top of page
Subscribe for Free Business and Finance Resources
  • Writer's picturePeak Frameworks Team

Commission: Definition, Types, Pros and Cons

If you're interested in breaking into finance, check out our Private Equity Course and Investment Banking Course, which help thousands of candidates land top jobs every year.

Commissions Explained

  • Commission is a form of compensation awarded for facilitating or completing a transaction.

  • Commission serves as a motivating factor for an agent/representative to complete a deal and can even help align the performance of an individual with the organization.

Source: Indeed

The history of commission can be traced back several centuries, with roots deeply embedded in trade and commerce. Merchants and traders were often awarded a percentage of a deal's value. This incentivized them to ensure successful and profitable transactions.

Advantages of Commission-based Compensation

Advantages of Commission
Source: MaRS Startup Toolkit

Commission has several unique benefits:

  1. Aligning Incentives: It ensures professionals are motivated to close deals. The bigger the deal, the higher their earnings.

  2. Flexibility: Allows firms to keep fixed costs low while rewarding top performers generously.

  3. Earnings Potential: High-performing brokers or bankers can significantly boost their earnings, making positions in sectors like investment banking highly lucrative.

Types of Commission Structures

10 tyoes of sales commissions structures
Source: Fit Small Business

Sales commissions are powerful motivators for sales teams. They can spur greater effort, reward results, and align individual and company goals. But which structure is right for your business? Here are 10 common sales commission structures explained succinctly:

Base Rate Only

  • Reps receive a set hourly rate or salary.

  • No extra commissions.

  • Suited for smaller companies or high-volume inbound sales.

Example: Mike gets a $65,000 yearly salary regardless of sales made.

Straight Commission

  • Reps are paid only when they make sales.

  • Typically higher commissions per sale.

  • Reps are often treated as independent contractors, saving company costs.

Example: Mike earns 40% on every sale. If he sells products worth $60k, he makes $24k.

Base Salary + Commission

  • A mix of fixed salary and commission.

  • Balances security with performance incentives.

Example: Mike has a $30k base salary and earns 10% on $1MM in sales, totaling $130k.

Tiered Commission

  • Increases commission rates after achieving certain sales thresholds.

  • Can motivate reps to achieve more.

Example: Mike gets 10% up to $100k, then 15% up to $200k. On $300k sales, he earns more than $40k.

Revenue Commission

  • Reps earn a set commission per sale.

  • Can strain profitability, which is best for growth-oriented companies.

Example: Mike earns $500 per sale, so 2,000 sales yield $100k.

Gross Margin Commission

  • Commission is based on profit, not total sales.

  • Encourages reps to focus on profitability.

Example: Mike gets 12% on profits. After expenses, he earns a commission on $700k, netting $84k.

Residual Commission

  • Ideal for recurring business models.

  • Reps earn as long as the account generates revenue.

Example: Mike lands a client at $1k/month. He earns $100/month as long as they remain clients.

Draw Against Commission

  • Reps get guaranteed pay, which is later balanced against commissions.

  • Helps new reps with initial stability.

Example: Mike has a $2,000 monthly draw but sells $1,500. He owes $500 back.

Territory Volume Commission

  • Commissions are split based on regional performance.

  • Favors team efforts but may de-incentivize top performers.

Example: Mike and Amanda collectively sell $160k in their territory. They split an 8% commission, each getting $6,400.

Multiplier Commission Plan

  • Base commission is adjusted based on performance against various KPIs.

  • Complex but allows multi-dimensional performance measurement.

Example: A standard 10% commission could be doubled if a rep exceeds targets on multiple fronts.

Disadvantages of Commission-based Compensation

However, commission isn't without its drawbacks:

  1. Income Unpredictability: Earnings can fluctuate significantly, causing financial instability.

  2. Aggressive Sales Tactics: The desire to earn might push some professionals towards unethical practices. This was evident during the 2008 financial crisis, when some brokers aggressively sold mortgage-backed securities.

  3. Misalignment with Long-Term Goals: Professionals might prioritize short-term gains over long-term company objectives.

Role of Commission in Different Finance Sectors

While the essence remains the same, the application of commission varies:

  • Private Equity: Often ties commission to the profitability of investments, ensuring managers make judicious choices.

  • Investment Banking: Bankers might earn commissions based on deal sizes, as seen with the M&A transactions.

  • Corporate Finance: Tends to focus on the successful management of company finances and might tie commissions to metrics like EBITDA.

Best Practices for Structuring Commissions

To ensure commission serves its purpose while remaining fair:

  1. Align with Long-Term Goals: Ensure that commission structures don't promote rash or detrimental decisions.

  2. Ensure Transparency: Professionals should understand how they're being compensated. Transparency can prevent misunderstandings and grievances.

  3. Regular Feedback and Adjustments: Regularly revisiting the commission structure can ensure it remains relevant and effective.

Impact of Technology on Commission Structures

Modern tools, like CRM software, have revolutionized commission tracking. Analytics can also help in optimizing commission structures by assessing performance data.

Future Outlook and Predictions

With the advent of AI and machine learning, commission models are set for a reshuffle. Predictive analytics might play a role in determining compensation, offering a more personalized approach.


Commission stands as a testament to the evolving nature of compensation in finance. By understanding its nuances, professionals and firms alike can navigate the complex waters of financial compensation. With transparency, fairness, and a keen eye on long-term objectives, commission can truly serve its purpose.


bottom of page