Professional Selling Skills Training: Sales Compensation and Sales Commissions

How do you think a salesperson should be compensated? How important is commission for a salaried employee? Our staff of 4 sells small-ticket food items and we used to have trouble with them competing against our outside sales reps. Our Sales Manager moved them to straight hourly, but I am looking for an incentive.

This is a great question recently submitted by a reader of “Selling Tips From The Sales Hunter.” Here’s my perspective:

Salespeople who are not compensated based on their level of productivity are not salespeople…they’re “order-takers”. I’m a firm believer that every person in an organization should have a portion of their pay based on their performance and / or the performance of the entire team or company.

If what the salesperson is compensated is determined by their individual performance, then their commissions / bonus should be approximately 75% of their individual performance plus the remaining based on the overall performance of the team or company. No matter how much a person may believe their sales are their own, it still is important to keep a sense of “team” across the entire company.

If a person is part of a sales team or if what they do is dependent on the activities of a number of other people, then they should be paid approximately 25% based on their performance and 75% based on what the team does.

The total commission should be at least 25% of their total compensation if you expect any kind of behavior impact from the commission. I encourage bonus / commission structures to be in excess of 25% of the total compensation only if management can control sales swings and the base pay will cover basic needs.

Now, a final comment: I am not a big proponent of short-term incentive games unless they are done very, very rarely. Too often, I see sales teams achieve a significant goal based on the ability to earn an incentive trip or some other prize. It’s important to ensure you don’t have so many incentive programs that people wind up only responding if there is one. When this occurs, all you will have done is increase the cost of doing business without guaranteeing an incremental increase in business.

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