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What is Commission?

Commission is a form of compensation paid to an employee for completing a specific task, typically selling a certain number of products or services. It serves as additional income earned based on job performance, motivating employees by directly linking a portion of their income to their achievements, such as sales made, deals closed, or clients acquired.

Understanding Commission Structures

Commissions can vary significantly depending on the industry and specific job function. The main types of commission structures include:

  • Percentage-Based Commission: This is the most common type, where the agent earns a certain percentage of the sales value. For example, real estate agents typically earn a commission of about 5% to 6% of the sale price of a property.
  • Flat Fee Commission: Instead of a percentage, a flat fee is earned per transaction. This is common in industries like travel booking or certain types of retail.
  • Tiered Commission: In this structure, the commission rate increases as the salesperson surpasses certain sales thresholds. This model is designed to motivate higher sales volumes.
  • Residual Commission: This is common in services where clients pay a recurring fee. Agents earn a commission not just on the initial sale but also on recurring payments, providing an incentive for maintaining customer relationships.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Commission-Based Pay


  • Motivation: Commission-based pay can drive employees to perform better, as their earnings are directly tied to their output or sales.
  • Flexibility: For businesses, paying commissions can be more flexible and cost-effective compared to salaries, as commissions are paid only when sales occur.
  • Attract Talent: Competitive commission plans can attract top talent, especially in sales-driven industries.


  • Income Inconsistency: For employees, commission-based pay can lead to fluctuating income, which can be financially stressful.
  • Customer Relations: There might be a temptation to prioritize the sale over the customer's best interests, potentially harming long-term business relationships.
  • Team Cohesion: Commission-based environments can sometimes lead to unhealthy competition among team members.

Commission Versus Salary: Comparing Compensation Methods

When comparing commission-based and salary-based compensation methods, it's important to consider factors such as job type, income stability, personal motivation, company policy, and potential earnings. Commission-based pay is common in sales, recruiting, account management, and real estate, where employees' efforts directly impact company revenue. This method motivates employees to meet or exceed goals, as their income depends on their performance. However, commission-based income can fluctuate, making it less stable than a fixed salary.

Salary-based compensation offers more stability, as it is a fixed regular payment regardless of performance. This method is more common in industries not heavily focused on direct sales or services, such as technology, healthcare, education, and most corporate office jobs. Ultimately, the choice between commission and salary-based compensation depends on individual preferences, job responsibilities, and industry standards.

Crafting an Effective Commission Plan

Crafting an effective commission plan involves balancing base salary and commission to incentivize employees while providing income stability. A common approach is a 50/50 split between base salary and commission, ensuring employees are motivated to meet or exceed goals without a cap on potential earnings. Setting realistic targets is crucial, as commission can motivate employees to meet quarterly or yearly goals. Companies may define commission as "earned" based on specific achievements, such as signing a new client or successfully placing a candidate.

Adjusting commission plans for different roles is also important, as promotions or shifts in roles may lead to higher base salaries and potential commissions, along with increased responsibilities and sales quotas. While the commission percentage or plan might not change, the base and variable salary components could increase, reflecting the higher expectations and potential for earnings in the new role.

Other terms

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