What’s in a name?

As humans, and if you’re reading this you most certainly are a human, we have a biological need to name everything around us. Whether it’s insects, rocks, cloud formations or psychological disorders… it needs to have a name. In fact, upon encountering a new object such as a star, the first thing we humans do is name it.

Manmade creations such as software systems are not immune to this. When we burn long hours putting in a new HRMS, CRM or SPM system we need to put a moniker on it so that we can communicate. The interesting thing is all systems get a name whether we force them to or not; they take on a name in one of three ways:

1. We can’t think of anything.

Most times there isn’t much thought put into naming a system but it takes one anyway. In this case, probably due to the enormous amount of marketing done before and during the project, the overall system takes on the name of the major software vendor involved. We see many SPM clients refer to their system as the Callidus or the Oracle tool. The problem with this naming method is it is often the case that the calculation engine is but a small part of the overall system. Subsequently, the brand either suffers or benefits from elements it can’t control. Basically anytime anything goes haywire all you hear in the hallways is… “It’s Callidus again; that thing never works.” Who cares if the problem was due to bad data from SAP or a botched network upgrade rather than the vendor software product itself? The name gets the blame and the brand suffers. Many front line reps hate their SPM software vendor and have no idea why. This also hurts the IT department in the long run when they need to make decisions about upgrades and future applications. If you choose the same old vendor who everybody hates, you don’t look very smart.

2. We can’t think of anything but we know what NOT to call it.

I’ve been a part of some real initiatives with clients where they really and truly want to come up with the perfect system moniker… but couldn’t. Either they couldn’t agree or they just didn’t get any great ideas. All they know is they don’t want the words Callidus, Oracle or Varicent being spoken in the halls. This noble effort still produces a name, just not a very creative one. Constituents begin calling it what it is, the system that calculates their paycheck. Usually something like: The Commission System or the Bonus Calculator. In some cases the tool takes on the name of one of its creators. This is how you get enterprise level systems with names like: The Jared Tool or The Tom Report. I personally love it when reps refer to the entire SPM system as a “report”. Another de-facto name origin can be the database where your application’s data resides. That’s how you get names such as MRDB (Management Report Database) and ICDB (Incentive Compensation Database). Usually this kind of name would be relegated to the IT department. Then you might have the unfortunate multi-name situation where IT refers to the system as ICDB, the reps call it The Tom Report and HR calls it The Bonus Calculator.

On a side note, I once worked on a project where two months in we put together a nice big workflow diagram with 21 steps represented as boxes. The boxes were numbered 1 to 21. Two of those boxes ended up becoming user interfaces that were developed roughly 18 months later. What were the names of those new applications? The Number 7 Tool and The Number 13 Tool. We hadn’t bothered to come up with better names and by the time we decided to try it was too late. The original names stuck even though very few people on the team had any clue as to what those names originally meant. I bet there are plenty of similar stories out there.

3. Let’s name this thing properly.

Occasionally companies want to name the system and they do it successfully. The “perfect” name apparently is an acronym that cleverly describes the system and also serves to be a decent name for a compensation system. Here are some good ones.

These are the best I’ve seen.
COINS – Commission and Incentive System. I’ve seen this one at least three times.
CECS (pronounced checks) – Commission Earnings Calculation System

Here are a couple I’ve seen that are at least real acronyms.
CABS – Commission And Bonus System
SCARAB – Sales Commission And Reporting And Bonuses.

On the lighter side, here are some names that didn’t pass either because they’re border line vulgar or downright mean spirited.

CRABS – Commission, Reporting, And Bonus System
CRAPS – Commission, Reporting, And Payment System
MAGIC – Mostly Accurate General Incentive Comp
CLOSE – Commissions and Liabilities Operations System for Employees
ALMOST – Automated Liability Management Of Sales Transactions
ENOUGH – Employee Operational Unit Gage Heuristics
GUESS – Genuine Underwriting Employee System
SCARI – Sales Compensation And Reporting Infrastructure
ACE – Almost Calculates Exactly
CRASI – Commission, Reporting And Sales Incentives
OPTIC – Over Pays Their Incentive Compensation
UPTIC – Under Pays Their Incentive Compensation

No doubt there are many more out there and we’d love to hear them. We’re fascinated by the genealogy of system names.

-Jason Kearns

  • Julien

    Hi Jason,

    I like the names you are proposing… It seems like many companies I work with have non-flattering ways of calling their comp system.

    But I can’t agree with you that we should name the systems “properly”. I think that the best way to call a system, is by the name of the vendor… Call it TrueComp, call it Callidus. That’s what it is. Most companies have multiple comp/incentive systems and if you name it by a clever acronym, it leads to confusion.

    Sure, people might unfairly criticize the comp system when its not at fault… but who cares. If people blame the decision maker for choosing the same solution again when it needs to be replaced, the blame will happen whether the system was called Callidus or COINS. And if the system is implemented properly, there is a good chance that people – especially front line reps who only have exposure to dashboards and reports – will like the system.

    Julien Dionne