Incentive Compensation

Commissions vs Salary: Choosing Your Compensation Structure

Adithya Krishnaswamy
min read
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Commissions vs Salary: Choosing Your Compensation Structure

When it comes to work and getting paid, especially as sales professionals, there are two main ways people earn— through commissions and salaries. These two methods can have a big impact on your job and your bank account.

In this article, we'll talk about the differences between commissions and salaries. We'll help you understand the good and not-so-good parts of each one. By the end, you'll have the information you need to decide which way of getting paid is best for you.

Whether you're just starting your career or thinking about making a change, this article will help you make a smart decision about how you get paid. So, let's start exploring commissions and salaries!

Salary vs. Commission

In simple words, when you get paid a specific amount per year, regardless of your working hours— that's salary. When your payment is based on your working hours, that's wage.

On the other hand, a commission is a type of payment that is based upon your sales performance, often linked to some specific sales goals.

Understanding Salary

Salary is a consistent mode of payment by an employer to an employee based on the level of the position and the duties. While it's mostly paid on a monthly basis, there are also employers that pay on weekly, fortnightly, bi-monthly, or even on a quarterly basis.

The amount and frequency of payment is a part of the contract and can change during the course of your employment. For example, if you get a promotion, you may get a raise in your salary.

While salary consists of a fixed amount, organizations can supplement it with commissions, paid vacations, health insurance, and other benefits.

What is Commission Pay?

Working on commission means the employer would pay the employee based on the number of sales they're making, the number of new customers they're bringing, or the revenue they're generating.

For example, if your commission is 20% and you help the organization generate $1000, you'll be earning $200 in return as a commission.

The employer may pay your commission when the deal is finalized, or they have received their funds for the deal. Also, it depends on how soon the employer gets the payment and their commission structure. You may receive your commission monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

Types of Commissions

Here are the various types of sales commissions-

Straight Commissions Vs. Base Plus Commissions

Some organizations pay only as commission, which means you'll only get paid based on the sales you make. This way of payment is called the "Straight Commission."

On the other hand, some organizations also use a mix of commission and salary, known as base pay plus commission. This allows the employee to get a specific amount of income every month to pay for their recurring expenses and bills.

Now, the problem with commission-only-based payment is that commissions aren't paid until sales are made. One month, commission-based employees may earn a significant amount and then a very small amount in the next month.

Now, for a company, especially for a small business, there's a bit of complexity when they pay employees with a base salary plus commission. This is because they have to deal with more paperwork, pay employees more frequently, and face higher costs for things like payroll taxes and employee benefits every few months.

To make things simpler, businesses that pay solely on commission often offer a higher percentage of the sales as commission. This is done to encourage their sales team to choose the commission-based option and balance out the ups and downs in their income.

Draw Against Commission

Another payment method, similar to salary plus commission, is a "draw against commissions." Here, your company provides a set amount of money to cover your expenses while you wait for your commission.

However, when you get your commission, the set amount gets deducted from your commission. For example, if you receive a draw against a commission of $ 2,000 and earn a commission of $ 5,000, the final amount you'll get will be $ 3,000 as you have already drawn $ 2,000.

Tiered Commission Structure

To motivate sales employees to sell more, some organizations increase their commission percentages as the employees reach defined milestones. For example, your commission rate might be 20% for all sales up to $100,000, and then it would be 23% as you go beyond $100,000.

If you work for an organization that has assigned you a territory with active leads, you may not receive full commission for the sales volume you make. This is because you're just taking orders from clients who were generated by the previous sales rep.

In this case, you'll be earning full commission when you bring any new clients or increase in spending by previous clients.

Pros and Cons of Salary

In order to understand which pay structure would be the best for you, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each compensation plan.

Here are the pros and cons of salary-


Stability and Predictability

A fixed salary offers stability by providing a guaranteed income on a regular basis, which can help you plan your finances with confidence. You know exactly how much you'll earn each month, which can ease worries about financial fluctuations.

Financial Security

With a salary, you have a safety net of consistent income, which is especially valuable during economic downturns or unexpected life events. It ensures you can cover your essential expenses.

Additional Benefits

Many salaried positions come with additional benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and more. These perks contribute to your overall financial well-being and work-life balance.

Work-Life Balance

Salaried positions often come with more predictable work hours and a better work-life balance compared to roles heavily driven by commissions or sales targets. This stability can lead to healthier work-life harmony.


Limited Earning Potential

One of the drawbacks of a fixed salary is that your income is capped. Regardless of how hard you work or how successful you are, your earnings won't increase unless you receive promotions or pay raises.

Less Direct Motivation

Salaried employees might have less direct motivation to excel in their roles compared to commission-based counterparts. The absence of direct financial incentives tied to performance can lead to reduced motivation for some individuals.

Salary Stagnation

Over time, salaries can become stagnant, particularly in some industries. This means your income may not keep up with inflation or the rising cost of living, potentially impacting your long-term financial goals.

Less Job Flexibility

Salaried positions may come with less job flexibility, especially if your work requires strict adherence to regular office hours. This can be limiting for individuals who prefer a more flexible work environment.

To put simply, while a fixed salary offers stability, security, and benefits, it may limit your earning potential, provide less direct motivation, and potentially lead to income stagnation and reduced job flexibility over time. The suitability of a salary-based compensation structure depends on your individual financial goals, career aspirations, and personal preferences.

Pros and Cons of Commissions


High Earning Potential

Commission-based roles offer the potential for significantly higher earnings compared to fixed salaries. Your income is directly tied to your performance, so if you excel, your paycheck can reflect your hard work and success.

High Motivation

Commission-based positions often provide strong motivation. Knowing that your earnings increase as you achieve sales targets or performance goals can be a powerful driver to consistently perform at your best.

Incentive for Up-selling and Cross-selling

Commission structures encourage employees to upsell and cross-sell products or services, as they directly benefit from increased sales. This benefits both the employee and the company, leading to higher revenue.

High Job Flexibility

Commission-based roles may offer more flexibility in terms of work hours and location. This flexibility can be attractive for individuals who value independence and control over their work schedules.


Income Volatility

Commission-based income can be highly variable. You may earn a lot in one period but significantly less in another, which can make budgeting and financial planning more challenging.

Financial Risk

The dependence on commissions means that if sales decline or you face unexpected challenges, your income can drop significantly. This financial risk can create stress and uncertainty.

Pressure and Stress

The pressure to meet sales targets and earn commissions can be intense, leading to high levels of stress. The fear of not meeting goals can take a toll on mental well-being.

Lack of Stability

A commission-based job lacks the stability of a fixed salary. Without a guaranteed income, it can be challenging to cover regular expenses and plan for the future.

Uncertain Benefits

Unlike salaried positions, commission-based roles may not offer the same level of benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, or paid time off. This can place the responsibility of securing these benefits on the individual.

Factors to Weigh: Choosing Between Salary and Commissions

Now that you know the pros and cons of both salary and commission-based pay, here are the factors you need to weigh while choosing the right fit.

Here's when you should go for a fixed salary:

Early Career Stability

If you're just starting your career or have started recently, chances are you'll be looking for stability. After all, it is that time of your career when you may be building your professional foundation. And in this situation, a fixed salary will offer a reliable income stream and provide stability.

Risk Aversion

If you're risk-averse and prefer financial predictability, a fixed-salary job is your best bet. Commissions are uncertain and subject to market fluctuations or economic downturns. A fixed-salary job provides a safety net, ensuring that you have a steady source of income even when external factors are less predictable.

Long-Term Financial Planning

If your goals involve long-term planning, a salary is advantageous. It will facilitate better financial planning and will help you budget with confidence, as you'll have an idea of how much you'll be earning.

Here's when you should go for commissions:

Flexible Income Needs

Higher commissions mean more money. If your financial needs vary from month to month or if you have the capacity to earn more through your efforts, sales commissions can be appealing. With commission-based pay, salespeople get the opportunity to earn more during productive periods and adjust their income according to their requirements.

Motivation from Competition

If you thrive on competition and get motivated by the idea of earning more through hard work and dedication, a commission-based job is your ideal fit. It rewards high-performers generously and fosters a competitive spirit that can help you excel as a sales rep.

To Conclude

In terms of sales compensation, the choice between a fixed salary and commission-based pay is a crucial one, impacting your financial path and career trajectory. Your decision should align with your stage in life, risk tolerance, and financial aspirations. If stability and predictability are your priorities, especially early in your career, a fixed salary offers the reliability you seek. On the other hand, if you crave flexibility and thrive on competition, commissions may be your ticket to uncapped earnings. Ultimately, the path you choose should mirror your unique circumstances, guiding you toward financial success and career satisfaction.

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