Want to Make More Money? How to Ask For a New Sales Commission Plan

Teanna Spence
Teanna Spence



What is the biggest secret complaint among sales reps (that nobody is talking about)?

Most sales commission plans stink.

Reps don’t necessarily expect a higher base pay. But they do expect their incentive pay to match their sales performance.

The internet offers loads of advice on how to ask for a pay raise. As a sales rep though, you’ll probably run into some unique challenges when you approach your employer about compensation.

First, most sales managers will be quick to point the finger back at you. Your sales earnings are in your own hands, after all. So maybe you should just sell more.

Free Resource: Sales Compensation Calculator

Second, unlike straight salaried employees, your compensation is (or should be) tied to a plan that involves historical analysis and TTC modeling. Making inquiries into the strategy behind an existing sales commission plan may put your managers on the defensive. Because instead of just saying you’re worth more money, what you’re actually saying is the current incentive system wasn’t designed very well.

Here are some tips to express the point diplomatically, and hopefully influence a sales commission plan change that earns you more money.

Stop Complaining; Start Gathering Data

If your company still uses spreadsheets for its sales commission plan/administration, it may be hard to get your hands on the performance reports and payout details you need. Enlist the help of your compensation analyst. He or she may be frustrated with the outdated sales commission plan, too.

Compare your quarterly highs and lows with the commission checks that accompanied them. Does the current plan keep you invested in maintaining or surpassing those highs? Does it include accelerators that account for the difficulty of closing exponentially more deals, beyond your quota?

Give Management Constructive Feedback

When employees are frustrated, they tend to start speaking in exaggerated absolutes.

  • "My quota is ridiculous."
  • "My manager is clueless."
  • "I’m working my butt off."  
  • "These numbers are impossible."

Sales managers, just like pretty much everyone else, don’t respond well to vague, exaggerated complaints. And they don’t have time for aimless gripes.

If you want to be taken seriously, approach the issue with genuine, constructive feedback. Try putting your perspective into an email or Word document before scheduling a time to talk.

Instead of talking in abstractions, try voicing your concerns concretely and diplomatically:

  • "I love a good challenge, but I feel my quota doesn’t fairly represent the opportunities in my territory."
  • "I pushed myself to close 10% more sales last quarter, but the time and effort isn’t reflected in my commission check."

Starting your conversation on a positive note will help you establish common ground. 

Bring Solutions to the Table

It’s easy to throw a complaint on someone else’s desk and walk away. But it isn’t very effective. As smart career advisers often say, “Don’t bring problems to your manager; bring solutions.” In this case, you might try offering up suggestions for sales resource optimization tools or sales commission software.

TerrAlign, for example, offers a SaaS sales territory alignment solution that looks at travel times between opportunities, and allocates geographic territory accordingly. Managers can access realistic drive times, modify sales territories by zooming and scrolling maps, and access corresponding customer data.

Focus on Your Motivational Needs, Not Your Financial Ones

At the end of the day, your main goal may be the commission dollar amount you need in order to put a pool in your backyard. But your manager is interested in keeping you (and your colleagues) motivated to support company goals -- whether they include increased sales on a strategic product line or expansion into new markets.

With an optimized sales commission plan, you can both get what you want. So focus your conversation on the motivational piece.

  • Why are you more likely to continue selling as you always have, given the current plan?
  • Why is selling the new product so much harder?
  • And what would it take for you to devote more time in that area?

If you can provide honest answers to these questions, you’ll be helping your sales manager do his or her job better. And in terms of changing the current comp plan … you might close the deal on that front, too.

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on the Cornerstone Software blog. It is republished here with permission.

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