What is Pay at Risk?

At-risk pay is additional money that salespeople can earn based on their performance. It's like a bonus or variable pay that depends on whether they meet or exceed their sales goals. If they achieve their targets, they receive extra pay on top of their base salary. This motivates salespeople to work harder, sell more, and achieve better results. It's a way for companies to reward high-performing sales professionals and create incentives for them to drive revenue and meet company objectives.

Importance of at-risk pay in sales compensation

The purpose of at-risk pay in sales compensation is to achieve several key objectives:

  1. Linking performance to pay: At-risk pay or pay-for-performance plans ensure that sales professionals are directly rewarded for their individual performance. By tying a portion of their compensation to specific sales targets or performance goals, it creates a clear link between the effort invested and the financial reward received.
  2. Driving sales performance and productivity: At-risk pay serves as a powerful motivational tool to inspire salespeople to strive for higher levels of performance. It encourages them to actively pursue sales opportunities, close deals, and meet or exceed their targets, ultimately driving increased sales volume and revenue generation.
  3. Aligning sales goals with company objectives: At-risk pay helps align the interests and efforts of salespeople with the overall goals and objectives of the organization. By defining specific performance based metrics, such as revenue targets or market share growth, it ensures that sales professionals are focused on activities that contribute to the company's success and strategic direction.
  4. Recognizing and rewarding exceptional performance: At-risk pay allows companies to identify and reward top performers within the sales team. Sales professionals who consistently achieve or exceed their targets can earn higher levels of at risk pay, providing recognition and financial incentives for their outstanding contributions to the organization.
  5. Retention and Motivation of sales talent: By offering at-risk pay, companies can attract and retain talented sales professionals who are driven by the opportunity to earn higher performance-based rewards. It helps create a competitive and rewarding compensation structure that keeps salespeople engaged, motivated, and committed to achieving their goals.

Types of at risk pay

There are several different types of at-risk pay structures commonly used in sales compensation. These include:

  1. Commission: Commission-based at risk pay is one of the most prevalent structures in sales compensation. Sales professionals earn a percentage of the revenue they generate from their sales apart from their base pay that they receive at the end of each pay period. The more sales they make, the higher their commission earnings and higher are their total pay. This type of at-risk pay directly ties compensation to individual sales performance.
  2. Bonuses: Performance bonuses are one-time payments awarded to salespeople based on achieving specific goals or targets. They can be tied to various performance metrics such as exceeding sales quotas, acquiring new customers, or achieving revenue milestones. Bonuses provide an additional incentive for sales professionals to go above and beyond their regular sales efforts.
  3. Sales Incentive Plans: These plans involve offering a structured program of incentives to salespeople to drive specific behaviors or outcomes. Salespeople are rewarded with at-risk payouts for achieving predetermined objectives, such as meeting sales targets, closing deals within a specified timeframe, or selling specific products or services. Incentive plans can take various forms, such as short-term incentives, tiered bonuses, contests, or reward programs.
  4. Profit Sharing: Profit sharing programs distribute a portion of the company's profits among salespeople as at-risk pay. The amount received is typically based on the salesperson's contribution to overall company profitability. This type of at-risk pay aligns the interests of sales professionals with the financial success of the company.
  5. Stock Options or Equity-Based Incentives: Some organizations offer at-risk pay in the form of stock options or equity grants. Salespeople have the opportunity to earn additional compensation based on the performance and value of the company's stock. This type of at-risk pay aligns the long-term interests of sales professionals with the growth and success of the company.
  6. Sales Performance Multipliers: In certain cases, companies may apply multipliers to the base salary or commission rate based on the achievement of specific sales targets or milestones. For example, surpassing a quarterly sales quota may result in a higher commission rate or a temporary increase in base salary. This approach encourages sales professionals to strive for higher levels of performance to earn a greater financial reward.

It's important to note that organizations can combine different types of at-risk pay structures as part of or outside of employees’ annual salaries to suit their specific sales compensation strategy. The choice of at-risk pay structure depends on the organization's goals, industry norms, and the desired behavior and performance outcomes they seek to incentivize.

Challenges in implementing at risk pay in sales compensation plans

  1. Goal Setting: Setting fair and attainable sales targets can be challenging. If targets are set too high, sales professionals may become demotivated or feel that the goals are unachievable and it would lead to inconsistent paychecks for them. On the other hand, setting targets that are too easy to reach may not provide enough motivation for salespeople to strive for exceptional performance. Striking the right balance is crucial to ensure the effectiveness of at-risk pay.
  2. Performance Measurement: Measuring sales performance accurately and consistently can be complex. Determining which metrics to use, establishing reliable tracking systems, and ensuring consistent evaluation across the sales team can be challenging. Inaccurate performance measurement can lead to unfair distribution of at-risk pay and undermine the credibility of the compensation system.
  3. Subjectivity and Bias: There is a risk of subjectivity and bias in evaluating sales performance. Differences in managerial judgment or interpretation of performance criteria can impact the distribution of at-risk pay. To mitigate this challenge, clear and objective criteria should be established, and performance evaluations should be conducted based on standardized and transparent processes.
  4. Managing Expectations: Sales professionals may have high expectations regarding at-risk pay, which can create pressure and dissatisfaction if they are not met. It is important to communicate the at-risk pay structure clearly, including the performance criteria, target levels, and potential earnings. Managing expectations through transparent communication helps ensure salespeople have a realistic understanding of what they can earn through at-risk pay.
  5. Incentive Misalignment: If the at-risk pay structure is not aligned with the sales strategy and overall company objectives, it may inadvertently incentivize behaviors that are not in the best interest of the organization. It is essential to carefully design at-risk pay plans to encourage desired sales behaviors and outcomes that contribute to the long-term success of the company.
  6. Changing Market Conditions: Market conditions can impact sales performance and the ability to achieve targets. Economic fluctuations, shifts in customer preferences, or changes in competitive landscapes can make it challenging to predict and meet sales goals. Regular evaluation and adjustment of at-risk pay plans may be necessary to ensure they remain relevant and effective in changing market environments.

To address these challenges, organizations should invest time and effort in thoughtful planning, clear communication, and ongoing evaluation of their at-risk pay programs. Regularly reviewing and refining the compensation structure helps ensure its effectiveness in motivating and rewarding sales professionals while aligning with the company's objectives.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, at-risk pay offers a performance-driven compensation structure that motivates employees to achieve their goals. By aligning individual efforts with organizational objectives, it fosters a culture of excellence and productivity. The benefits of at-risk pay include increased employee engagement, improved performance, and enhanced talent attraction. However, successful implementation requires careful goal-setting, accurate performance measurement, and effective communication. Addressing challenges such as setting fair targets, avoiding subjective evaluations, and managing employee expectations is crucial. Ultimately, striking the right balance between base salary stability and at-risk pay incentives ensures a well-rounded and impactful compensation strategy.

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