For many businesses, 2012 may have not marked a full return to pre-recession operations, but it was a significant step in the right direction. Now, several signs (ranging from improving unemployment rates to business owner confidence) suggest the current economic climate continues to mend. This year will be the time for businesses to readjust operations and leave the "survival mode" they've been operating under in recent memory.

Sales leaders need to take this time and rethink how they approach the management of their departments. Companies will lean on sales teams in a brighter economy to drive growth and revenue, so a well-managed sales department is absolutely critical to success. Sales leaders need to be in the position to make better strategic decisions to help organizations achieve broader business goals.

Making better sales decisions starts by understanding incentive compensation management (ICM) and creating lucrative payouts that encourage desired behaviors from agents. To determine how much budget and revenue to spend, businesses must have the right data and analytics, such as the compensation cost of sales (CCOS). Without this data, managers will be hard pressed to develop a sales compensation package that makes sense to all parties involved.

"Collecting that data is not always as easy as it sounds, because it lives all over," Christopher Cabrera, CEO of Xactly Corporation, wrote in a blog for SellingPower. "For example, base pay may be stored in payroll software, while commission information may be stored on spreadsheets."

"Instead, consider this: Sync all of your business data – finance, ERP, sales, CRM, etc. – in one automated sales-compensation tool. Use complete, real-time data to determine percentage of spend," he added.

ICM solutions have other uses within the sales department as well, beyond simply tracking and measuring data. They can also be leveraged to expedite commission calculation, manage sales agents, aid sales coaching and align sales teams with broader business goals. Knowledge is crucial for creating a successful sales department in 2013, and not only does ICM provide that insight, but it also makes it easier to access.