Realities of Working on Commission

Today we have an awesome guest post from a writer who wishes to remain anonymous.  They have experience in sales and working on commission.  This is a great post to read for anyone interested or considering working in sales.


Sales was not where I thought I’d be three and a half years after graduating from a Top 50 Business School.  As a marketing major, I had taken classes on personal selling and sales management but thought of them more as a requirement to get my degree, not something that would directly relate to my career. After realizing sports marketing wasn’t for me, I found myself accepting a job offer in inside sales during my senior year.  I’ve been in the same role since getting my undergraduate degree and I’ve learned a few things along the way.  Things that, though I’m appreciative I was able to learn through my own experience, I wish I had known before my first day on the job.

Cold calling is as terrible as it sounds

My first day on the phone was the most terrifying, uncomfortable, anxious day of my life - okay, maybe in the top five. The part that scared me was that I was relying on just the words coming out of my mouth.  There was no warm intro from a colleague, a friendly face to put with the name, or a resume to look at for the person on the other end of the phone to know that I wanted to help their business.  For all they knew, I was a sleazy sales person, just trying to make a buck.

You will be hung up on by people that don’t have the time or just don’t care, and that’s okay. You won’t be everyone’s favorite salesperson, but if you’re honest and passionate about what you’re selling, I can assure you, you’ll be someone’s favorite.  The thing that motivated me to get out of my comfort zone was to ask myself, “What is the worst that could happen?” A bruised ego? A waste of 30 seconds of my life? I’d rather fail because I didn’t show my value rather than because I didn’t try.  From there, it’s just another thing to improve upon.     

A successful cold call is the best intrinsic motivation

As awful as I’ve made cold calling sound, there is no greater reward than getting off a phone call with a list of notes and opportunities made available to me because I made myself vulnerable and picked up the phone.  That’s an example of an obvious cold calling “win.”  Sometimes you don’t know a cold call was successful until you get an email back a week later from someone you thought wasn’t even listening.  Either way, those moments make the day-to-day struggle of building your book just a little bit easier. You should think of those moments as success stories - it will self-motivate you to keep (as my Training Manager would say) “smilin’ and dialin.'"

A great paycheck is the best extrinsic motivation

Commission based pay does not sound appealing to most.  The average person with monthly responsibilities (i.e., rent, student loans, car payments) might find a commissioned based job to be too risky.  Maybe this makes me a thrill junky. When I open my commission statement at the end of the month, I get enthralled thinking about how all my hard work is finally and literally paying off. In my mind, there’s no greater reward.

Yes, I appreciate a great review from my manager or a pat on the back from my teammate, but these aren’t things that make me want to pick up the phone and see what other business I can earn.  My efforts and drive are reflected in my income and that’s what gets me out of bed every morning. 

Business is business

I can vividly recall the first time I lost a deal.  A deal that I had spent countless hours on, making sure my engineer vetted the correct solution, and that my price points and value adds were lining up with my customer’s needs.  I thought I had done everything right, so when my customer called me and told me he decided to purchase from one of his local businesses, I was emotionally hurt. I got down on myself and it effected my phone conversations for the rest of the day.  I realized that evening, after the emotions had passed, that the majority of customer’s are going to make decisions with their company’s best interests at heart.  I couldn’t think of losing the deal as a “personal attack” or that my customer now “hates” me (as my former, dramatic, middle school brain would have thought). If you took all lost deals personally, you’ll eventually wear yourself down to the point of not being able to figure out what business driver influenced their decision. Thick skin in sales is a must, it’s the only way you can face defeat and get ready for the next opportunity to win.

My advice for a recent grad that is interested in a career in sales is to be authentic and stick to your values. Finding something you’re passionate about selling will bring out that authenticity.  For me, that passion was patient care technology.  Selling into hospitals and health systems has given me another form of motivation.  The genuine passion you get from selling something you care about will be noticed by your customers and will make you successful.  Sales isn’t always pretty, but the financial and personal rewards make it all worth it.