BrainTrust Query: How to Deal With a Bad Commission Salesperson on Your Payroll

Discussion
Dec 20, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from the Retail Doctor’s blog.

Do you remember the Academy awards last year? On what was a particularly well crafted evening of entertainment with a good mix of humor, tears and celebration came the truck driver persona of Elinor Burkett.

It wasn’t her moment but she shoved her way onto the stage, interrupting and speaking over director Roger Williams who was accepting his award for directing "Music by Prudence." She was determined to make herself known. She did, in a bad way.

Do you have an Elinor on your sales team?

You know, the one who screams, "That was my sale!"

The one who makes everyone miserable.

The one who has to say to the salesperson while the customer is at the register, "I greeted them," or "Oh, you came back after you talked to your husband." They have to put the other person in their place, like Ms. Burkett attempted to do to Mr. Williams.

The problem for Ms. Burkett — the whole world was watching.

The problem for you is your whole store is watching. It is a big turnoff to any customer in earshot but especially the customer enduring the battle. Nothing screams, "We work on commission!!" more than that behavior.

If you don’t have a commission system, bonus program or other incentive, you never have to deal with this — too bad for you because no one is trying to be a superstar and make more money by moving more product. The merch is stuck doing all the work.

But if you have an "ups" system, where each person gets one "up" to greet a customer and then moves to the bottom of the order whether they sell that customer or not, create some ground rules:

  • Once the customer walks out, you do not get credit for the sale.
  • Close ’em or lose ’em — no business cards given to customers to "ask for me."
  • Never cut in on a sale unless the other person allows it privately first.
  • Never mention whose sale it is or commissions in front of a customer or both of you lose credit.

Set the ground rules ahead of time and you’ll reduce the chances of having an Elinor Burkett barrel their way into a sale, ruining your customers’ experience, and giving customers something bad to remember you by. Or worse, telling their friends on Facebook or posting a video on YouTube.

Discussion questions: How should retailers manage any competitive bickering resulting from commission-based sales? What would you add to the suggestions mentioned in the article?

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16 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: How to Deal With a Bad Commission Salesperson on Your Payroll"


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Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I agree with ground rules. To make sure people understand that these ground rules are more than soft guidelines management has to monitor the floor, have quarterly meetings to bring everyone onto the same page. If possible, have some role playing scenarios so that sales people can see how to handle various situations. And of course reward the staff for playing by the rules. A slap on the back is not enough. Pizza for lunch and/or dinner could go a long way with a brief statement that the retailer is pleased with how its staff treats each other and glad to have them on their team.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
9 years 4 months ago

I think there is also room for “assists.” It requires rethinking some of the way the commission is structured, because you don’t want to just arbitrarily increase the payout pool, but if employees had the option of awarding an assist to someone who helped them out, it will also reduce the bickering. But the one who closes the deal is the one who rings it up, in my book. I guess that means mobile POS might be even more important in a commission environment — reduces the chance of a handoff that loses the sale.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 4 months ago

In the current economy, job-seekers far outnumber jobs, so retailers have the luxury of letting commission-based salespeople know that this type of poor attitude and one-upmanship is grounds for dismissal.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 4 months ago

The problem with most compensation systems is the lack of on-floor leadership and training to go along with the system. Salespeople are human with normal human greed and competitiveness. The best customer service providers ensure both significant and thorough training on effective human interaction and on-floor leadership to coach and monitor staff behaviors. No compensation system can do it on its own.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

You can just feel the love can’t you? Gosh I hope my grandkids go into retail sales!

Could it be that in most retail organizations the team motto is: “Every one for themselves?” In that case, Bob’s ‘rules’ make absolutely perfect sense. My curiosity goes to what the rule-driven store ‘feels’ like energetically. Sales people walking around watching for the rules to be violated and when they are everyone will know about it.

The customers know if a place is run by ‘rules’ or by ‘relationships’. Bob’s right, if the place isn’t built on relationships then you need rules. But the customers won’t like it. When I see tension over who gets ‘credit’ for the customer, I usually choose to shop somewhere else.

Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I agree that there needs to be ground rules in a competitive situation, but I disagree with “Close ’em or lose ’em; no business cards given to customers to ‘ask for me.'”

As a customer, I have been helped by knowledgeable and attentive associates and, through no fault of their own, I have had to leave before completing the sale. On my return, which by and large I credit to the sales associate, I sought them out to complete the sale rather than having to start all over again with someone else.

Commissioned retail sales people are most often the people who have chosen retail sales as a profession. They are knowledgeable, and make it their business to build clientele by building strong relationships with their customers. To take this away with some first come, first serve scheme seems counterproductive and downright unfair.

Ed Dunn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

What good is a commission-based salesperson in today retail environment?

Customers are more informed about products and pretty much know what they want before they walked in the door and already done some homework.

I noticed last week while holiday shopping, several customers with tablets as they shopped doing price checking and feature comparisons. How can a commissioned salesperson “sell” or convince this type of informed customer to make a transaction?

Customers are well informed with web sites, social networks and geolocation mobile offers and rarely need to be sold to anymore. The only thing I would ask a salesperson is what is the cheapest thing they have in the store which does nothing for their commission.

I remember the days of Circuit City, Sharper Image, Footlocker and furniture stores of being hounded when I walk in the door and seeing salespeople argue in front of the customer about which one of them saw the customer first. I much rather interact with digital signage and offered incentives automatically than be confronted with pushy commissioned salespeople.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Nikki’s comment about “assists” is excellent and reminds me of an approach I proposed to a corporate client. Each department given a financial performance bonus had to take 20% of it and divide it up among other departments that had helped them over the year. Recognizing their “assists” in other words. What would happen if the sales team did that with their sales commissions?

OBTW — as brilliant as that idea was, the client didn’t go for it. It was back to every department for itself.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I agree with the ground rules except the close or lose. Like Marge, I too have not elected to complete a sale for one reason or another but want to ensure that the person who assisted me get credit for the sale should I come back and do so.

For many years I shopped in a clothing store where the staff was on commission. I am not sure if the sales people with whom I established a trust relationship owned the relationship but never saw the type of poor behavior referred to in the article.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Once the ground rules are in place and agreed to then they have to be followed. Incidentally, each salesperson and his/her manager needs to sign off on them. The ground rules need to have a section on what happens when they are usurped or violated. Three violations should mean the end of that person’s job. Agree and adhere to the system, then go out on the floor and sell.

I have no problem with the “assists’ mentioned by Nikki. In fact, I think there should be a 1/4 commission for assisting in the close of the sale; not simply for being asked and answering a question.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

1. Set up clear guidelines concerning who owns the customer and how they will be treated.
2. Set expectations on customer service.
3. Develop a process for dealing with problems.
4. Enforce the guidelines.
5. Get rid of the problem.

As a wise manager once told me, problem, have three causes:
1. Lack of training;
2. Lack of motivation;
3. Habit (She was not in the business of changing habits).

David Zahn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

So — as was mentioned, this assumes the sale is made on a “one call/visit” basis. For a portion of purchases, that does not hold.

Rather than emphasize the individual EXCLUSIVELY — why not give a “Team” score (to encourage the sharing of expertise and to help each other out) — anyone “on the floor” during that shift gets a portion of credit. In that way, the competition is balanced against the positives of cooperation.

The ground rules are fine (with tweaks), but can we get back to WHAT IS IN THE CUSTOMER’S best interests and not operational concerns first?

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Back in my Sharper Image days, I had two commissioned salespeople get into an argument over a very small sale, and one ended up pouring a Coke on the other one’s head. As wrong as that was, I also reminded the salesperson that the commission on the sale was less than the cost of the Coke.

Ah…the joys of retail management.

I found a very easy way to fix the bickering. Any salespeople who couldn’t fix it themselves risked the sale becoming a house sale. Amazing how fast salespeople will come to an agreement.

I also agree with other comments that we need to make sure the commission structure doesn’t get in the way of what’s right for the customer and their experience. Commission programs are structured to drive certain behaviors, but you do need to be careful to not drive the wrong behaviors.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 4 months ago

Fire the manager for letting jackasses like that in your store. It is so much easier to hire well. Take the time on the front end and you won’t have to endure this. Like everything else, it you place the emphasis on hiring right, you’ll never have to endure Elinor!

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Of course taking part of the commission to “assist” others isn’t really a commission program, is it? It profers to be equal but in many circumstances, rewards others less inclined to make the sale just for being on the floor. For me, selling the merch takes engaging people who are rewarded for doing that job.

Vincent Kelly
Guest
Vincent Kelly
9 years 4 months ago

Dan Berthiaume’s comment that you should fire the employee — when the issue is not the employee, but the company and management — is not a solution, only an an action that reduces people to product.

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