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Sales Compensation

All That You Need to Know About Sales Commissions in 2024

Sameer Sinha
CEO & Co-Founder At Visdum
Published On:
June 13, 2024

Expecting sales reps to achieve 100% of their quotas is like asking them to hit the bull’s eye of a moving target. 

As a sales leader, you can never be 100% sure that they will hit their targets. But if you keep them motivated, they might not only hit their targets but even exceed them.

From an individual contributor’s perspective, success is not just about closing deals but also about the rewards that come with it, i.e., sales commissions. Understanding the ins and outs of sales commissions is like unlocking the secret sauce for both achieving your team goals and keeping your reps motivated to exceed them.

In this comprehensive guide, we will define sales commissions, discuss their importance and benefits, provide commission rate benchmarks, outline effective commission structures, and share tips for implementing a plan tailored to your business. 

By the end, you'll have the insights needed to build a strategic and motivating commission program for your sales team.

What is Sales Commission?

Sales commission refers to the monetary compensation awarded to sales professionals based on their sales achievements. This incentive-driven approach motivates sales teams to perform at their peak, aligning their efforts with the company's revenue objectives.

Why is Sales Commission important?

Sales commissions are more than just a motivational tool for sales professionals. They serve as a fundamental element in aligning the interests of sales personnel with the company's revenue goals. 

Sales commissions serve as more than just a motivational tool for sales professionals. They are a fundamental element in aligning the interests of sales personnel with the company's revenue goals.

The importance of sales commissions can be seen in their role as a powerful motivator. Unlike fixed salaries, commissions create a direct link between effort and reward, encouraging salespeople to strive for higher performance. 

This alignment with individual success and company goals is what makes sales commissions a cornerstone of effective sales management.

Statistic showing that commission-based incentives improve performance.

Here are some of the key benefits that make sales commissions so crucial:

Enhanced Motivation: Sales commissions create a direct correlation between effort and reward, encouraging salespeople to strive for higher performance.

Alignment with Business Goals: By tying financial rewards to sales achievements, companies ensure that sales efforts are closely aligned with their overall objectives.

Attract and Retain Talent: Competitive commission structures can attract top sales talent and retain high performers by offering the potential for higher earnings.

Adaptability to Market Changes: Commission-based models allow businesses to quickly adapt to market changes by adjusting incentives to align with new business strategies.

🔔 Explore the fundamentals of sales commissions in What is Sales Commission: The Basics


What is a Sales Commission Plan? 

A sales commission plan is a comprehensive policy that outlines how a salesperson will be compensated. 

It encompasses various elements of the sales compensation package and is a broader concept than just the commission structure. Key elements of a sales commission plan include:

  1. Commission Rate: The percentage or amount paid per sale or based on achieving specific targets.
  2. Payment Frequency: How often commissions are calculated and paid out (e.g., monthly, quarterly).
  3. Qualifying Sales: This defines what constitutes a qualifying sale that is eligible for commission.
  4. Targets and Thresholds: Specific sales goals or thresholds that must be met or exceeded to earn commissions.
  5. Cap on Earnings: Any maximum limit on the commission earnings over a period.
  6. Decelerators and Accelerators: Conditions under which commission rates decrease or increase, such as underperformance or surpassing targets.
  7. Clawback Provisions: Conditions under which the company can reclaim paid commissions (e.g., in case of client contract cancellations).

What are Sales Commission Rates?

Sales commission rates define the percentage or amount paid to sales professionals per sale. These rates can be a fixed percentage, a sliding scale based on performance, or variables based on specific targets or objectives.

How are Typical Sales Commission percentages calculated?

A typical sales commission reflects industry norms and company policy states that the rate could be 20% - 30% of the gross margin. 

For example, in the SaaS industry with a typical gross margin of 70%, typical commission rates can be 14-20% of the revenue.

Understanding how typical sales commissions are calculated provides valuable insights into fair compensation practices. 

🔔 Gain insights into the formulas behind calculating SaaS sales commissions in Maximizing Your Sales Potential: How to Calculate Sales Commissions for SaaS

Let's break down the calculations and explore industry benchmarks to help you design competitive commission structures for your sales team.

In the SaaS industry, where revenue models are often subscription-based, understanding the gross margin becomes crucial. The gross margin, typically around 70%, is the percentage of revenue retained after accounting for the cost of goods sold (COGS). 

A commission rate of 14-20% ensures that sales professionals are rewarded proportionally to the profitability of the deals they close.

🔔 Interesting Read: The Invisible Costs - Sales Commission Overpayments & Clawbacks

What are the Average Sales Commission rates for each industry?

List of average sales commission rates for each industry.

The average sales commission varies widely across industries and roles. It's influenced by factors such as the complexity of the sales process, the value of the product or service sold, and market standards, which makes determining average commission rates very challenging.

Here are some general insights into the typical commission rates in the key industries:

Wholesale and Distribution: Commission rates typically range from 2% to 7%. The rate can depend on the type of product and the volume of sales.

Manufacturing and Industrial Sales: Commission rates in this sector often range from 5% to 10%. For high-value products or specialized equipment, the rates might be on the lower end due to the larger dollar amounts involved.


Technology and Software Sales:
In tech and software, especially in B2B sales, commission rates can vary widely, from 5% to 20%, depending on the product or service complexity and sales cycle length.

Retail (Especially High-End or Niche Markets): Retail commissions can range from around 2% to 10%, with luxury or high-end retail often offering higher rates.

Business Services and Consulting: Commission rates in this industry can be quite variable, ranging from 5% to 20%, influenced by the service's nature and contract value.

Automotive Sales: For car sales, commission rates generally range from 10% to 25% of the gross profit on the vehicle sale.

Real Estate (Commercial): Commercial real estate commissions can be between 1% and 10% of the transaction value, depending on the property type and deal size.

Specialized Equipment Sales: In this industry, commissions can range from 5% to 10%, influenced by the equipment's complexity and value.

Understanding the industry-specific benchmarks for average sales commissions is essential for businesses to remain competitive in attracting and retaining top sales talent. 

What is a Sales Commission Structure?

The Sales Commission Structure specifically refers to the method or formula used to calculate the commission, playing a crucial role in shaping the overall compensation plan.

Here are a few commission structures we have found to be effective in improving sales performance, along with a list of relevant industries. 

Commission Only

The commission only structure offers no base salary, and the salesperson's entire income comes directly from commissions on sales. This pay-for-performance model is common for sales roles where earnings are directly tied to measurable outcomes.

Commission only plans are a high risk, high reward model that empowers salespeople to maximize their earnings by fully tying pay to their selling effectiveness. With no ceilings on commission earnings, top performers can realize very high incomes. 

However, the uncertainty without a guaranteed base salary means reps must be comfortable living off an unpredictable income stream. 

Pros and cons of commission only sales commission structure

Tips for Effectively Implementing Commission Only Structure

  • Set clear policies on minimum sales requirements and when advances/draws on commissions can be taken.
  • Ensure your sales team has sufficient resources and marketing support to be successful. 
  • Structure can work well for small B2C businesses with simple sales transactions.

Relevant industries for Commission Only Structure

  • Real Estate: As agents directly source leads and close sales, their income should align with deals closed. The commission only rewards their entrepreneurial efforts.
  • Automotive Sales: With salespeople directly interacting with customers on the lot, a commission only structure makes pay completely proportional to cars sold.
  • Insurance Sales: Transactions are largely policy sales driven entirely by agents. Commission only incentivizes and gives them flexibility.

Base Salary Plus Commission

This structure combines a fixed base salary with additional commission earnings based on a percentage of sales. It aims to balance a steady income with strong performance-based incentives.

The base salary provides financial stability and allows salespeople to focus on nurturing complex, long sales cycles. The commission element serves as a motivator to meet and exceed revenue targets. Together, they drive performance by fulfilling basic income needs while also rewarding growth and achievement. 

Pros and cons of base salary + sales commission structure

Tips for Effectively Implementing Base Salary + Commission Structure

  • Keep commissions as the larger component of OTE (e.g., 60/40 commissions to base ratio).
  • Set clear quotas and target commission earnings that exceed the base salary.
  • Base salary provides security to offset the risks of long sales cycles.

Relevant industries for Base Salary + Commission Structure

  • Enterprise Software Sales: Lengthy sales cycles and long lead nurturing periods justify a base income separate from deal commissions.
  • Medical Device Sales: Specialized product knowledge and technical expertise warrants a base salary, while commissions motivate growing market share.
  • Staffing/Recruiting: A base provides stability; uncapped commissions align pay with successful placements and minimize employee turnover costs.


Tiered Commission Plan

In a tiered commission structure, salespeople earn increasing commission rates when they reach higher incremental sales thresholds or volumes.

Tiered structures motivate sales reps to go beyond their initial targets to reach new levels of performance. The transparency of tiers mapping to concrete sales numbers or revenue milestones provides a clear path for salespeople to earn higher commissions through their efforts. It incentivizes continuous improvement. 

Pros and cons of tiered sales commission structure

Tips for Effectively Implementing Tiered Commission Structure

  • Tiers should have reasonable advancement criteria based on historical performance.
  • Keep tier ratios small (e.g., 1% increment between tiers). Avoid giant leaps.
  • Structure tiers so the majority of the sales team can reach tier 1 or 2. Top tiers should be reserved for outstanding performance.

Relevant industries for Tiered Commission Structure

  • SaaS Sales: Multi-year recurring revenues reward incrementally increasing commissions for growing lifetime value of high-margin subscriptions.
  • Advertising Sales: Tiers allow outstanding performers to earn much higher commissions by pushing for larger, longer-term ad contracts.
  • Solar Sales: As system sizes vary greatly, tiered commissions enable selling higher capacity systems for proportionally larger payouts.

🔔 Interesting Read: Calculating SaaS Sales Commissions: Why spreadsheets don't work

Residual Commission

The residual commission structure pays salespeople ongoing commissions when their customers continue utilizing the product or service on a recurring basis. This model is common for subscription services or membership renewals.

Residual commissions enable sales reps to earn income beyond the initial sale through continued customer usage and renewals. This provides an incentive to ensure customer satisfaction and retention long-term. Residuals effectively reward salespeople for the lifetime value of customers by tying earnings to ongoing product or service utilization.

Pros and cons of residual sales commission structure

Tips for Effectively Implementing Residual Commission Structure

  • Pay residual commission for as long as client continues using product/service.
  • To encourage retention, pay residual on renewal amount, not original sales price.
  • Put reasonable limits on residuals. 1-3 years is typical

Relevant industries for Residual Commission Structure

  • Cable/Cell Services: Residual structures beyond initial sales motivate providing excellent service and retention efforts to continue earning.
  • Alarm Systems Sales: Installers earn ongoing commissions for customer renewals, incentivizing reliable service and long-term relationships.
  • Insurance Policies: Beyond new policies, residuals on renewals encourage underwriters to build client loyalty and maintain coverage.

Gross Margin Commission

In a gross margin commission structure, sales professionals earn commission based on the gross profit margin of their sales. This focuses them on profitability per sale rather than just volume.

Gross margin commissions align sales incentives with bottom-line profits, rewarding reps for optimizing both revenue and costs. It prevents situations where salespeople push for unprofitable sales just to hit volume targets. With commissions tied to profitable transactions, sales reps are motivated to negotiate effectively and maintain margins.

Pros and cons of gross margin sales commission structure

Tips for Effectively Implementing Gross Margin Commission Structure

  • Set commission as % of gross profit margin, not total revenue.
  • Establish an acceptable profit margin range for commissions to be paid.
  • Complement with small revenue commission to balance volume and profit focus.

Relevant industries for Gross Margin Commission Structure

  • Car Dealerships: Paying based on profit margin accounts for fluctuations in incentives and invoice pricing across vehicle models.
  • Wholesale Distribution: With supply costs varying significantly, a margin-based structure prevents over-discounting higher-cost inventory.
  • Custom Equipment Sales: Complex sales warrant a focus on profitability, not just volume, given customized pricing on each deal.

Implementing a Sales Commission Structure

Implementing a sales commission structure requires careful planning and consideration of various factors:

1. Review sales goals: 

  • Analyze historical sales data, targets, and forecasts to project realistic goals by product line, sales region, customer segment, etc.
  • Identify growth areas to prioritize as well as challenges to account for in the commission structure. 
  • Set specific incentive goals around revenue, profitability, new customer acquisition, retention, etc. that the commission plan will motivate.

2. Evaluate Sales Roles:

  • Clearly outline the responsibilities and success metrics for each sales role.
  • Determine the behaviors you want to incentivize based on the strengths and challenges of each role. 
  • Recognize the need for role-specific commission components vs. standard structures.

3. Assess Budget and Revenue Goals:

  • Estimate sales expenses as a percentage of forecasted revenue and set the commission budget accordingly.
  • Model commission costs of potential structures using different growth scenarios.
  • Ensure commission costs align with revenue goals and provide adequate incentive levels.

4. Monitor KPIs:

  • Track performance metrics in your CRM related to sales, profitability, pipeline, and customer success. 
  • Identify trends and adjust commissions to course-correct negative behaviors.
  • Use insights to fine-tune commission rates, tiers, payment frequency, etc. 

5. Draft and refine the Commission Plan:

  • Consult sales leaders on optimal structures for their team while meeting company goals.
  • Provide transparency on the plan and gather feedback before implementation.
  • Continuously review after launch and adjust to enhance effectiveness.

Exploring the steps to implement a successful sales commission structure is essential for businesses aiming to drive sales performance and achieve business objectives. 

Conclusion

An optimized sales commission structure is a powerful lever for motivating reps, driving growth, and ultimately impacting your bottom line. However, designing and implementing an effective plan requires in-depth planning and continuous refinement.

As this guide demonstrates, you need to align commission plans with clear business goals, choose structures suited to your sales roles and workflows, and actively track performance metrics. Tiered plans, residual payouts, and a focus on profitability through gross margin commissions provide proven frameworks.

Moving forward, regularly re-evaluating your commission setup and making data-backed adjustments will be key. Seek feedback from your sales team, and keep the plan dynamic. The sales landscape may shift, but commissions will remain a fundamental tool for channeling your team's energy into productive outcomes.

To recap, here are the key takeaways for readers:

  • Map commission plans to specific growth, revenue, and profitability goals. Incentivize targeted behaviors.
  • Choose sales commission structures aligned to your sales process complexity, cycle lengths, and revenue models.
  • Analyze metrics related to sales team performance, pipeline velocity, and customer retention. Adjust plans accordingly.
  • Maintain open communication and transparency with reps on the compensation plan and their progress.
  • Continuously monitor your commission program’s impact and optimize as needed. Don’t let it remain static.

With the insights from this guide, you are now equipped to build a strategic commissioning program that will propel your team’s success. It's time to put these tips into action for your business.

Automate Your Commission Tracking

Tired of spreadsheet headaches and commission confusion? Visdum provides intuitive sales commission software that:

  • Automates complex compensation plans end-to-end
  • Seamlessly integrate your HubSpot or Salesforce CRM and track deals
  • Provides real-time calculation insights
  • Allows easy configuration of commission rules
  • Ensures accurate, transparent payouts

Schedule a demo today to streamline your commission tracking and calculations!

FAQs

What do you mean by sales commission?

Sales commission refers to the compensation awarded to sales professionals for their successful sales efforts. It is a motivational tool that ties financial rewards directly to individual sales performance.

How do I calculate sales commission?

To calculate sales commission, multiply the commission rate (percentage or fixed amount) by the total sales achieved. The formula is: Commission = Sales Amount × Commission Rate.

How do sales commissions get paid?

Sales commissions can be paid through various methods, including direct deposit, checks, or wire transfers. The payment frequency depends on the company's policy, commonly monthly or quarterly. Some businesses also offer bonuses or incentives in addition to regular commissions.

What are typical sales commissions?

Typical sales commissions come in various forms, each designed to align with business goals and motivate sales teams. Straight commission involves earning a percentage of the total sale, while salary plus commission provides a base salary alongside additional commission based on sales performance. 

Tiered commission structures offer increasing rates with higher sales achievements, while residual commissions provide ongoing earnings for continued client use. Gross margin commissions are calculated based on the sale's profitability. These diverse structures allow businesses to tailor their compensation plans to suit their industry, objectives, and sales team dynamics.

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