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The Ultimate Guide to Tiered Commission

The Ultimate Guide to Tiered Commission

The Ultimate Guide to Tiered Commission

Executive summary: In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about tiered commissions.

  • What are tiered commissions and their benefits.

  • The common types of tiered commission plans.

  • The steps needed to create this plan.

  • The pros and cons of tiered commission structures and scenarios where you can use them.

  • Tips for successfully implementing a tiered commission structure.

We’ve often seen big brands like Pepsi and Kellogg’s launch campaigns where consumers can win fabulous prizes by collecting bottle caps and cereal boxes.

The idea is the more points you collect, the better the reward.

When done right, this brilliant marketing strategy can skyrocket your sales!

Similarly, you can use a tiered commission structure to not only keep your salesforce motivated but your sales numbers ticking.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a tiered commission structure is, its pros and cons, and its benefits. We’ll also highlight a few tips to help you easily implement this structure.

What is a Tiered Commission Structure?

A tiered commission structure is where sales reps are encouraged to sell more by being offered incrementally higher commission rates for exceeding sales quotas.

These quotas can be based on revenue, profits, number of deals closed, units sold, new customers acquired, etc.

A typical tiered commission structure might look something like this:

Table 1.1: Different tiers and their commission rate.

As you can see above, a tiered commission structure is a great way to keep your entire sales team motivated. It pushes your employees to work harder, keeps your core sellers on their toes, and gives your star performers a chance to make a killing.

3 Key Benefits of Tiered Commissions

If you're a sales manager looking for ways to motivate your team and drive sales, consider implementing a tiered commission structure. Here are some of the benefits you can expect:

1. Motivate sales reps to achieve higher sales targets

Tiered commissions motivate sales reps to achieve higher sales targets. When reps know they can earn higher commissions by selling more, they are more likely to put in the extra effort to close deals.

For example, a software sales rep who earns a 5% commission on sales up to $50,000 might be motivated to close a $60,000 deal if they know they will make a 7% commission on the additional $10,000.

2. Incentivize specific product lines or customer segments

Tiered commissions incentivize specific product lines or customer segments. If you have a new product that you want to promote or a specific customer segment that you want to target, you can design your tiered commission structure to reward reps for selling those products or to those customers. This can help to focus your sales efforts and drive revenue growth.

For example, a car dealership might offer a higher commission rate for sales of electric vehicles to incentivize reps to promote those vehicles over traditional gas-powered cars. This would align with the dealership's goal of promoting sustainable transportation and reducing its carbon footprint.

3. Improve sales team morale and retention

When reps feel that their hard work and sales performance are being recognized and rewarded, they’re more likely to feel satisfied with their jobs and to stay with your company.

This can reduce turnover and ensure that you have a stable and effective sales team in place.

One company that has seen improvements in sales team morale and retention with a tiered commission structure is T-Mobile. They offer a "Mobile Expert" program that rewards sales reps with higher commissions for achieving certain sales targets and customer satisfaction scores. The program has successfully motivated reps to sell more and improved overall team performance.

5 Common Types of Tiered Commission Structures

Now that we've covered the basics of tiered commissions and their benefits let's dive into the various types of tiers you can use to implement them.

1. Team-Based Tiers

This structure is based on the overall performance of a team. Each sales rep is incentivized to contribute to the team's success by hitting certain milestones.

For example, once the team reaches $1 million in sales, each rep will earn a bonus. This structure encourages collaboration, teamwork, and healthy competition among team members.

2. Product-Specific Tiers

This structure is based on the sales of specific products. Each product is assigned a different commission rate, with higher rates for products that are more difficult to sell or have higher profit margins.

For example, a SaaS company might offer a higher commission rate for its premium product than its entry-level product. This structure incentivizes reps to focus on selling specific products and can help drive sales in those areas.

3. Performance-Based Tiers

This structure is based on the individual performance of each sales rep. The commission rate increases as the rep hits certain performance metrics, such as meeting or exceeding their sales quota or maintaining a high customer satisfaction score. This structure motivates reps to perform at their best and rewards them for individual achievements.

4. Customer-Specific Tiers

This structure is based on the sales to specific customer segments.

For example, a company might offer a higher commission rate for sales to new customers compared to existing ones. This structure incentivizes reps to focus on acquiring new customers and can help drive growth in the customer base.

5. Hybrid Tiers

This structure combines two or more of the above structures to create a customized commission plan that fits the company's specific goals and sales strategy.

For example, a company might use a combination of team-based and product-specific tiers to incentivize reps to work together to sell specific products.

How to Design a Tiered Commission Structure

Design a tiered commission structure using this three-step process:

Step 1: Set sales quotas

Sales quotas are time-bound and quantitative targets your sales team must achieve to earn commissions.

Here are a few examples:

  • Making 500 calls a month.

  • Generating $100,000 in revenue per quarter.

  • Qualifying 200 leads a week.

Depending on the nature of your business, you will need to set sales quotas accordingly.

Check out our 7 steps blog on how to set effective sales quotas.

Step 2: Establish performance tiers

In this step, we’ll group those sales quotas into performance tiers.

In the example above, the tiers were 0-60%, 60-100%, 100-150%, and so on. You can set your own tiers depending on your business goals.

Moreover, if your sales team is hitting their quota often, you can even set some tiers below and some above 100% quota attainment. On the other hand, if your sales team’s average quota attainment is about midway, you could set more conservative tiers (e.g., 0-40%, 40-60%, 60-80%, 80-100%, and 100-120%).

Pro-tip: Avoid loading your commission structure with too many tiers. A good range would be 4-5 tiers.

While a tiered commission structure effectively improves your sales numbers, you must ensure the higher payouts are profitable for your firm. The last thing you want is for your sales reps to make a bank while you struggle to break even.

Step 3: Decide commission rates for each tier

The next step is deciding what commission rates you want to offer for each tier.

This will require some amount of research and planning. But the bottom line is that you should ensure that the commission rates you offer are competitive enough to attract exceptional talent. At the same time, your finance team needs to vet the rates to ensure your cash flows aren’t affected.

Step 4: Choose the payout curve

Lastly, we’ll decide on the payout curve.

Let’s understand this with an example. If a sales rep has a target of $100,000 and the total sales they made is $120,000, their quota attainment is: 120%

Now, we have two scenarios here – flat and incremental payouts. And depending on the type of payout curve, reps can have different earning potentials.

A. Flat tiers

Fig 1.1: Flat tiered commission

In flat tiers, reps would earn commission based on the flat commission rate for each deal they made.

Based on the tiers in Table 1.1, for 120% quota attainment, the rep would earn a flat 12% commission of the total sales made.

So, total commission = 12% of $120,000 = $14,400

B. Incremental tiers

Fig 1.2: Incremental tiered commission

Here, the commission will increase for each tier as follows:

  • Tier 1: 6% of (60% x 100,000) = $3,600
  • Tier 2: 10% of (40% 100,000)) = $4,000
  • Tier 3: 12% of 20,000 = $2,400

Total commissions = $3,600 + $4,000 + $2,400 = $10,000

As you can see, there’s clearly a big difference in both cases.

If you compare the payout curve, it would look something like this:

Fig 1.3: Flat vs. incremental tiered commission
Fig 1.3: Flat vs. incremental tiered commission

Flat tiers are suitable for industries like manufacturing, where most companies use a team-based commission structure – shifting the focus to collective performance rather than individual sales. This offers a consistent commission rate based on overall team performance.

While a flat payout can leave a considerable dent in your account after every commission period, you can use it to your advantage.


If your sales team is continuously clustering at 60% of quota attainment, you can use flat tiers to give that much-needed extra push.

On the other hand, incremental tiers can benefit SaaS companies and product resellers where sales volume and customer acquisition are crucial. Even though you’ll end up paying more with each tier, incentivizing sales reps to sell more aligns with the recurring revenue model of these industries.

Pros and Cons of a Tiered Commission Structure

Let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of a tiered commission structure:

Table 2.1: Pros and cons of tiered commission structure.

When Should You Use a Tiered Commission Structure?

Here are some scenarios where using a tiered commission plan might be just the change you need:

  • You want more control over your commission rates (something a straight-line commission plan doesn’t provide, for example).

  • You have an established sales process and want to scale your organization.

  • Your sales reps consistently hit but don’t exceed their sales targets.

  • Your current commission plan isn’t quite generating the results you want.

  • Your sales team lacks motivation, and you need to reignite their passion for selling.

How to Successfully Implement a Tiered Commission Structure

To successfully implement a tiered commission structure, always keep these three points in mind:

1. Minimize errors

Tiered commission structures can get complex at times, increasing the probability of an error.

Errors in design could lead to your reps not focusing on the goals you’ve set out. Further, errors in commission calculations could seriously dampen your sales team’s morale.

Errors are the kryptonite of a tiered commission structure

2. Maintain clear communication

The more transparent your plan, the greater its chances of success. And transparency comes with clear and constant communication.

You want to ensure your reps fully understand each aspect of the plan. If they have any queries, they should feel comfortable enough to voice them, no matter how trivial they may seem.

Also, your reps should always have real-time visibility into their earnings. They shouldn’t have to wait till the end of the month or quarter to view how much they made in commissions. A sales commission software can help you in this regard.

3. Avoid payment delays

This one holds for any commission structure. True story!

Delaying payments, even by a few days, can affect your sales team’s morale.

Your top performers can feel grossly mistreated as they put in all that effort to grow your business continuously. And your bottom sellers, who are probably already struggling to maintain morale, can sink further.

Final Thoughts

Tiered commission structures are among the most effective tools to build and sustain your sales team’s motivation.

But you have to do it the right way.

That means not cutting corners, ensuring you have adequate resources (both financial and salesforce), using the right automation software, and promoting a culture of trust and transparency.

Use this article to understand everything you need to know about tiered commissions and implement tiered commissions with ease!

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