Great salespeople are comfortable dealing with money matters, but negotiating compensation is also a very personal matter, and since egos are involved it can be an emotional experience. After having spent many years hiring and recruiting salespeople and negotiating sales compensation plans, I offer these tips to help you land the sales person that will contribute to your sales goals.

Here are 6 compensation secrets that lead to great hires:

1. Don’t Be Shy

Salepeople are money driven. So it is important to address compensation expectations early when engaging any candidate, to make sure that their comp goals are in line is with your budget and/or to find out what it will cost to add that sales person to your team. Without making the conversation purely about money (because that is only one component of assessing fit), ask the rep what they are currently making and what base and commission at target would be required for them to consider a move.

2. Focus on the Target Income

Great salespeople do not work for their base. They meet or exceed their sales goals and in turn take home considerable compensation in the form of commissions. While it might be easier to focus on the base salary when making an offer to a prospective sales hire, the assumption is that you have properly vetted the candidate, that they will be achieving their quota and that they will be earning their full commissions at target, so the conversation during the compensation negotiation should revolve around the Total Target Income (TTI).

3. Offer Proof

It is one thing to tell a prospective sales hire about the high income they will make selling on your team, but the potential TTI has more credibility when you can show that other reps already on your team are making the same level of income. This sends a strong message to the sales person that you are trying to recruit.

4. Never Lowball

We were recently recruiting a high performing sales person who was fielding employment offers from two competing employers, one of which was our customer. During the compensation negotiations, the other employer offered the candidate a base salary of $75k, which was $45k lower than their current base! The employer justified their offer on the grounds that the target income was in line with the candidate’s expectations. I am not sure how the employer expected their offer to be received, but predictably, the candidate was incensed by the offer, feeling that it was an insult and that they had been misled by the other employer who claimed to offer “market” compensation.  Fortunately for us, the candidate accepted our offer almost immediately after receiving the other offer.

5. Don’t Go Quiet

Some employers will make employment offers and then not be available for questions afterwards. During any compensation negotiation, particularly after the first presentation of the offer, there will be questions. And since the negotiation can be emotional it makes sense to be available and responsive in providing answers. This keeps the negotiation positive and moving forward. And don’t forget the adage – “time kills deals.”

6. Negotiate Live

As the old saying goes “you can’t close in an email” yet many employers send an employment offer with compensation details by email. The downside of not negotiating compensation either in person or on the phone is that there is limited opportunity to gauge the candidate’s response to the offer. And it could be disastrous if the response is negative since there is no opportunity for recovery. The candidate may simply go silent, so it is always better to negotiate live, answer any questions in real time and confront any show stoppers before they become show stoppers.

To your success!


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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