If you want to hire a great sales person on a full commission sales compensation plan or with a very low base, here’s the short answer on how you can: You can’t.

We get literally hundreds of requests from companies each year that want to hire sales reps on full commission.  The requests often sound something like these (all details have been modified):

  • Seeking a superstar sales person. We are a startup so need commission only, but the right person can easily achieve six-figures.
  • We need an experienced sales person, with strong contacts. Commission only with other incentives. 
  • Need commission only reps who can sell. 
  • Looking to expand our sales team – commission only, but payouts can be significant.
  • We need to hire 100% commission sales people that are hunters and can close sales on the initial visit.

I love the clarity on needs, and I wish hiring capable sales people was this easy, but think about it – why would someone who can sell work strictly on commission, where they assume all of the risk in building someone else’s business? Why would someone with a strong track record of sales performance join a company that makes no commitment or investment in the sales effort? Why would a superstar join a company that can’t afford to pay them a base salary? They wouldn’t. 

They wouldn’t because reliable, top performing sales people are a rare breed. They represent a small percentage of the total sales population (5-10%) and are in high demand, which consequently allows them to choose which employers they work for. And when they choose, they consistently choose employers that pay them well and set them up to succeed.

In fact there are only a few business sectors such as office products or retail sales where it is commonplace to attract talent by offering a full commission compensation plan, but even in those sectors, the best reps are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to migrate to better sectors where they will receive a more favourable return on their effort (we know – they call on our recruiters for help).

In most sectors, an employer that does not pay its sales people a premium over competitors, cannot expect to attract the best talent available and will more likely be building a sales team with under-performers that maybe wasting time, opportunities and money.

The bottom line is that if you want people who can sell, you will have to pay to attract them.

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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