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Motivated to Sell: Proven Sales Compensation Strategies

Doug Dvorak
Doug Dvorak
Oct 12, 2015

When it comes to formulating a sales compensation plan, there are many options. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and can incentivize your team in varying amounts.

Depending on the products and/or services that your company provides, selling can look very different. So how do you know which plan is right for your business and staff?

In this article, we’ll take a look at four forms of compensation plans, outlining the pros and cons of each, so you can determine the best plan for your business in order to reach its targeted sales goals.

Straight Salary

Plan number one is the “straight salary” plan. It’s defined as a fixed annual income determined by the firm’s owner or manager and is distributed equally among pay periods. The strengths are that it is simple to manage, provides a stable, secure income, and helps facilitate teamwork.

Accounts and territory changes are easier, which promotes quality customer service. It’s also clearly understood by all and managers can direct priorities. There’s also very little, if any, impact when major cash comes in or goes out.

Related Article: Always Be Closing: Building a Compelling Sales Strategy

Straight salary plans, however, also limit sales staff incentives, and the top performers often subsidize the rest of the team, meaning the sales stars may not stay onboard. This plan won’t have aggressive sales. It’s safe. And a more direct management of salespersons activity is required. In short, when a salesperson is guaranteed an amount, regardless of performance, compensation can’t be used as a tool to shape his or her behavior.

You may want to look into sales coaching to help you figure out another method to drive behavior if this is the route you choose to take.

Salary Plus Bonus

Plan number two is the “salary plus bonus” plan. It’s defined by the firm’s owner or a manager as a fixed annual salary, typically around 70 to 80 percent of the earner’s W-2. A bonus is then paid usually once per year, sometimes twice or quarterly.

Some of the advantages of the salary plus bonus plan are that it’s a flexible plan for management, as the bonus amounts vary. It’s easier to adjust for fast growth or loss for both parties, the sales rep and the company. The secure income is most of the earner’s W-2. Also, account changes are easier and managers can direct priorities to balance long term.

Salary plus bonus plans, however, are a bit more complex to administer. They can create unclear goals, and often, sales representatives become successful without necessarily growing. Direct management is required more, and the plan somewhat limits salesperson incentive (with most of the income a guarantee).

Most sales superstars shy away from a salary plus bonus plan because this compensation model limits income upside and is more appropriate for a farmer/account manager type salesperson. They want a small salary with huge upside.

Salary Plus Commission

Plan number three is the “salary plus commission” plan. It’s typically defined by a firm owner or manager-set salary that makes up about 40 to 60 percent of the earner’s W-2. Then, earners recent a percent commission from sold accounts, which is paid periodically, monthly, quarterly or twice per year.

Related Article: Get In the Game: The Playbook for Serious Sales Performance

The perks of this plan are that it provides earners with a “livable” base income, and then they are paid for performance. This provides an incentive for assertive sales stars. Less direct management is involved, and it automatically adjusts. Bigger checks are tied to success, and the focus is on acquiring new accounts. This plan also helps owners with cash flow.

The drawbacks are that this plan is more complex to administer. It’s a bit scarier for earners in that no sales equals no commission. With every man competing for himself, it can seem less like a team sales environment. It can be hard to change accounts and there is a limited ability to direct non-sales activities by the top salespeople.

Straight Commission

Plan number four is a “straight commission” plan. It’s defined as a percentage of either sold/ accounts/products and the commission goes directly to the salesperson. A recoverable draw commission plan is typically for a period of 90-180 days with a guaranteed salary and any accounts/products sold during this timeframe, the commissions are paid back to the company to recover monies paid. After the three-to-six month period, the sales person goes on straight commission with no monthly compensation other than commissions paid.  

If the earner’s pay is between $3,000 and $6,000 per month, it’s considered a draw. Commissions are paid twice annually every six months, where if six-month commissions are:

The plusses of a straight commission plan are that they totally pay for performance, so they are a great incentive for superstar sellers. They can also create superstars. Non-performers are weeded out. They automatically adjust, require less direct management and maximize the focus on income. Earners can see big checks if they are successful, and the focus is on new accounts.

On the flip side, no sales means no commission, which can be quite scary to the earner. It’s really tough to change accounts, there’s almost no team selling, and there is very little ability to direct non-sales activities by the salespeople. It’s a “when it’s great, it’s great” mentality, so you can develop longevity and loyalty among superstars. But it can also go equally sour in a moment’s time.

Once you’ve determined the best plan for your sales team, introduce an effective compensation calculator. We will focus on target cash compensation (TCC) to determine the economic value of a job. It’s composed of TCC, the targeted annual cash compensation level composed of the base salary “midpoint” plus the target incentive compensation (TIC).

TIC is the amount for the achievement of on-target performance (i.e., 100 percent of goal). The base salary is the fixed portion of an earner’s total cash compensation. Learn more about sales compensation strategies and planning by consulting an expert such as those at The Sales Coaching Institute

Doug Dvorak
Doug Dvorak
Doug Dvorak is the CEO of The Sales Coaching Institute, a worldwide organization that assists clients with sales productivity training other aspects of sales and marketing management. Mr. Dvorak’s clients are range from entrepreneurs to fortune 500 companies including, IBM, Marriott, Subway and Unilever, just to name a few. Mr. Dvorak is also a motivational keynote speaker. He has delivered over 1000 customized training keynotes, presentations and workshops on over 5 continents, 107 countries and 1 million people and growing. He has also earned an international reputation for his powerful sales training, educational methods and motivational techniques. His background in sales, leadership, management and customer experience and loyalty has allowed him to become one of world’s most sought after sales training consultants, lecturers and teachers. This vast experience has helped him shape and determine his philosophies on sales success which he now shares annually with thousands of individuals through keynote presentations, syndicated writing, television, seminars, books and tapes. Mr. Dvorak is a certified sales trainer, sales coach and management consultant. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration in Marketing Management. However, Mr. Dvorak’s sense of humor is no less refined, as he is a graduate of the Player’s Workshop of the Second City, one of the oldest and most prestigious improvisational comedy schools in the world. Doug's dedication to success and sales excellence led him to be named one of the “Top Ten Sales Professionals in America” in 1988, by Personal Selling Power Magazine. Between 1995 and 2006, Mr. Dvorak’s vision and leadership were recognized when he was honored with induction into several prestigious National and International Who’s Who organizations, including: Who’s Who in Professional Speaking. Mr. Dvorak is an active member of the National Speakers Association.