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The Ultimate Guide to Software Sales Commission

Learn about the five most common commission models for software sales: commission only, base salary plus commission, profit-based commission, tiered commission, and residual commission. Also look at a few proven tips to set your own commission rate, and guidelines for creating a software sales commission structure. Lastly, view average salary breakups for six different software sales roles like sales development representative (SDR), outside sales representative, account executive (AE), customer success manager, software account manager, and solutions architect.

Selling requires people skills. But selling software requires people and technical skills.

For a company to find good, committed sales reps who have either of those skill sets is hard enough. To find reps who have both … is like rolling a hard eight at a craps table.

That’s why software firms do everything they can to identify, hire and retain the best of the best — which includes paying top dollar for top talent.

In this article, let’s look at the five most common commission models for software sales, and the average salaries for different sales roles. I’ll also provide some tips for creating your own software commission structure, including how you can determine your commission percentage.

Top 5 Software Sales Commission Models

A software sales commission is a type of compensation where sales reps are paid commissions for selling company software to clients in various markets. These clients could be other businesses (B2B) or end users (B2C).

Now, let’s look at the five types of commission models commonly used in software sales.

Commission-only Model

The commission-only model is also known as the straight commission model. Here, sales reps only earn money when they make the firm money. If they sell nothing, they earn nothing.

Given the risky pay structure, commission rates in this model tend to be higher than those in other models.

While the commission-only model is undoubtedly aggressive, it does suit certain kinds of companies and sales reps:

Companies that are cash-strapped (like startups) or are experimenting with a new product.

Sales reps who are experienced and self-driven, and also want the flexibility of an independent work schedule.

Base Salary plus Commission Model

Almost every software firm you come across has used or is using this model.

Sort of like the gold standard!

The base salary plus commission model involves a fixed component (base salary) and a variable component (commission). This model suits most companies and reps. It allows companies to budget their expenses well. And it offers reps some financial stability, plus the incentive to sell.

For example, Sally is an Account Executive at a SaaS firm that sells ERP software. Her salary breakup is as follows:

  • Base pay: $70,000
  • Commission: $40,000
  • Quota: $5,00,000

In the above example, Sally will get her base pay of $70,000 no matter how well she performs. But if she wants to take home that neat $40,000 commission as well, she will need to meet quota; i.e. sell $5,00,000 worth of ERP software in a year.

Profit-based Commission Model

Unlike most models that offer commissions on revenue, the profit-based commission model only considers the profits made on a sale.

For example, a software firm with a varied product portfolio might offer its reps a fixed 15% commission on the profits from each sale. So, if rep A sells CRM software for $30,000, and the profit on that sale was $20,000, rep A will earn $3,000 (15% of $20,000) in commission.

Companies like this model because it:

  • Discourages reps from giving very high discounts.
  • Encourages reps to close high-value deals that have higher profit margins.
  • Allows companies to budget better since they pay commissions on profits, not revenue.

Tiered Commission Model

In the tiered commission model, reps who make quota (hit their annual targets) are incentivized to sell more through higher commission rates.

So, let’s take the same example as that of the base salary plus commission model.

Here, Sally’s commission rate per deal is 8% (40,000 / 500,000 * 100).

But what if Sally makes quota within just eight months?

What motive does she have to sell for the remaining four months?

Short answer: She doesn’t!

This is where a tiered commission model can help.

If Sally was on a tiered commission model, her commission structure might look something like this:

As you can see, tiered commission models help keep your overachievers motivated by always giving them the incentive to sell more.

PS: The increased commission rates post 100% quota attainment are known as accelerators.

Residual Commission Model

A residual commission model incentivizes reps to retain old clients by offering them commissions on product renewals.

This model is mostly used by subscription-based businesses like digital streaming platforms and cloud storage providers, where a majority of the customer’s value is realized after they sign up.

Renewal commission rates might vary by company, but the industry average hovers around 2%.

Note: This model should only be used if your sales reps are actively involved in customer retention after the deal is closed.

3 Proven Tips for Creating a Software Sales Commission Structure

Here are three tips for you to keep in mind when planning a commission structure for your sales team:

Define your business goals

The best sales commission structures are those that align sales efforts with company objectives.

Some common business goals a software sales team might work towards include:

  • Maximizing upfront payments.
  • Signing long-term contracts.
  • Increasing product renewal rates.
  • Improving customer satisfaction.
  • Generating referrals from existing clients.

Work within your budgets

While chalking up your commission structure, it’s a good idea to keep your finance and accounting teams in the know.

So, if you’re planning on including a spiff or prefer a base plus commission model, and cash flow is tight, it’s better to go for a commission-only model.

This will ensure things run smoothly across departments.

Use clear and precise language

Your commission structure should be clear enough for reps to know exactly what they stand to earn if they hit, miss, or exceed their targets.

How do you ensure this?

Through simple and concise language that sets clear expectations for your sales team. That means no fancy words, no complicated tables, and definitely no confusing phrases.

How to Determine Your Ideal Commission Rate

Average commission rates for software sales range anywhere between 8-12%.

However, here are the five key factors you should consider when setting your own rate:

Competitor Rates

What sort of commission rates are your competitors offering?

You don’t have to copy them, of course.

Their commission structures might be different from yours, but it’s always good to know what the competition is up to.

Contract Length

With subscription-based services, you ideally want customers to commit for the long haul. But getting them to sign a one, two, or multi-year contract is no mean feat.

That’s why it’s a good idea to offer higher rates to reps who bring in long-term clients.

Sales Cycle Length

The shorter your quota term, the higher your commission rate should be.

That’s why companies with shorter sales cycles (<45 days) often set monthly quotas. And those with longer sales cycles (>90 days) set quotas every quarter.

Upfront Payments

If you’re selling software of high contract value, your clients will likely want a staggered payment schedule with a modest initial payment.

In such cases, you should consider offering higher commission rates to reps who bring in larger upfront payments.


Sometimes it’s not about how much a client is paying you, but the client themselves.

For example, in the tech space, every vendor would love to boast about having an Apple or a Google in their client list, no matter the size of the contract.

Your industry likely has its own A-listers. If you want those A-listers on your roster, you should consider offering higher commissions to reps who rope them in.

Average Salaries for Software Sales Roles

Let’s look at the average salaries for the 6 most common job profiles in software sales:

Sales Development Representative (SDR)

Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) reach out to potential clients through outbound calls and emails and also handle incoming queries.

Average base salary: $46,521

Total yearly compensation: $40,000 - $77,000

Outside Sales Representative

Outside sales representatives travel from place to place, selling company products to new clients and maintaining relationships with existing clients.

Average base salary: $51,765

Total yearly compensation: $36,00 - $100,000

Account Executive

Account Executives (AE) convert qualified leads into customers by understanding their pain points and offering appropriate solutions.

Average base salary: $60,446

Total yearly compensation: $69,000 - $116,000

Customer Success Manager

Customer success managers’ job responsibilities revolve around building client relationships and leading customer success teams.

Average base salary: $72,503

Total yearly compensation: $51,000 - $124,000

Software Account Manager

Software account managers oversee software delivery, fulfill client needs, develop sales support, and more.

Average base salary: $86,970

Total yearly compensation: $104,000 - $178,000

Solutions Architect

A solutions architect analyzes customer issues and designs the overall technical vision to solve that problem.

Average base salary: $123,285

Total yearly compensation: $158,00 - $260,000

Wrapping Up

The software industry is a different beast altogether.

Product trends change and markets evolve at a far quicker pace than more traditional industries like manufacturing or retail. That’s why you need to always keep your eye on the ball when it comes to your commission strategy.

If your reps aren’t happy, or if something isn’t working the way it should, make the changes that need to be made – and make them pronto.

Because if you don’t, your best guys will get poached before you can say, ‘Let’s go to market!’

Make payouts right every time with ElevateHQ

Move from manual to automated and error-free commission calculations with our platform.

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