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Sales Commission

Sales commission is one of the most critical aspects of the sales compensation system. A sales commission is the extra payment for a salesperson's performance. This payment can be based on either the number or the amount of their sales. 

The commission may be a flat rate, or it can be computed ''as a percent of their sales'', meaning for every sale, they earn a certain percentage as commission.

What is a sales commission?

A sales commission is the compensation paid to a person based on the number of sales generated. It may be either a revenue percentage or a fixed dollar amount per unit sold. 

Sales commissions are an excellent motivator for salespeople and have been used in this context for thousands of years. An effective sales commission plan should pay bonuses only when sufficient revenue is earned to allow the bonus to be paid.

Commission = Base salary + (targeted sales – actual sales)

Why are sales commissions essential?

Sales commissions are important because they help:

  • Build healthy competition: Sales commissions encourage employees to compete with each other for higher sales. 
  • Provide better customer service: Salespeople who want to earn more money will do whatever they can to ensure their clients are satisfied with their experience and purchase from them again in the future. 
  • Increase sales focus: When employees are paid primarily based on sales, they will shift their focus away from other aspects of the business, such as marketing or finance, toward selling products instead. This creates a more efficient system.
  • Boost motivation: The prospect of earning a commission motivates employees to work harder — or at least try harder—which can lead to increased productivity and profitability for the company and higher employee morale.
  • Encourages sales reps to go the extra mile: Sales reps who are paid on commission tend to work harder than their non-commissioned counterparts because they are incentivized to do so. This can be particularly beneficial if you offer a wide range of products and services.
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What are the common sales commission structures?

Below are some of the most common sales commission structures that businesses use:

  • Base salary + commission: Companies use it because it controls their costs and allows them to reward employees based on performance. Even if your base salary is low, it can be increased as you continue to grow your territory or sales volume.
  • Straight commission plan: You're paid one rate for all sales regardless of the size or type of sale (you don't have any flexibility). This makes it easy for companies because they don't have to worry about paying different rates for different sales or territories.
  • Relative commission plan: It's based on a percentage of the product price, so it can vary based on the type of products you sell. 
  • Straight-line commission plan: This type of commission plan pays employees based on their personal sales performance without considering the total number of sales made by other team members.
  • Absolute commission plan: Sales reps in this plan are paid regardless of whether they meet or exceed their goals. This means they will only get paid if they hit their target number of sales.
  • Tiered commission plan: A tiered commission plan is a form of payment schema where reps earn higher commissions as they reach sales goals. This pay structure encourages reps to put in the extra effort needed to reach the higher tiers and hit substantial quotas. 
  • Territory volume commission plan: A compensation plan where sales representatives earn an income based on the sales volume and region rate. 

What are the benefits of sales commission?

The benefits of sales commission:

  • Motivates sales performance: Sales commissions directly link compensation to performance, encouraging sales representatives to achieve and exceed their sales targets. This motivation can lead to increased sales and higher overall revenue for the company.
  • Attracts top talent: Offering attractive commission plans can help companies attract highly skilled and motivated sales professionals. Top performers often seek out opportunities where they can maximize their earnings based on their sales success.
  • Enhances productivity: With a commission structure in place, sales reps are more likely to focus on activities that drive sales, such as customer outreach, follow-ups, and closing deals. This increased productivity can lead to better utilization of time and resources.
  • Aligns employee goals with company objectives: Commission plans can be designed to align with specific business goals, such as selling higher-margin products, entering new markets, or increasing customer retention. This alignment ensures that sales efforts support the overall strategic objectives of the company.
  • Encourages healthy competition: A well-structured commission plan can foster a healthy competitive environment among sales reps, pushing them to perform better. This competition can drive overall sales performance higher and create a dynamic and energetic sales culture.
  • Provides financial incentives: Commission-based compensation provides a significant financial incentive for sales representatives. This can lead to higher job satisfaction and retention rates, as reps feel rewarded for their hard work and contributions to the company's success.
  • Flexibility in payroll costs: For employers, a commission-based pay structure can offer flexibility in managing payroll costs. During slower sales periods, the company’s financial burden is lower, while higher sales periods naturally increase compensation without requiring upfront fixed salary adjustments.
  • Clear performance metrics: Sales commissions provide clear metrics for performance evaluation. This clarity helps in setting measurable goals and assessing the effectiveness of sales strategies and individual sales rep contributions.

What is the difference between sales commissions and bonus?

Sales commission

  • It is a piece of an employee’s total compensation puzzle paid out when they make a sale.
  • Commissions are used to reward employees for selling goods or services.
  • Typically, paid on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.


  • Bonus is the incentive compensation that is paid when a certain threshold is met, such as a sales quota.
  • Bonuses are used to motivate employees to reach specific goals or improve performance.
  • Typically paid at the end of the year or fiscal period.

Why is sales commission important to understand?

Importance of sales commission:

  • Designing effective compensation plans: Understanding sales commissions is crucial for designing compensation plans that effectively motivate sales representatives while aligning with company goals. Knowledge of various commission structures helps in choosing the right plan that balances motivation with financial sustainability.
  • Budgeting and financial planning: A deep understanding of sales commissions aids in accurate budgeting and financial planning. Companies can forecast payroll expenses based on expected sales performance and adjust their financial strategies accordingly.
  • Talent management: For HR and sales managers, understanding sales commissions is key to attracting, retaining, and managing top sales talent. It allows them to offer competitive compensation packages that meet industry standards and appeal to high-performing sales professionals.
  • Performance measurement: Sales commissions provide a quantifiable measure of sales performance. Understanding how these metrics work helps in evaluating individual and team performance, identifying high achievers, and addressing underperformance with targeted interventions.
  • Motivation and engagement: Understanding the psychological and motivational aspects of sales commissions helps managers to keep their sales teams engaged and driven. It’s essential for creating incentive plans that not only reward top performance but also maintain morale across the entire sales team.
  • Alignment with strategic goals: A well-informed approach to sales commissions ensures that the incentive plans are closely aligned with the company’s strategic objectives. Whether the goal is to increase market share, push new products, or improve customer retention, the commission structure should support these aims.
  • Avoiding legal and ethical issues: Knowledge of sales commissions includes understanding legal and ethical considerations. This understanding helps in crafting agreements that are fair, transparent, and compliant with employment laws, thereby avoiding potential disputes and legal issues.
  • Adapting to market changes: The sales landscape can change rapidly due to market conditions, competition, or shifts in consumer behavior. A thorough understanding of sales commissions allows companies to adapt their incentive plans quickly and effectively to stay competitive and responsive to these changes.

What is the average percentage of sales commissions by industry?

According to the BLS, the average salary for a sales representative is  $51,440 per year. The average percentage of sales commissions as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are as follows:

  • Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives: $61,660
  • Insurance sales agents: $50,600
  • Advertising sales agents: $51,740
  • Real estate brokers and sales agents: $50,300
  • Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents: $64,120
  • Door-to-door sales workers, news and street vendors, and related workers: $26,430
  • Sales and related workers, all other: $33,220

Pro tip:

Forget the hassle of calculating comissions for your sales teams with Compass. Manage and automate sales comission programs easily, from launching to calculating and disbursing incentives. 

How to design your sales commission structure?

Here are five steps on how you can go about developing your sales commission structure:

  • Step 1. Identify your goals: Your first step is to identify what you want to achieve with your commission structure. Are you looking to motivate your salespeople? Do you want them to sell more or less? Or perhaps both?
  • Step 2. Determine what to measure and how: Once you've identified what you want from your team, it's time to determine how exactly they will be rewarded if they achieve those goals. 
  • Step 3. Determine the type of commission structure: Consider factors like geographic location, product category, or territory coverage when determining how much to pay each person based on performance metrics. 
  • Step 4. Identify the right mix of incentives for your sales team: Understand what motivates your team members and how they can be motivated differently based on their characteristics. 
  • Step 5. Set up a compensation plan that works for everyone involved: Design an effective commission structure to set up a compensation plan that works for everyone involved—you, your employees, and your company.
  • Step 6: Evaluate performance regularly and adjust as needed: Evaluate employee performance based on individual goals and objectives. Consider adjusting pay based on performance or other factors such as geographic location, seniority level, or position classification.

How are sales commissions taxed?

Wages are subject to take-home pay tax withholding, so a commission payment is also subject to the tax until the flat 25% commission withholding is subtracted from the whole. This can be calculated using the aggregate method or any other withholding method.

What is a sales commission agreement?

A sales commission agreement is a formal contract between an employer and a sales representative outlining the terms and conditions of the sales commission plan. This document typically includes:

  • Commission structure: Detailed explanation of how commissions are calculated, including rates, tiers, and any caps or limits.
  • Payment schedule: Specifies when commissions are paid (e.g., monthly, quarterly) and any conditions for payment (e.g., sales must be collected from the customer).
  • Performance metrics: Defines the sales targets and performance metrics that must be achieved to earn commissions.
  • Adjustments and deductions: Outlines any conditions under which commissions might be adjusted or deducted, such as returns, cancellations, or discounts.
  • Employment status: Clarifies the employment relationship, whether the sales rep is an employee or an independent contractor, and the implications for taxes and benefits.
  • Termination clause: Specifies the conditions under which the agreement can be terminated and how commissions are handled upon termination.
  • Dispute resolution: Includes procedures for resolving disputes related to commission payments, ensuring both parties have a clear process for addressing disagreements.
  • Signatures: The agreement must be signed by both the employer and the sales representative to be legally binding.

Employee pulse surveys:

These are short surveys that can be sent frequently to check what your employees think about an issue quickly. The survey comprises fewer questions (not more than 10) to get the information quickly. These can be administered at regular intervals (monthly/weekly/quarterly).

One-on-one meetings:

Having periodic, hour-long meetings for an informal chat with every team member is an excellent way to get a true sense of what’s happening with them. Since it is a safe and private conversation, it helps you get better details about an issue.


eNPS (employee Net Promoter score) is one of the simplest yet effective ways to assess your employee's opinion of your company. It includes one intriguing question that gauges loyalty. An example of eNPS questions include: How likely are you to recommend our company to others? Employees respond to the eNPS survey on a scale of 1-10, where 10 denotes they are ‘highly likely’ to recommend the company and 1 signifies they are ‘highly unlikely’ to recommend it.

Based on the responses, employees can be placed in three different categories:

  • Promoters
    Employees who have responded positively or agreed.
  • Detractors
    Employees who have reacted negatively or disagreed.
  • Passives
    Employees who have stayed neutral with their responses.

What are the factors to calculate sales commission?

Consider the following factors because they play a huge role in influencing the payments:

  • Commission base: It's usually the total amount of sales but can also be the gross margin, net profit, or inventory value.
  • Commission rate: This is the fixed number or percentage connected to the sales amount.
  • Override: The commission rate may change according to the result. If a team member sells more than expected, then they might earn more than usual. An override can also apply if someone doesn't reach a specific goal or performs below expectations. 
  • Commission period: It is the period in which you calculate the sales amount and apply a commission. Years are typical for this measurement scale, but it's possible to set up time frames of 30 days or even monthly measurements instead of annually if needed.
  • Split: The commission may get split if several people contribute to the sales. There might also be an agreement that states the area manager earns a percentage of the sales results achieved by the regional employees.
  • Commission tier: One rate may be applied by a policy to a specific portion of the commission base and a different rate to the remaining amount.

sales commission Calculator

What are sales commissions plans best practices?

Sales commissions best practices:

  • Clear and transparent plans: It’s crucial to ensure that sales commission plans are clear and transparent. This means that sales representatives should easily understand how they can earn commissions. The rules and calculations should be straightforward, without any hidden clauses or confusing terms.
  • Align with business goals: The commission structure should align with the company’s business objectives. For instance, if the goal is to increase the sales of a new product, the commission plan should offer higher incentives for selling that product. This alignment ensures that sales reps are motivated to focus on what is most beneficial for the company.
  • Regular review and adjustment: Regularly reviewing and adjusting commission plans is essential to keep them relevant and effective. Market conditions, business priorities, and sales strategies change over time, and the commission plans should reflect these changes to continue motivating the sales team appropriately.
  • Balanced compensation mix: A balanced compensation mix includes a base salary combined with commission. This approach provides financial stability to sales representatives while still motivating them to achieve higher sales through commission. The balance between fixed and variable pay should reflect the level of control the sales rep has over sales outcomes.
  • Timely and accurate payments: Ensuring that commissions are paid accurately and on time is critical. Delays or errors in payment can demotivate the sales team and lead to dissatisfaction. Implementing robust systems to track sales and calculate commissions helps in maintaining accuracy and timeliness.
  • Cap commissions appropriately: While it’s essential to reward high performance, it’s also important to cap commissions to prevent excessive payouts that could impact the company’s profitability. Setting reasonable caps ensures sustainability while still incentivizing top performers.

What is sales commission structure with examples?

Sales commission is a structure with examples are:

  1. Straight commission: In this structure, sales representatives earn a commission based solely on the sales they make. There is no base salary, and their income is entirely variable.

    : A sales rep earns 10% of all sales they generate. If they sell $100,000 worth of products, they earn $10,000 in commission.
  1. Salary plus commission: Sales reps receive a fixed base salary along with a commission on sales. This structure provides financial stability while still incentivizing performance.

    : A sales rep has a base salary of $40,000 per year and earns a 5% commission on all sales. If they sell $200,000 worth of products, they earn an additional $10,000 in commission, totaling $50,000 in annual earnings.
  1. Tiered commission: Commissions are structured in tiers, with higher commission rates applied as sales reps reach higher sales thresholds.

    : A sales rep earns 5% on sales up to $50,000, 7% on sales between $50,001 and $100,000, and 10% on sales over $100,000. If they sell $150,000 worth of products, their commission would be calculated as $2,500 (5% of $50,000) + $3,500 (7% of the next $50,000) + $5,000 (10% of the final $50,000), totaling $11,000.
  1. Commission draw: This structure includes an advance payment against future commissions, providing a guaranteed minimum income which is later deducted from earned commissions.

    : A sales rep receives a draw of $2,000 per month. If their earned commission for the month is $3,000, they receive the remaining $1,000 after the draw is deducted. If their commission is less than the draw, the difference is carried over to the next period.

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