Home > Management > Salary vs. Commission - Impact on Performance

Salary vs. Commission - Impact on Performance

Does pay structure have an impact on sales performance? Do you believe a salesperson working on straight commission is more likely to outperform a counterpart working on straight salary? - by SpeedRacer
I think so. I've seen guys work at one company on salary who had to leave because they werent' selling anything and then took a job at a competitor who paid commission and they did much better because they had to get out and sell or they didn't get squat. - by Thomas
Do you believe a salesperson working on straight commission is more likely to outperform a counterpart working on straight salary?
I can believe that the salesperson who chooses straight commission over a salaried position is more likely to outperform the salesperson who chooses the opposite. - by AZBroker
I can believe that the salesperson who chooses straight commission over a salaried position is more likely to outperform the salesperson who chooses the opposite.
Is that because they are more "focused" on getting results and are in a win : lose situation?

There is one factor that has continually stopped me going down the pure commission route in my career and that is the risk that the company you are selling for fails to deliver the product or service correctly and you dont get paid. In the technology business, there are always factors that can delay or even derail a sale completely that are out of your control as a salesperson, therefore we always work on a mixture of fee + commission.

Daewoo tried to work on salary only with no commssion in the UK - the result? They got much lower sales and were eventually bought by GM...lesson learned - sales people NEED commission! - by Julian
In my experience what works best is base pay and bonus. Unless you sell commodities, selling is a complex issue nowadays it's hard to peg sales success on one single person. Especially not in B2B.

The commission structure alienates the sales force from the rest of the company. They no longer work for the company but for themselves, and by competing with each other. Loyalty is low and the only motivation is to sell so they make more money.

And what has the commission structure achieved over the years? After politicians, selling is the most disreputable profession and salespeople are some of the least trusted and respected people. QED: The general public hates them and does it's best to avoid them.

And even a large percentage of commissioned salespeople admit that they would never buy anything from the kind of salespeople they themselves are.

A survey by Sales and Marketing Management Magazine has found...
  • 49% say their professions contributed to marital problem
  • 44% say their professions contributed to for their failed relationships with colleagues and friends
  • 18% say their professions preventing them from finding a spouse
  • 72% say their professions prevent them from exercising.
  • 69% say their professions undermined their health problems, like weight gain.
Cheers

Tom - by Bald Dog
And what has the commission structure achieved over the years? After politicians, selling is the most disreputable profession and salespeople are some of the least trusted and respected people. QED: The general public hates them and does it's best to avoid them.
You want to pin that on commission structure? That's reaching IMO. - by Jolly Roger
You want to pin that on commission structure?
Partially yes. - by Bald Dog
Partially yes.
Would you care to elaborate? - by Jolly Roger
Would you care to elaborate?
Using a sports example, I wouldn't want to play in a soccer team where members are individually compensated based on how many goals they score.

Or using an example from my military past, I wouldn't want to lead a team where members are individually compensated based on how many enemy soldiers they shoot. Imagine, the radio operator (a vital function) gets nothing.

But there is an easy solution. The radio operator kills all his team mates and then can claim the glory and the reward all for himself.

What many companies don't realise that the commission structure creates fierce internal competition. You can't expect collaboration (teamwork) but reward competition. Top notch moron sales managers even organise sales competitions.

In today's world, selling involves multiple people both on the buying and selling sides. Rewarding one person for it is plain short-sighted.

Thoughts? - by Bald Dog
Tom how would you suggest a car dealership pay their salespeople? Would you suggest a base salary plus bonus based on individual performance? How about team performance? Also, do you see any inherent problems with team compensation? - by Calvin
Calvin,

I'm all for team compensation. In my experience, as long as there is a difference in compensation, people try to rig the system in their own favour and they work for promotions.

I look at the team as an immune system. No external intervention is required. Parts of the system will create justice for the system.

Team members maintain justice for team members. Slackers are to be punished... by fellow team members not an external manager.

In my consulting world "punishment" means hard labour at the local temp labour agency.

Team members become part of the team culture. Backstabbing culture attracts and creates backstabbers and repels good people. A culture of hard work, high morale, passion and enthusiasm attracts and creates people of hard work, high morale, passion and enthusiasm and repels slackers.

And the kicker is this. Same base pay for everyone and same bonus. That is, take people's eyes away from the money differences and let them perform at their best.

The creativity and effectiveness of our decisions are the function of the number of connections we can make between our brain cells. The more connections we make, the better the decisions we make. Now, let's say, for the sake of simplicity, you have four brain cells, so you can make maximum six connections. In isolation I can make the same six connections with my four brain cells. But together we can make 28 connections.

Here is a different explanation. I'm an ex farmer, so I love animal examples...

Chimpanzees have the largest brains among animals. They are individual geniuses. But their group IQ is basically idiotic. Baboons, on the other hand, have pretty low individual IQ but very high group IQ. Baboons are a great example of collaboration.

Total number of connections = (Number of brain cells * (Number of brain cells - 1)) / 2

It means the quality of our joint decisions is 366% higher than the decisions either of us can make in isolation.

So, if you have two salespeople each of whom sells $1 million worth of cars per year, working in a team they can sell $4.6 million worth of cars.

And these salespeople will have loyalty and commitment to the dealership and accountability to their team mates.

Calvin, this is not easy to implement. But when it's done, it's pretty amazing. Internal competition vanishes and team members focus on doing their best work and enjoy the process.

Every time I've ever walked into a car dealership, I could smell duplicity, backstabbing, greed and rivalry in the air. And people do that too. That's why buying a car is one of the most traumatic experiences... especially for women.

Also, do you see any inherent problems with team compensation?
No. it attracts team player and repels prima donnas. But this is what we want, don't we?

Thoughts? - by Bald Dog
Is that because they are more "focused" on getting results and are in a win : lose situation?
IMO, there are several possible reasons why this happens. Yes, one reason could be the focus that develops in the sell or sink arena. Another possibility is the caliber of salesperson that is attracted to the straight commission versus the salaried environment. - by AZBroker
Another possibility is the caliber of salesperson that is attracted to the straight commission versus the salaried environment.
But what I'm also hearing is that today's salesperson must be more "service" focused than merely "hitting quota" focused.

The salary allows people to focus on playing a great game. The commission makes people focus on watching the score board, which makes it hard to play even a good game. - by Bald Dog
But what I'm also hearing is that today's salesperson must be more "service" focused than merely "hitting quota" focused.
IMO, the salesperson that is attracted to the straight commission environment is more likely to be service focused than the salesperson who chooses the salaried environment. - by AZBroker
And the kicker is this. Same base pay for everyone and same bonus. That is, take people's eyes away from the money differences and let them perform at their best.
I asked one of the top dogs about this and he said he would hire a team of assistants and pay them appropriately for the work they do but he wouldn't pay everyone on the team the same. - by Thomas
I asked one of the top dogs about this and he said he would hire a team of assistants and pay them appropriately for the work they do but he wouldn't pay everyone on the team the same.
Well, this is not a mainstream idea. Edison had to beg congress several times to let him install light bulbs for free. Congress kept turning his idea down.

The conventional wisdom in the corporate world is that a workplace must be competitive and somewhat cut-throat to enhance people's ambition.... yes, to succeed at their own colleagues' expense.

But I want the team to perform, not the individuals. E.g. Put together 10 Harvard top-notch MBAs, and they couldn't start up a business consulting firm even with a gun to their heads.

As the saying goes, if you chase two rabbits, you'll catch none (Believe me. I'm an ex-rabbit farmer, so this is first-hand experience for me). And that one rabbit is increased company-wide profitability.

Here is one advantage of paying the same. Everyone on the team is working towards one objective: Providing great service that maximises the company's profit. They know that the more the company makes, automatically, the more team members make. The better they collaborate, as opposed compete, with each other, the more money they generate for the company and for themselves.

But due to its collegial nature it's more suitable for women (natural collaborators) than men (natural competitors). And here comes my bias. Over the years, every time I've been hired to help to hire business development staff, I've never hired one single man, and probably never will. I've had my fair share of guys with inflated egos and this socialistic "entitlement" mindset: Pay me because I have a triple Ph.D. in rabbit chasing.

Women seem to be more practical and collaborative. And it seems to work. - by Bald Dog
Professional athletes work as a team but they aren't all paid the same. Why should it be different in sales? - by Thomas
Professional athletes work as a team but they aren't all paid the same. Why should it be different in sales?
McGregor's X and Y theory. Theory X says that people are lazy, lousy, and need whipping and cajoling.

Theory Y says people do their best because they're proud of hat they're doing.

I'm more for the theory Y approach witch specific consequences. I found it in the army that whatever I expected of people and demonstrated through my behaviour is what they lived up to. My behavior set the pace not the so-called rules.

Thougths? - by Bald Dog
I'm more for the theory Y approach witch specific consequences. I found it in the army that whatever I expected of people and demonstrated through my behaviour is what they lived up to. My behavior set the pace not the so-called rules.

Thougths?
I don't understand those things but I was thinking about it and I think ALL professional sports teams pay each player differently and the team still functions great.

What about medicine? I don't think a general nurse should get the same pay as the specialized surgeon just because she's on the same surgical team. I don't think the team would function better because of it either. - by Thomas
I don't understand those things but I was thinking about it and I think ALL professional sports teams pay each player differently and the team still functions great.
Just read the article at the link and see how you perceive people in general? What applies to your more strongly. Theory X or Y? We may have the difference here. I see the best in people until they prove me wrong. But I'm the minority.

They function great. Yes. What they are also missing is that how much better they could perform.

What about medicine? I don't think a general nurse should get the same pay as the specialized surgeon just because she's on the same surgical team. I don't think the team would function better because of it either.
My thought is this: Which approach makes the most profitable clinic? (as opposed to the highest paid individuals) Without the general nurses' contribution the surgeon's work is useless. And vice versa. In this situation the client's received value lies not in the surgeon or the nurse, but the synergy of the team.

When I win a running competition, which of my body part takes the prize? Since the commission structure calls for one single winner.

If you have a chance to read Stephen Covey's "8th Habit," he talks about this quite extensively to avoid internal competition. - by Bald Dog
My thought is this: Which approach makes the most profitable clinic?
So the whole world is wrong and you are right?

When I win a running competition, which of my body part takes the prize? Since the commission structure calls for one single winner.
That analogy doesn't even make sense. - by Thomas
So the whole world is wrong and you are right?
It's not about being right or wrong. There are different objectives here. Profitable clinic vs. profitable individuals.

But what I've also found is that profitable clinics also create wealthy professionals.

In the last example I tried to illustrate organs and other bots and bobs work together as a team.

It's just a difference in perspective. Some people trace success back to the individual who "closed" the deal, and some others attribute success to the team that worked on the case. And if I want all my people to align behind the clinic's vision and strategy, I'd better eliminate individualism.
- by Bald Dog
RainToday has just published a great article on the topic...
That article didn't say to pay everyone the same. :cu

If everyone on the team should be paid the same then the sales people should be paid the same as the owners. How does that make sense? :cu - by Thomas
That article didn't say to pay everyone the same. :cu
Not exactly. I only talks about other alternatives.

If everyone on the team should be paid the same then the sales people should be paid the same as the owners. How does that make sense? :cu
Essentially yes. Salespeople contribute to the firm's success just as the executives do. They just have different job descriptions. I would say the owner, for the risk she's taking for starting, running the business and the ultimate responsibilities, she has the right for double-dipping. But the competition vanishes among other people.

I've implemented this equal salary thing at over two dozens firms, and all of the sudden all the people felt responsible for the firm's success.

So, I don't say my approach is better than any other approach, but these firms have become more profitable as a result, and the people enjoy their work more than ever. So, if I compare this to the normal 43% annual attrition of salespeople, then I like what I've seen so far. - by Bald Dog
I've implemented this equal salary thing at over two dozens firms, and all of the sudden all the people felt responsible for the firm's success.
What other solutions do you see for obtaining this type of responsibility from employees? - by BossMan
What other solutions do you see for obtaining this type of responsibility from employees?
Are there other ways Bald Dog? - by Thomas
What other solutions do you see for obtaining this type of responsibility from employees?
Can we really obtain a certain responsibility from people. They must agree to provide it.

I believe the key is to create a culture of responsibility. That's the owner's job. And a certain culture will attract certain employees regardless of money. this is why the US Army doesn't have recruitment problems although the pay is not so great. people want to belong to a something that is in alignment with their values.

In the 8th Habit Stephen Covey writes that employees work at 6 different levels...
  1. Rebelling and quitting
  2. Malicious obedience
  3. Willing compliance
  4. Cheerful co-operation
  5. Heartfelt commitment
  6. Creative excitement
Employees in most companies operate at levels of 1-3. A handful has level 4. Level 5 is almost exclusively reserved for the military, and level 6 is basically self-employment when you do what you love.

And I also believe we create the culture through our behaviour. I think the phrase "Practise what you perch is wrong." It more like "Preach what you practise." Practising comes first, and then we can expect others to follow. And most people simply can't pull this off. - by Bald Dog
I think to attract and retain the best talent there must be an individual perfromance based aspect of the comp plan. Allowing the salesman to envision the direct impact on thier bank account in each sale is powerful stuff. And please don't pay me based on what other people do (team), unless I manage that team.

In any complex sale I think there also MUST be a salary component. During the valley's you don't want desperate salespeople. Straight commission seems intuitively more motivating, but the effects of a slump can mean a huge dip in effectiveness. I would not be at all surprised if the average tenure for salespeople in straight commission jobs is noticeably lower than other models.

For what it's worth, the last time I was recruited I ended up going with a company that paid about 1/2 the base salary of the competition because of a very lucrative back end. I think real performers will not shy away from a low base salary if the back end is right. Just give them enough salary to pay the taxes on the big checks!

Justyn - by Justyn
I think to attract and retain the best talent there must be an individual perfromance based aspect of the comp plan. Allowing the salesman to envision the direct impact on thier bank account in each sale is powerful stuff. And please don't pay me based on what other people do (team), unless I manage that team.

In any complex sale I think there also MUST be a salary component. During the valley's you don't want desperate salespeople. Straight commission seems intuitively more motivating, but the effects of a slump can mean a huge dip in effectiveness. I would not be at all surprised if the average tenure for salespeople in straight commission jobs is noticeably lower than other models.
Bullseye Justyn! ;co - by Houston
No. it attracts team player and repels prima donnas. But this is what we want, don't we?

Thoughts?
How would this apply to a sales position like a manufacturers rep where the rep works alone? - by Calvin
How would this apply to a sales position like a manufacturers rep where the rep works alone?
When a salesperson is condemned to work alone without any support from the company, it's a clear indication that he's working for a moron who doesn't have the brainpower to comprehend the power of working the salesperson as a part of a business development team.

I would do one of 2 things...

1) I would leave.

2) I would click over into broker mode...

I generate leads and close the leads. I negotiate and price the projects. Then when everything is lined up, I send an RFP to the company and 9 competitors. I select one as my subcontractor at competitive rates to do the work with the following conditions...

1. You identify yourself as my subcontractor, and do not hand out your business cards or any of your promotional materials and never talk about your personal business at any time.

2. You will do no promotion for your business at any time.

3. You perform the work as my subcontractor according mutually pre-agreed instructions, and do not agree to any altered, modified, or new conditions with the client. Any such client requests will be passed on to me for decision.

4. You will conduct yourself professionally, observe business ethics and courtesy, and meet the work requirements above. Failure to do so in the opinion of the client or me results in termination of the contract and the cancellation of your payment.

5. The name of the client never enters your database, and you have no right whatsoever to stay in touch with the client to solicit future business. All negotiation takes place between the client and me.

Hope it helps. I know this is hard ball but I have low tolerance level for idiotic employers. - by Bald Dog
When a salesperson is condemned to work alone without any support from the company, it's a clear indication that he's working for a moron who doesn't have the brainpower to comprehend the power of working the salesperson as a part of a business development team.
What are your thoughts about those salespeople who work best alone? - by Calvin
What are your thoughts about those salespeople who work best alone?
The same as soldiers who say they work best alone. Useless. Even James Bond has a support team. Not to mention Secret Agent Bluebottle from the British comedy, The Goon Show.

Today's solutions are far too complex to be left for one person. Buyers also have multiple people involved in the decision making process.

ere is my reasoning behind the team approach...

Creativity, effectiveness and the quality of our decisions are the function of the number of connections we can make between our brain cells. The more connections we make, the better the decisions we make.

Now, let's say, for the sake of simplicity, you have four brain cells, so you can make maximum six connections. In isolation I can make the same six connections with my four brain cells. But together we can make 28 connections.

Here is a different explanation. I'm an ex farmer, so I love animal examples...

Chimpanzees have the largest brains among animals. They are individual geniuses. But their group IQ is basically idiotic. Baboons, on the other hand, have pretty low individual IQ but very high group IQ. Baboons are a great example of collaboration.

Total number of connections = (Number of brain cells * (Number of brain cells - 1)) / 2

It means the quality of our joint decisions is 366% higher than the decisions either of us can make in isolation. And this is just a team of two.

I believe the era of the lone wolf (as per Glengarry Glen Ross -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TROhlThs9qY) ended in the last millennium. The exception is if we're selling simple commodity items.

Thoughts? - by Bald Dog
The same as soldiers who say they work best alone. Useless.
IMO this is too black and white, too rigid. It also appears like "teams" are the "right" way and working as an individual is the "wrong" way.

Today's solutions are far too complex to be left for one person. Buyers also have multiple people involved in the decision making process.
Some solutions are too complex to be left for one person but what is the exception and what is the rule. Is car sales too complex? Is insurance sales too complex? Is consulting services too complex? Which solutions are too complex?

The potential of multiple people being involved in the decision making process has always been a factor. That hasn't changed. - by Calvin
Is car sales too complex? Is insurance sales too complex? Is consulting services too complex? Which solutions are too complex?
I think clients want to know the full picture. The car salesman can show and overall picture and then call the mechanic to explain the technical intricacies of the engine. Then call the detailer to educate the client how to properly clean the car.

I believe in many cases clients regard services as commodities because that's how the selling company treats them. Yes, I think car sales are complex. So is insurance and consulting sales.

Team vs. individual. Maybe my opinion is not even realistic. Starting from the military, I've worked in brilliant teams (as opposed to groups of individuals) over the years. Maybe that's why my personal preference is the team approach. - by Bald Dog
I think clients want to know the full picture. The car salesman can show and overall picture and then call the mechanic to explain the technical intricacies of the engine. Then call the detailer to educate the client how to properly clean the car.
My opinion is that general car sales isn't so complex that it is best handled by a team of specialists such as a salesman to facilitate the sale, a mechanic to explain technical intricacies of an engine or a detailer to educate the client on cleaning a car. A little cross-training at the dealership could go a long way in achieving a similar result. - by Calvin
My opinion is that general car sales isn't so complex that it is best handled by a team of specialists such as a salesman to facilitate the sale, a mechanic to explain technical intricacies of an engine or a detailer to educate the client on cleaning a car. A little cross-training at the dealership could go a long way in achieving a similar result.
Calvin,

On the ground scale I agree with you. What rebels in me is the general public opinion that regards car salespeople the greatest scumbags on the face of the planet. There must be a reason why most people dread shopping for cars.

And to change this perception, the selling process ought to change. The current process is that of selling a commodity. That's why people haggle on cars.

Why can't car dealerships build a bit of an aura around cars by selling unique driving experiences. This may sound a bit Tom Peters-ish, but I also think it has value. After all, it's not what we sell but how we sell it that counts.

Thoughts? - by Bald Dog
Before I became a CEO, I worked as a direct salesperson for companies with many different types of compensation plans. I made the most money when I was on straight commission.

When I went into several companies as sales manager or VP, I reworked their sales compensation plans to emphasize incentive pay. Every one of them resulted in dramatic sales increases. Those salespeople who could not keep up with the growth either were put into a non-sales job or left the company.

In my positions of sales manager, my own compensation was based on the total sales volume of the companies.

Two of the companies that I joined had a mixed sales force. About half of the salespeople were on the payroll; the other half were independent manufacturer’s reps. The Reps earned an average of 170% more than the direct salespeople. The Reps had to pay their own expenses, which amounted to about 25% of their total commissions. Therefore, they only netted about 90% more than the average of the direct salespeople.

When I got tired or running big companies, I became a manufacturer’s rep. - by JacquesWerth
The current process is that of selling a commodity. That's why people haggle on cars.
Most of the passenger cars I see on the road are very similar. Very homogenous. I think that this lack of perceived difference in quality or features is one of the main reasons why people haggle on cars. - by Calvin
I think that this lack of perceived difference in quality or features is one of the main reasons why people haggle on cars.
You're dead right. And it's the seller's responsibility to create a buying process (not merely the product) that is drastically different from the competitors' processes. But this takes time, effort and dough, and many companies are not willing to make the initial investment.

So, they keep playing the number's game of selling and subject themselves to the low haggling and objections. - by Bald Dog
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