Supervising Salespeople

Lay down the rules--and put their commissions on the line.

Q: I have a commissioned sales force that I have difficulty getting to do paperwork. In fact, some of my best salespeople are the worst at reporting. Any suggestions?

A: This is a common problem for sales managers in companies of all sizes. Managers are often afraid to demand paperwork as a condition of employment, because they're afraid the top salespeople might quit. However, if you don't require it of the best, how can you demand it of the worst?

The solution to this problem can be found in a problem presented to Benjamin Franklin when he was assigned to the Pennsylvania Militia. The chaplain of his unit complained to him that the men were not attending evening prayers. Franklin reminded him that each soldier was promised, as a condition of enlistment, a gill (4 ounces) of rum a day. He suggested to the chaplain that he should serve it only after prayers. The success of the intervention was reflected in the statement of Franklin when he said, "Never were the prayers more generally and punctually attended."

The way to solve your problem is to clearly communicate the behaviors and results that are necessary to earn a commission, and then pay the commission only after those prerequisites have been completed. Most organizations are so happy to get a sale, particularly during these hard times, that they often overlook the administrative aspects of the sale that come back to haunt the company later. Lack of documentation may result in lost revenue, because the customer's memory of what was agreed to is different than what the salesperson remembers. It doesn't take much imagination to think of other problems that can result from lack of attention to administrative detail.

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Make a specific list of all the things you'll expect from someone in exchange for a full commission. Be sure to include a request for complete and accurate paperwork done in a timely manner. Every sales organization is different, so requirements will differ among organizations. Some products may require competitive information on a weekly basis; others won't. Some require appointment logs; others don't. Regardless of the requirements, make sure your salespeople understand that meeting them means receiving a full commission.

One company I worked with had a problem getting commissioned salespeople to make calls on small companies. Because the commission is much larger for large companies, that's typically where efforts are expended. But the business in question realized it needed sales coverage of both large and small companies. The solution was simple. In order to earn a full commission, salespeople had to have 25 percent of their sales come from small customers. Suffice it to say, salespeople soon discovered that it takes just as much time to call on a small customer as it does to call on a large one.

While this solution to your problem seems simple, it's violated all the time. It's akin to something my daddy used to tell me, "Never pay a painter before the job is done to your satisfaction." My advice to you is to never pay a commission until the order is completed to your satisfaction. You'll be happier, and your salespeople will ultimately be happier as well.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's book Bringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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