A Guide To Improving Sales Compensation Plans

Improving Sales Compensation Plans

Improving compensation plans can help inspire your sales team. As a great sales leader, your key performance indicators include sales volume, sales revenue, profitability, return on investment, market penetration and market share. You must, therefore, provide your sales team with the resources necessary to achieve these objectives. This includes financial resources. Could your sales compensation plans be uninspiring for your sales team without you knowing it?

What is Sales Compensation?

Sales compensation is simply the amount of money a business pays a salesperson. In addition, sales compensation usually depends on the company but will generally offer a base salary, commissions and further incentives such as luxury trips.

What is a sales compensation plan?

A sales compensation plan is your strategy to propel and motivate your sales team. Thereby hopefully increasing their performance and, consequently, your revenue. It’s imperative to note that you should have an individual sales compensation plan for each sales team employee.

To do this, you can complete a comprehensive job analysis and revisit their job descriptions regularly to ensure accuracy and relevance. Your sales team must be appraised and compensated according to clearly defined (and clearly understood) objectives. Remember that improving your compensation plans could help inspire your sales team and improve customer loyalty.

Also read:

7 Sales Compensation Plan Examples

Not only is commission an excellent incentive for your sales reps to sell more, but it also helps you retain the best talent with competitive commission packages, which could actually end up saving you money in the long term. However, there are several compensation plan packages that you can offer your team; we weigh up the effectiveness of their features below:

1. Commission Only

In a commission-only sales compensation plan, sales reps only earn an income directly related to their sales. Therefore this structure allows sales reps to be in control of their success. Many companies don’t limit how much commission reps can earn, meaning that the sky truly is the limit for those who work hard enough. Therefore a commission-only sales compensation plan is great for sales reps looking for a high-earning potential.

Furthermore, this structure offers the fastest route to market. For this reason, commission-only compensation plans are most desirable for startups. However, companies need to consider that commission-only sales reps are actually independent contractors and aren’t actually in-house employees.

Industry average sales rep commission rates

Calculating your sales rep’s commission rate is entirely dependent on your business. However, typically if companies provide a generous base salary, they’re more likely to offer a lower commission rate of around 5%. In comparison, sales reps with a lower base salary can find themselves on a commission rate of anywhere between 20 and 40%. 

Overall, your company’s industry is the most significant factor in determining how competitive your commission rate is. So, According to the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, below are industry-specific average sales rep commission rates for 2012:

  • Engineering: $112,780
  • Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services: $93,090
  • Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products: $92,980
  • Insurance: $67,780
  • Advertising: $64,660
  • Real Estate: $62,060
  • Retail: $29,360

2. Base Salary Only

In a salary-only sales compensation plan, your sales reps have an agreed-upon fixed income beforehand. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how much your sales reps sell. Naturally, this doesn’t motivate your sales reps to push past their sales quota; therefore, using this sales compensation plan is fairly uncommon in sales teams.

Many salespeople enjoy the thrill of pressure, high stakes and the competitiveness of earning a commission. By taking these elements away, you may find that your top-performing sales reps are looking elsewhere for that commission.

Ultimately, base salary-only sales compensation plans are useful for those looking to make simple calculations about expenses and hiring needs. However, they may not be for those looking to reach new heights with energetic, motivated and passionate salespeople.

3. Tiered Commission

A tiered commission sales compensation plan is for companies seeking a great way to motivate sales reps while rewarding top performers. Therefore, in this sales compensation plan, once sales reps have closed or won a specific amount of deals, the sales rep’s commission rate increases. For example, sales reps could earn a 4% commission on all of their sales up to $10,000. However, once they pass this – they can earn an extra 6% commission on all other sales during this period.

4. Base Salary & Commission

However, this sales compensation plan’s base salary isn’t a sustainable income for most sales reps. Therefore, they still heavily rely on commission, spurring their motivation. On the other hand, the base salary acts as something to fall back on if there’s a change in the market and sales slow down.

5. Revenue Commission

Whether you opt for a commission-only or base salary with commission, you must set your commission rates. For this reason, the revenue commission model is a popular choice for companies who are looking to sell products with set price points. Furthermore, companies use this method to grow their market share or even enter new territories because they’re not as focused on profit as they are on larger business goals. So, for an example of commission revenue, if your sales rep sells a $1,000 product or service, they could get a 10% commission.

6. Gross Margin Commission Model

The Gross Margin commission model is a variation of the commission revenue model. It’s very similar to the model mentioned above. However, it considers the expenses related to the products you sell. Rather than earn a percentage of the revenue, sales reps can earn a portion of the profit.

Furthermore, this is a favorable model because it ensures every sale maintains the company’s bottom line by stopping sales reps who prefer to offer discounts to close a quick deal.

7. Commission Draw

A commission draw model contains commission-only elements, base salary pay, and commission structures. So, how does it work? All sales reps receive a set guaranteed monthly salary – regardless of how much they sell.

However, suppose they earn less in commissions than the draw amount. In that case, they’ll keep their commission and the difference between the draw amount and the commission. Furthermore, these draw payments are in advance and must be repaid by the sales rep.

Still, considering that it takes some time for sales reps to be fully productive, this allowance gives them some assurance.

This commission model is complex for everyone involved, especially when tracking and predicting earnings. Furthermore, if your sales reps have several bad sales periods, they’re now in debt to you.

How to design and set an effective Sales Compensation Plan

When designing and establishing compensation plans, most organizations look at either fixed salary, commission, or combination plans. That seems easy enough (or does it?) But how do you determine what compensation plan would inspire your sales team?

Sometimes it helps to differentiate between existing accounts and new accounts. However, it’s important to compare the value of each sale dollar produced from existing accounts to new accounts. You could also look at the effort needed to maintain existing customers versus acquiring new customers. Do your existing accounts essentially take care of themselves, or are they high maintenance?

Overall, discover how to create and set an effective sales compensation plan below:

1) Determine how to balance base salary and variable earnings

Settling a balance between base salary and commission is a tricky task. For example, if your base salary is too low, reps likely won’t be motivated enough and will ultimately leave the organization entirely.

Yet, if the base salary is too high relative to variable earnings, reps won’t be hungry for even meeting, let alone quota. As a result, finding the right balance depends on the length of your sales cycle.

Companies with short sales cycles often do well with a lower base salary and high variable earnings. In contrast, larger companies with longer, complex sales cycles, like most SaaS companies, will find that a higher base salary is necessary to retain hard-working reps.

2) Research industry salaries

Not only does it help you remain competitive, but you get a good idea of what other reps in your industry are making. Yet, to retain reps, you should offer salaries comparable to those of your competition. For this reason, you’ll want to look at national and regional salary averages. You can easily use Glassdoor to research average sales rep salaries in your area. 

3) Identify the factors that impact variable earnings

Sales reps will prioritize their time based on how you structure their sales compensation plans. So you must prioritise the tasks that make the most sense for your sales model. For example, many companies incentivize and incorporate revenue-generating activities into the compensation plan. These factors and activities can include:

  • Meetings scheduled
  • Meetings completed
  • Meeting with qualified prospect completed
  • Opportunities created
  • Number of deals
  • Revenue generated

Overall, you want to keep it simple. For this reason, don’t choose more than two factors to focus on, with one being revenue. Select the other factor based on what’s most important for your business’ revenue generation

4) Consider the range

Now you’ve identified the factors that impact earnings. You must define what different levels of achievement mean in your company. You’ll want to consider a ballpark figure for each level. For example:

  • What do the numbers look like for top performers? 
  • Mid-performers? 
  • Poor formers? 

From this point, work backward to identify an effective sales compensation plan, looking at historical data to help inform your decision-making.

5) Run the numbers

You want to ensure your potential compensation plan is viable, so using real (past) data only makes sense when running the numbers. Use your comparison to determine whether your offer is competitive enough in your industry’s job market.

6) Build in growth opportunities

Rewarding your hardworking sales reps appropriately is the key to any compensation plan. They’ll likely leave if you don’t show your top performers their worth. As a result, you’ll have to start over again with hiring, training and getting another rep up to standard, which isn’t cost-effective.

If you want your sales team to exceed expectations, you can elect to offer a higher commission rate once specific revenue targets have been met.

7) Summarise the compensation plan

Lastly, formalize your compensation plan in a shareable document. Make sure that the document is easy to read and understand by anyone who reads it. Too many sales compensation plans fail because they’re too complex. For instance, it’s probably too difficult for the average reader if it exceeds a single page.

The importance of a well-considered sales compensation plan

Great salespeople who are uninspired seek out new employers, and since they’re great at building, developing and nurturing relationships, they often take “their” accounts with them. One way to help inspire your sales team is to establish compensation plans commensurate with the effort required to achieve the organization’s objectives. 

What’s the most common sales compensation plan?

So while you’re still trying to figure out how your sales compensation plans should be structured, take note of this statistic. According to the Harvard Business Review, the most common structure is a 60% base salary in the US and a 40% variable.

How to set sales quotas

Sales teams can’t function without a sales quota; they are the basis of everything that a sales team does. That’s why they’re tied so closely to compensation – because you need to reward your sales reps for reaching benchmarks and milestones. Not sure how to set your sales quota? Read on to find out below.

What is a sales quota?

A sales quota is a financial goal that sales reps or teams must reach within a specific period, usually once a month or quarter. These are the goals for which you are directly compensating.

What’s the difference between sales quotas and sales goals?

The two seem very similar at the outset, but they are not. Sales quotas are the series of actions salespeople take to achieve a specific goal. That’s why it’s common to have sales quotas directly linked to compensation plans to reward achievements. 

Types of sales quotas

Small companies often just set sales quotas based on selling a single product or service at a fixed price. For example, how many units must a sales rep sell every month? However, there are plenty of variations that contain their benefits. Read on below to discover a sales quota that works for you:

1. Profit Quota

A profit quota ensures that sales representatives have to earn a specific revenue for the company by selling products or services for a defined amount of money. This type of sales quota is common among companies with several target markets and price points.

2. Activity Quota

Activity sales quotas depend on the actions or milestones a salesperson needs to make and reach during a particular period—for example, making a certain number of calls, emails or visiting clients. The purpose of this sales quota is to improve sales and monitor the performance of sales reps.

3. Volume Quota

Volume quotas reward sales reps for the number of deals or qualified leads they generate – regardless of deal size.

4. Forecast Quota

Forecast sales quotas depend on the sales a manager and their team achieve in a particular territory. Therefore, the forecast is determined by the historical performance of the sales team. For this reason, forecast quotas enable leaders to assess where influences on the company’s revenue exist – and how this will affect them.

5. Combination Quota

Combination sales quotas are a mix of strategies utilized during the lead-up to closing sales. However, they’re also particularly popular among sales managers who want to improve a variety of skills in their sales team.

Also read: 6 Types Of Sales Quotas That Help Sales Teams Win MORE Deals

How to set a sales quota

With only 60% of sales reps meeting their quotas – you must set a sales quota that will motivate and incentivize your sales team to reach or even exceed targets. We’ll show you how below: 

Choose a sales quota strategy

The sales quota strategy you choose to implement depends entirely on your goals – and industry. So it’s important first to consider which you will use because, ultimately, this will track and affect your sales team’s performance

Decide on a review period

Usually, your review period will depend on the length of your sales cycle. However, these are typically weekly, monthly or quarterly or a combination of all three. Different review periods have their benefits. For instance, short reviews are great for catching problems and taking suitable measures to fix them. On the other hand, more extended review periods allow sales reps to make up for lost deals and get that last close.

Set expectations

Not only do salespeople feel more engaged when they know what their priorities are and what they‘re assessed on (KPIs), but without clear expectations, staff are left confused, unmotivated and distressed. So ensure you set expectations for your sales team so that they can either reach the bar – or raise it.

Current median sales pay by industry (source):

  • 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
  • All other: $33,200

Other perks and benefits to consider

While considering your reps’ sales compensation plan, it’s also helpful to note that you can also create value for your team with other incentives. Your hardworking team sure won’t say no to healthcare plans, retirement plans, and paid time off!

If you want to go the extra mile for your team, you can also provide essentials such as phone and data plan reimbursement. And even a computer and data connection.

Organizations are moving away from using fixed prize giveaways and gift cards to online points-based compensation and incentives catalogs. These catalogs could include tickets to concerts and sporting events, travel packages and even products on Amazon.com.

Strengthen Your Sales Team with Strategic Leadership & Management Training

Maintaining motivation is critical for sustained achievement. As a sales rep, you know this: motivation drives hard work, customer connections, and goal attainment.

However, staying motivated despite rejection, setbacks, and intense competition poses significant challenges.

Many sales leaders grapple with the same issue within their teams. The solution lies in Strategic Leadership and Management Training. By honing your skills, you empower your sales team to take ownership, plan strategically, and surpass expectations.

Course booklets are provided for our Sales Leadership training

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