optimizers) which provide sophisticated algorithms to enable our consulting services.   Our optimizers are designed to model extremely complex business problems.  A significant portion of what the Software Development team builds enables our consulting business, but is not visible to the market.  A lot of ZS’ deep knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry – and our company’s intellectual capital – is embedded in those tools.  The software was ‘rocket science designed for rocket scientists’, and I loved the idea of working on those wicked problems.

One of my early challenges was to set reasonable UX priorities for a complex portfolio, so that we could demonstrate our impact.  As I gained more familiarity with ZS, with our market and our customers, and our software, it became apparent that we had to turn our attention to the products that were visible in the market, and in use by our customers.

The business opportunity

Today, ZS processes the compensation for a significant portion of the pharmaceutical sales reps in the United States; we are an undisputed leader in that space.  So it’s not surprising that ZS knows a lot about what data is available and how to make it useful, what type of compensation plans work best, how Commercial Operations wants those plans to be managed, and so on.  But, in spite of our years of experience, we had only anecdotal information about what the sales reps themselves wanted.

So, needless to say I was thrilled when we had our first opportunity to build a new Sales Compensation product.  Working closely with our Practice Area leader Steve Redden (the ZS partner responsible for that part of our business), the software group established a small team to define the business goals and architecture of the Javelin Sales Compensation Reports (JSCR).  The scope of JSCR was modest but important – to provide a responsive, modern, easy-to-use interface for sales reps to check their current compensation.  It was the first significant opportunity to demonstrate the value and impact of User Experience on ZS software.  And, it was one of those rare moments in a UX career when you are building from scratch, so you don’t have to address the inherent limitations of legacy solutions.

I already knew a lot about sales from my work at SAP, where the latter part of my career was spent in Sales Operations, and focused on sales enablement.  However, the healthcare context has its own unique challenges and nuances, and it was humbling to realize how much I had a lot to learn.  In particular, the way pharmaceutical data is collected and managed poses all kinds of challenges for enabling sales and marketing employees to make business decisions.

One challenge that reps often face is a significant lag in the data, and thus it’s often difficult for the reps to know how/if their activities are influencing physician prescribing behavior, if they are achieving the goals for their territory, and so on.  We had to make those complexities clear in the interface while still making the content easy to consume on a mobile device.  At the time, there was exponential growth in the use of iPads by pharmaceutical sales reps.  So, we knew that a highly performant (mobile friendly), responsive design would be critical for the sale of our solution, and ultimately for adoption.

Building JSCR

Given ZS’ deep knowledge in this space, it’s probably not surprising that our efforts to build Javelin Sales Compensation Reports (JSCR) started by gathering the perspectives and insights from the many project teams actively working on customer projects.  We requested sanitized (e.g. anonymized) versions of existing Excel scorecards, and we had a junior member of the UX team acting in a Business Analyst capacity.  Through his work we came to learn that, although they looked quite different, 80% of the scorecards had common elements.  Those findings shaped the core requirements for our product roadmap and backlog.

The User Experience team started by developing concepts to socialize with an advisory team in consulting.   With their input and experience, we produced multiple iterations before we were ready to validate with end-users:


Anyone working in the B2B space knows how challenging it can be to get access to end-users for testing.  However, given our expertise internally – and after reviewing so many scorecards – we had a good idea of what features would appeal and why.  Here is some of the feedback we received:


Before finalizing the design, we secured access to both sales reps and managers, who reviewed our designs, and confirmed that we were generally on the right track:


We also identified some small areas of improvement.  Out of that work were inspired to develop concepts for a new solution that we’re working on today.

If I had to reflect on the reasons I am most proud about our work and outcomes on this product, there are three big ones: (1) commercialization of ZS’ deep subject matter expertise, (2) architecture and performance, (3) proven value of UX:

  1. The lead designer on this project (Shannon Burch) has been working in the sales compensation space for over four years now.  She’s been engaged in research and design for all the various end-users of those solutions, from ZSers who operate clients systems to the sales reps themselves.  She is familiar with the most common types of compensation plans, and has worked closely with compensation experts to arrive at the optimal visualizations for those plans.  As a result, she was able to design a solution that is adaptable to a wide variety of sales compensation plans and metrics.  Shannon is an accepted expert by those at ZS who consult in this space.  At one point in the project we lost the product manager, and she was able to keep delivery on track by assuming both roles.
  2. The Software Development group at ZS is more than 20 years old, so it’s probably no surprise that we (like every other engineering group) have solutions for which it’s extremely challenging to deliver a modern front-end.  (I’ll talk more about one of those tough cases in another blog post.)  In this case, the solution was built from scratch with sub-second response time as the performance target.  It’s a responsive design (literally), but the performance is also very snappy – it feels consumer-grade.
  3. Finally, this was the first product that ZS has shipped with substantial UX involvement, and it looks very different than our solutions have in the past.  The end-to-end involvement of UX led to a desirable end result in many ways.  JSCR is optimized for use on a mobile device (as opposed to retro-fitted), so the touch targets are easy to use.  There is a clear content hierarchy that is visually appealing at first glance. By using progressive disclosure we can have all the required details available when needed, without impeding the reps’ ability to get an overview of their performance.  And of course, all of that leads to a positive response from the target end-users with whom we tested.

Many of these learnings and approaches carry forward into our consulting engagements as well, where ZS has been able to deliver significantly better custom reports for our clients than we could a few years ago.

ZS launched the JSCR solution in early 2015.  We worked closely with one client at first to ensure our mutual success, and it has now been implemented a number of other clients.  Since launch, we have thousands of new users, and we’ll undoubtedly have more this year.  In addition to meeting users’ needs with a performant, responsive, and modern design, JSCR helps our clients to reduce their operational costs because it’s easier to generate, quality check, and distribute these reports than it was in Excel.

In closing

Over the past few years, I’ve been responsible for expanding the User Experience services from the Software Development group into our technology practice.  I still oversee the team that provides UX support for Javelin, but I have also started to build out a User Experience team in consulting.  It’s been a fun, crazy few years due to the significant demand for our services!  One of the great benefits of leading both organizations is that we’re working with the same clients and similar business problems.  Some clients prefer our SaaS solutions, and others want something custom.  But in all cases, we can leverage our deep (and growing) knowledge of the domain, of the relevant end-users (and of course our expertise in User Experience) to deliver a compelling outcome no matter the platform.

I have one other product launch story to share (in a future post), and then hopefully I’ll be able to blog more about what we’re up to in consulting.  In the meantime, if you have feedback or questions about what we’re up to, please let me know in the comments.

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