A Commission Only Salesperson. The Holy Grail of Sales?

05.03.20 11:44 PM By Matthew Whyatt

I work with and speak with a lot of people in the software and technology sales space who are looking to grow their business and at least once a month I get asked about commission only salespeople. Whilst answering the most recent request (today) I thought it was worth getting this information out to a wider audience.

The Real Deal on Commission Only Salespeople

Although it sounds like a great idea to have someone selling your products and services without you being out of pocket unless they make a sale, it is actually a mindset of hiring for failure rather than excellence. You are already setting your expectations low and thinking about the what ifs of them not making sales rather than hiring the best person for the job to get the best results for your company. 

Let’s be honest, very few people who see themselves as a sales professional will take on a commission only sales position. Professionals from any walk of life have worked hard to develop the skills, networks and experience that make them good at what they do, and they expect to be compensated as such.

Would you ever consider paying commission only for other roles in your business such as your IT or accounting departments? Of course not! These are critical departments in your company and therefore deserve the best person for the job, with the skills and ability to get the job done right. Therefore, you need to see your sales department as just as important as IT or accounts. Why should they be the only department not valued enough to be paid a salary? Why would you want a less skilled or able person in such an important role in your company?

The quality of salespeople that are usually attracted to a commission only position will generally be lower, or those who have been unable to secure a salary paying role, and as a result will not have all the skills required to do the best job for you. Salespeople are more often than not the first contact point of your company and it could be more detrimental having less skilled people as the face of your company.

If you still believe that a commission only salesperson is the best option for your company, then you need to be prepared.

The Right Dynamic to Succeed

Commission only salespeople will require a significant amount of care and maintenance. The only situations where I have seen commission only salespeople be truly successful is where the salespeople are managed very strongly, by a hard-core sales manager, who is on the tools and kicking goals every single day, following a set-in stone sales process that can be easily repeated by someone with less skill. When you have a great manager with a proven track record in place, they can encourage and support the new commission only salespeople. They need to be leading by example - Do what I say AND do what I do!

Group interviews, a fun work environment and exciting sales meetings are the best way to create the hype needed to convince people to work for commission only. You will also need to have:

  • Replicable systems in place that show a clear path to making a sale,
  • Lots of social proof,
  • Overt sales prizes such as trips, gifts, trophies – not cash,
  • Clear advancement opportunities with exciting titles that raise the salespersons ego, and
  • A well thought out compensation plan with the right commission percentages.

You also need to be prepared to always be hiring. Many consider a commission only sales role to be a temporary position so you will need to be recruiting constantly to keep up with the turnover.

A Clear Path to Making Sales

The first step before you hire anyone, or even undertake a marketing campaign, is for you to build the assets required to make it very clear how you expect the job to be done and how they can succeed in making sales. These assets include sales processes, scripts, presentation materials etc. You must be absolutely clear on sales strategy, tactics ….. everything. Clarity and focus will win the day!

When considering hiring salespeople of any kind you need to make sure you have:
  • A documented sales process,
  • Scripts for handling each step in the process,
  • Clear objection handling,
  • Marketing materials,
  • Visual aids for the presentation, and
  • A strong call to action at the end of the presentation.

All of the above is essential in showing that clear path to a sale. It also helps to shorten the sales cycle. Long sales cycles will kill commission only salespeople’s enthusiasm and they will leave.

So, before you go ahead and look at hiring commission only salespeople because it appears to be the easy, inexpensive option, you need to consider if it’s really the best option in the long run.  Should you just let anyone sell your product or service? Why would you not want the person with the most skills and experience?  Why leave something so critical to your company in the hands of people you aren't even willing to pay to do the job?  Value your salespeople for their experience and capability like you do any other position in your company.  They will be worth it!

Matthew Whyatt

Matthew works with owners and managers of B2B software companies to get more clients by simplifying high value, complex sales. Matthew started his first software business over 20 years ago, after a very successful sales career where he regularly outsold long established players in a number of markets. Matthews' relentless thirst for knowledge and his ability to apply that knowledge in real world situations makes him a truly versatile salesperson. If you're interested in scaling up and getting more clients then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.