Designing Sales Compensation Plans for Sales Managers (With Examples)

group of business people sales manager commission compensation plan
Greg Pisacane
Greg Pisacane
In Incentive Compensation, Sales Planning
Gregory Pisacane is a Marketing Content Editor at Xactly Corporation. He attended the University of San Diego and received a Bachelor of Art degree in English.

When it comes to sales compensation planning, you can never start prepping too early, right? One of the most important things to consider when designing plans are the different roles on your sales team. Sales managers and their reporting reps will have responsibilities unique to their roles, which means your compensation plans should be tailored to different roles. In this piece, we’ll  take a top down approach and start by designing the Sales Manager compensation plan.

Like any good leader, the Sales Manager is responsible for their team’s performance, and their compensation plans should reflect this. Typically, this role is measured on similar measures as the team they manage, with additional components that are relevant for their managerial responsibilities. This alignment ensures that the Sales Manager is steering their ship appropriately and that all the reps they manage row in the right direction (Learn more on top Sales Manager qualities).

Download our guide, "Designing Sales Compensation Plans," for tips on how to structure your plans. Or, build a plan in minutes with our ready-to-use templates.

Constructing the Commission Plan for Sales Managers:

Pay Mix and Upside
Part of sales management is accepting responsibility for a team. As a part of a managerial role, sales managers need to split their time between sales coaching and closing business. Because of this, a manager’s pay mix is typically less aggressive than the reps that report to them. Also, it is not unusual for top sales reps to earn more than their managers.

Plan Components
As previously mentioned, Sales Managers should be well aligned with the components of the reps they manage as well as their managerial duties. At many companies, reps may not have control over pricing and discounting policies. In these cases, it makes sense to measure reps on a revenue plan component, while the Sales Manager commission structure should be measured on a margin or pricing component (learn more about the different commission structures here).

For reference, here is a sample compensation plan of a Sales Manager role typically used for a Software as a Service company (learn more about the software sales commission plan, here).

On-Target Earnings


Pay Mix (Base/Variable)


Base Salary


Annual Target Incentive


Plan Components

Annual Contract Value (ACV)

Multi-Year Contracts

Component Weight



Plan Mechanic






Performance Period



Payout Frequency



Things to Consider in Compensation for Sales Management:

Find your Leaders
Your best sales rep is not necessarily the best leader. When promoting sales reps to manager roles, it’s important to consider communication and leadership skills in addition to sales performance. A top sales leader needs to be able to coach reps on their team, monitor rep performance continuously, and be able to intervene with poor performance if needed. Consider the following questions when selecting a new sales manager:

  • Have you promoted your best rep out of the field or have you truly found a sales leader?
  • Do you have a training plan to develop other leaders as you grow?
  • How many people can your leader supervise? Do you expect ride-alongs, direct supervision, daily conversation, and tracking? Be sure to adjust your management span of control accordingly.

Set Reporting Responsibilities
The typical compensation plan defaults to credit with the sum of all deals from their assigned sales reps. When new sales reps are added, they will automatically begin crediting to their management. As part of your incentive plan design, consider the roles that will report to each sales manager, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will your manager supervise one type of rep or a sales team of mixed roles (Sales Executives, Account Managers, Lead Generation Reps, etc.)?
  • How do you want to think about crediting the manager? Should any sources of revenue be excluded from managerial crediting?

Set the Quota
The performance period for managers typically defaults to whatever their direct reports are given, including monthly and quarterly goals which might also be set to guide both reps and managers. Questions to consider when managing your sales quota include the following:

  • Should managers have a quota that is over-assigned (i.e., the manager’s quota amount is higher than the sum of the individual quotas of manager’s team)?
  • Are there open positions in the manager’s team? How does the manager’s quota reflect open positions, new reps, and experienced reps?

Set the Opportunity
Many companies vary payout levels based on performance to reward top managers. Think about your sales cycle as you set the manager’s performance period. Other plan components to consider include a revenue-based bonus structure (read more on the commission vs. bonus debate here), improved staffing, or well-designed territories. You should leverage sales performance management software to review past performance when setting payout opportunities. Questions to consider include the following:

  • How much will a manager earn if all of their reps are at quota?
  • How much will top reps make as compared to their managers?

The Importance of Data

Sales performance data can be a useful asset in compensation plan design. Data can and should be used to optimize sales territories and compensation plans to ensure fair, balanced territories and proper quota assignment.

Using Xactly Insights, companies can benchmark their existing compensation plans against more than 13 years of aggregated pay and performance data to ensure incentive plans are competitive within their industry. The more data companies have the access and rights to, the more insight they can get into their sales performance, the effectiveness of their sales plan, and increasing forecasting accuracy.

Communicating the Plan Effectively

All compensation plans require effective communication to be successful. This means they must drive the right sales management behaviors, but at the same time, not be so complex that they are not easy to understand. Effective plan communication starts from top level management and works its way down, ensuring that each level of management fully understands the components of the plan.

Alongside your sales territories, your compensation plan(s) are critical components of your overall sales plan. Together, they help power and motivate your sales force to reach objectives. Using data to optimize and guide your planning can help sales managers focus on motivating reps, boosting sales performance, and driving revenue.

Watch the webinar "Sales Compensation Trends and Best Practices” to gain first-hand knowledge into industry trends in sales compensation, including planning best practices, tips to reduce sales attrition, and key metrics to benchmark against.


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Designing Sales Compensation Plans for Sales Managers (With Examples)