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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.

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 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

  • 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.

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.

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:

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.