Informative practical answers to tough sales questions - sound advise and tips to help you win more sales!

Every month I receive a variety of questions from salespeople and their managers. These come from a variety of sources - my live seminars, the monthly phone seminars, questions that are sent into my newsletter, and issues that arise in the course of my consulting work. Out of all of these, I select those that I think have the most universal application, and respond to them here.

More Quesitons and Answers Articles Sales Development Questions & Answers by Dave Kahle
We are intent on revising our decades-old sales compensation plan. Management is divided. One half favors straight commission, and the other doesn't. What are your thoughts?


In my work as a sales consultant, I am routinely involved in helping my clients revise their sales compensation plans. My company, on any day of the week, always has an open compensation plan project that we are working on for some client.

I say that to let you know that I have extensive experience with sales force compensation plans. The ideas that I am going to share with you arise out of this extensive experience.

In my career as a sales person, I loved straight commission and eventually came to the position that I wouldn't work on any other plan. In my experience as a sales consultant, I've changed my opinion.

In most circumstances, I don't recommend straight commission plans.

Let's make sure we are using the same language. I use the term straight commission to mean the kind of compensation that pays the sales person only for making a sale. The sales person receives no salary or wage other than commissions.

There are a number of reasons why I have evolved to the point that I have.

First, strategically, 100% commission plans make no provision for the difference between acquiring new business, and maintaining old business. It is always much easier to maintain old business than it is to acquire new business. As a result, if you are in the kind of business where your customers buy from you over and over again, the sales person becomes unfairly compensated for maintaining business, and under compensated for acquiring new business.

The net result? Your sales people do what is easiest, call on the same customers and sell the same things, and your new account acquisition becomes a constant problem.

Secondly, 100% commission plans rarely offer an opportunity for the company to gain sales productivity. Again, I need to define my terms. Sales productivity is defined as the cost to acquire a certain amount of gross profit. If you pay the sales person 15% of the gross profit, for example, your sales productivity will remain forever fixed at 15%. Your sales productivity will never improve.

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I don't think that is an acceptable situation in any other aspect of your business. Aren't you always trying to improve the productivity of your warehouse, for example? Aren't you investing in new computer capability to improve the productivity of the customer service and data entry people? Aren't you trying to become a leaner organization so that you improve the productivity of your management?

In this kind of environment, why would you exempt one class of employees from the need to become more productive?

Third, 100% commission programs promote a lack of directability among the sales people. Directability means that the sales people can generally be expected to do what you direct them to do. When sales people are paid only by commissions, they believe that their commissions are the only thing they need to worry about. You can ask them to focus on certain products, certain customers, certain anything, and you can expect that only the rare few will do what you want them to do. Rather, they will do what gets them the easiest commissions.

In today's rapidly changing economic environment, I believe that you must have a highly directable sales force as a strategic asset.

Fourth, 100% commission programs are based on certain misconceptions. One is that the sales force is highly entrepreneurial and will look on their sales territories as their own business, generally making the right decisions to build their business. While this may have been true a decade or two ago, I believe it is rarely true today. Based on interviews with thousands of sales people, I believe that most sales people today would trade their "business" for a sure income (salary). Money is not the motivator for this generation of sales people that it was for the Baby Boomers.

The second misconception is this: That 100% commission programs motivate people to continually sell more. Again, that sounds good for the Baby Boomers who are making the compensation decisions, but it isn't realistic for the sales people who are living with those decisions. Again, from my experience, most salespeople are not motivated to sell ever more. Rather, the 100% commission programs motivate them to sell until their income level reaches their comfortable image of themselves, and then to plateau and work less hard for the same money.

Now I realize that there are those reading this who strongly object to my observations based on their personal experience. I understand that there are highly motivated professional sales people about whom the above statements would not apply. There are always exceptions. Those highly motivated exceptions to the observations are just that --exceptions. They represent about 5% of the sales force. It's the other 95% to which my observations apply.
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If you have any comments or questions, email them to me. I do, of course, reserve the right to edit.




Here are a few articles by Dave
that you might be interested in reading:

  • What's the Best Way to Find a Good Salesperson... Good question! It seems that everyone has a favorite response. Some people only use recruiters, and others swear by networking. But classified ads continue to be the most common choice. Almost everyone who hires salespeople will, at some time, search for prospects via the "help wanted" section.... {Read More}

  • Is it Time to Revise Your Sales Compensation Plan?... If you're paying your sales reps straight commission, you're using an obsolete formula. If you're paying your sales reps a straight salary, you're also using an obsolete formula. Read this article to find out a much more effective way to compensate your sales staff.... {Read More}

  • How to Deal with the Salesperson Who Has Leveled Off... Every manager has, or will, confront this troublesome issue. It´s arisen in every workshop for sales managers or branch managers I´ve done. One or more of your salespeople has leveled off. Their performance hasn´t improved much in the last few years. Where before you were able to count on significant increases each year, now you can not. You know that these experienced salespeople can do better, but they seem unable or unwilling to break out of a certain level of performance. You are scratching your head, frustrated, and loosing sleep at night wondering how to improve the situation. What do you do?... {Read More}

There are also many other action-packed articles for sales professionals that offer how-to solutions to every day sales problems that you can read online at


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