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Sales Tip: Sales Compensation Guidelines

Cream rises to the top, oil and water separate and driven sales people will perform toward their compensation drivers. Early in my sales career a start-up wanted a fast increase in market share. To achieve this they priced aggressively and set a heavy bonus in addition to generous commissions to sell 50 units for the month.  Because of the bonus, the 50th sale was worth 15% of my total monthly earnings. I kicked in my commission for the last sale (2% of month earnings) to achieve the bonus.

There were no rules that I could not do that, but ownership was upset at me for “cheating” to hit my bonus. What I was doing was working my pay plan. Every smart sales person will understand their pay plan and work to maximize earning. It is important to create a plan that profits both the company and sales person.

When creating a compensation plan, there are a few general guidelines I follow.

  • Clarify or determine your company goals. When a company is clear about growth and profit goals it creates the framework to build individual sales targets and compensation.
  • Total compensation should be fair for average performers and above average for top performers.
  • Base salaries should be based on the sales cycle and size of the market opportunities. The longer the sales cycle and smaller the market would call for a higher base and smaller commission percentage.  For shorter sales cycles and greater market potential the opposite is true.
  • Commissions should be targeted on areas the salesperson has control over and will profit both the salesperson and the company.
  • Create a team bonus. It will encourage sharing and support, and minimize unhealthy competition.

The company I mentioned above did not clarify their goals or ensure both the company and salesperson profited.  They were simply shooting from the hip trying to sell something.

A well thought out compensation plan will keep your best people happy and weed out those who cannot meet performance expectations. If you have questions about your compensation plan give me a call or send me a message and I would be happy to discuss it with you.  Phone: 916-596-3713 / email:

Rene is the President of Sales Manager Now, a company that provides fractional sales management services to small and family-run businesses. He has twenty-seven years of experience in sales leadership, coaching, and consulting. He is also the author of the Part-Time Sales Management handbook and is based in Auburn, California.

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