Am I selling myself short?
January 28, 2009 9:10 PM   Subscribe

My employer wants me to spend part of my day working in sales--but they won't pay me a commission like the "real" salespeople. Is it unreasonable to think this is unfair?

I work in tech support for a large software company that sells consumer-oriented accounting software. Awhile back, my division (which includes both support and sales) got a new executive who lost no time in making a number of changes.

One of these changes was that Support must become a "profit center." This means that support agents are expected to spend a portion of our day taking sales calls. This has been factored into our performance reviews; if our monthly sales are too low, we will be put on a performance plan and eventually terminated for insufficient sales, even if our work on the support side is exemplary.

I find this offensive for a number of reasons, both from our customers' perspective (they just want their damn software to work without any hassle) and from my own (I never wanted to be a salesperson, and it wasn't in my job description when I signed on). But that's beside the point--all jobs have parts that suck, and this is what sucks for me, and so be it.

My beef is with compensation. We are given a "bonus" of a few dollars for each sale. I have some friends in our sales group, and I know they make a lot more than that on commission for each of their sales. (I also know they make less in base pay than we in support do, but our time is logged down to the minute, so it wouldn't be hard to figure out how much time is spent on support and how much on sales, and I for one would be happy to accept lower base pay + commissions for my sales hours.)

Our Sales team is strictly inbound, no cold calling. We in Support are expected to do is exactly what they do: talk to leads, pitch the products, follow-up on reluctant buyers, etc. I'm not as adept as they are, but I haven't had any trouble exceeding the minimum number of sales (so my job is not at risk).

Am I wrong to think that I and my co-workers in Support are being taken advantage of? Is there any conceivable way to argue against this that management might actually listen to, or should I just suck it up and/or find a new job? Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total)
A company I worked at once did this. In the beginning I thought it was SOOOO unfair to me. Then I realized that every successful sale I made was taking a sale away from the salespeople...and the company wouldn't have to pay the commission on that.

What you should do is workout a plan like I did. When I was close to making a sale, or when I KNEW this customer would buy...I would transfer the customer to "my supervisor" (who happened to be just some sales dude).

They get the commission, the company pays a fair (kinda) wage, and everyone is so ecstatic that you are getting them more sales, they buy you lunch everyday.

It worked out awesome. PM me if you want more details, but basically you have to realize that everytime management does something shitty like that, there is something you can do to counter it.

You just have to think outside the rat race. Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:19 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

It sounds like the boss restructured things this way to cut costs, even though you get a higher base pay I can bet that the sales people on average will cost the company more money b/c of their commisions, by getting support people to make a portion of the sales the company is saving money. You definetely are not wrong to think you're being taken advantage of, there's no reasonable reason for this wacky structure other than the company trying to maximize their profits and that means you're getting screwed. You should most definetely bring this up with management.
posted by BrnP84 at 9:21 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

it wouldn't be hard to figure out how much time is spent on support and how much on sales
Do that. You need better data. Sit down with your friend(s) in sales after work one day and figure out how much each of you earn per expected hour. It's hard to compare exactly how difficult the work is (apples and oranges), but you can at least get a general idea of how much training and experience is involved. If the pay rate seems to be grossly discrepant between the two positions, and this discrepancy isn't accounted for on the basis of training, experience, personal resilience, etc, there may be a problem. Look around in your industry, apply for some other jobs, etc.

if our monthly sales are too low, we will be put on a performance plan and eventually terminated for insufficient sales, even if our work on the support side is exemplary.
This is stupid, and obviously so. It might last long enough to lose a great support person or two, but it shouldn't last much longer.

Seems to me you're just--and this is nothing unusual, sadly--a victim of your bosses not really having a clue what you actually do. Make sure your supervisors know about your successes, join your union, keep your resume up to date, keep applying for other jobs, get as much training and experience in this job as you can (you will be able to claim sales training and experience now), and be prepared to walk if you have to.

I for one would be happy to accept lower base pay + commissions for my sales hours
If you actually enjoy the sales side of it, why not ask to be moved to sales?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2009

whoa hal_c, that sounds like a shafty deal you had on your part. Of course the guy you gave sales to was happy to buy you lunch b/c that sale you handed him probably paid for 10 lunches. If you know the commision of sales is unfairly high for other people than you should be out there getting that same compensation, it all comes down to getting equal pay for equal work.
posted by BrnP84 at 9:23 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, you are being taken advantage of.

It sounds to me like the new executive got the job by promising to make your team into a revenue generating team, but didn't think it through carefully enough, and so you are saddled with the crap bonus per sale instead of proper commissions.

To argue against it you need to use collective action i.e. you have to have everyone on the Support team on board, you need to first approach the new executive and explain why you think they are wrong, and if that doesn't work, then you start to escalate. The key metric here is how much it costs to train a new effective Support team member every time an old one gets canned for not meeting the sales target vs how much revenue you are expected to bring in. If the cost of training the new Support team member is higher than the revenue target, then I think you have a case.

Bu be careful - keep in mind the economic climate (not exactly a "workers' paradise" right now).
posted by awfurby at 9:24 PM on January 28, 2009

Is there any conceivable way to argue against this that management might actually listen to, or should I just suck it up and/or find a new job?

What awfurby said: get organised.
If all of the people currently working in support feel as you do, you should get together and negotiate it as a group. It's also odds on that the Sales staff are unimpressed that others are doing their job more cheaply with less training.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:41 PM on January 28, 2009

Take a moment to think about the current state of the economy. There are a lot of people out there getting their hours cut, taking pay cuts, and straight up losing their jobs. It could be worse than working in sales for a few hours every day. I like hal's suggestion of forwarding the calls to your friends in sales (once you have met your quota). also, you are getting experience dealing in sales you can always put on your resume and reference as a "difficult situation you had to overcome".
posted by sophist at 10:00 PM on January 28, 2009

You have two easy choices: quit or stay.

If you decide to stay, you can regard this as an opportunity to learn more about sales and improve your selling ability. This will be a useful skill down the road, no matter what (even if you think you hate sales).

However, if you want to make sure this cockamamie scheme is not a total waste of time, take notes. Document every interaction with a customer, and map it against management's sales training materials (they trained you, right?).

If it's not working, make sure you ask for help, and document that you asked for help.

Most of all, keep a positive attitude. Try not to be cynical. Try to work toward the goal, and try to learn. This won't be forever.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:43 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just from a headache, complication and hassle standpoint, I can't realistically see a company agreeing to a pay structure where an employee is paid $X per hour while performing this task, but earning $Y per hour (plus commission) while doing that one (particularly when both tasks occur within the same day, probably often within the same hour).

You could always ask to be put on a regular salesperson's compensation plan, provided you are willing to risk earning the lower base salary with the potential reward of higher commissions. This seems like a pretty low-risk option (it's a highly reasonable request since several others in the company are already being compensated this way, so it's not like you would be suggesting some outlandish, never before considered compensation plan).

Just in the interest of not cutting off your nose to spite your face, before you do anything it would probably be wise (if you haven't already) to get some idea of what the hard numbers are as far as the standard base salary of the regular salespeople, what their commission plan is, and how your current sales would translate into commission dollars (it might be the case that your current higher base salary is already compensating for the lower per-sale commission compared to the lower salaried salespeople)
posted by The Gooch at 11:08 PM on January 28, 2009

If you're closing sales, you would normally earn a commission (though potentially with the tradeoff of a lower base salary). If you're doing sales support, then no commission.

Whether you can get this, or should expect it, is another matter.
posted by zippy at 11:10 PM on January 28, 2009

They're using support to sell software precisely because you aren't a salesperson. You're a tech geek, and the customer is more prone to listen to you as an educated bystander providing "impartial" advice on what new software or tweaks might make them not have to call tech support as often as they might at the moment.

It isn't uncommon, and it annoys the hell out of me as a customer. If I call for tech support, I want tech support. I'm already annoyed that I have to call tech support... and am in even less of a mood to buy the new version of the craptastic software or poorly written help pages I'm calling about.

There are a lot of perks sales depts at your company get that you don't. Cars, for example, or tiered commission structures. You could ask for commission, but I'd ask for a direct bonus per product/upgrade the customer either buys on the spot or on which the customer requests further information. Whatever you get as a sales incentive bonus will be much cheaper than the cost of them hiring on a new sales person.

A thought, though... you don't have to follow up on the leads, do you? In other words, do you have to call customers back who've expressed interest but passed on the immediate buy, or customers who have requested information?

If yes, ask for commission and sales benefits, as you are working sales. If no, then just stick to the per item bonus.
posted by Grrlscout at 12:16 AM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would do the whole salesman thing, then right before they wanted to make the sale I'd transfer them over to a friend (confidant) working in sales who performs the very last step and then cuts you in for half the commission. They don't have to do any work, and you get a bigger commission for yours.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:51 AM on January 29, 2009

Do all the salespersons know they're loosing money due to their bosses decision? If not, this might be a time to send an anonymous group email from a safe email account.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:03 AM on January 29, 2009

What this really is, is an example of stupid management. You can't turn a cost center into a profit center by just changing the name. And it's moronic to say "hey look, I'm a genius, tech support is generating a profit!" when tech support isn't. It's just diverting sales revenue onto tech support's books.

Technical support is always a cost center. Just like programmers, HR, management and the janitors. The idea is of course to make sure the profit outweighs the costs. But this is a moronic, obfuscatory way of trying to do it.
posted by gjc at 5:49 AM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

You don't see your body getting together and saying, "Hey the brain is great, let's get those kidneys to start doing brain stuff when they're not doing their regular job!" This is incredibly short-sighted and I would get my resume together because this is either (1) bad management, (2) the company is in financial woes and they're turning to this as a desperate move to generate more sales.

You don't really have a choice right now besides leaving. I would go along with the plan and carefully keep track of your sales metrics (sales failure rate, revenue generated, etc). When you're review is up in 6 mos. to a year you can then present them these metrics and either you're great at sales and they need to start paying you commission or you are terrible at sales and they're overpaying a bad salesman, meaning you go back to support.

I think this is a good career opportunity, if you're good at sales and support, you'll quickly shine and move up. It may be a bad decision on the part of management to force support to do this, but that doesn't mean you can't make the best of this.
posted by geoff. at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2009

Your company might be making a smart move. As long a sit doesn't affect your ability to do support, it may well be profitable. If you want better compensation, devise a better plan. Realistically, doing both support and sales well requires better, smarter staff. The reason sales people always are paid on commission is that incentives work. Come up with a better incentive plan, and present it to your boss.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on January 29, 2009

Do you have a salary? Do the sales people? This is something to consider in the outcome. If they are surviving off commissions and a low wage, or only commissions, and you are making a salary, I don't think you need the commission. They probably do, though. If you are making the same wage or lower than they are, you absolutely deserve the commission.
posted by piratebowling at 9:30 AM on January 29, 2009

To those suggesting he hand off his sales call to a sales dude to seal the deal, did you not read that his performance reviews will take into account his sales numbers? Giving away his sales will get him fired. It's not worth the lunch.

Honestly, the sales dudes should be pissed as well. Presumably overall sales have dropped along with the rest of the economy unless you're lucky enough to be in one of those recession-proof industries. So now you guys are eating into their commissions. They're probably afraid for their jobs too, but they could beef up your united front.
posted by rocketpup at 10:19 AM on January 29, 2009

I was in a similar situation. I quit. In hindsight, it was one of the smartest things I've ever done.
posted by mullingitover at 11:57 AM on January 29, 2009

No, don't ask for commissions. They'll fire you.

Your boss' plan is essentially to phase out commissioned sales altogether and replace it by hourly sales/support. If you ask for a commission, that threatens to make the whole thing pointless, and your boss will instantly identify you as an enemy. I'm sure your best salespeople have their resumees out there already. They won't stick around long for this crap.
posted by jamjam at 11:59 AM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Unless you have something lined up, I wouldn't risk losing your job by going against this. It is definitely unfair of them, and it sucks, but they're doing this because they know they can get away with it. They're right. I would get my resume out there, but just do my job and stay under the radar until something else came along.
posted by fructose at 3:46 PM on January 29, 2009

Rat out the executive to the big boss. See what happens...
posted by gjc at 4:33 PM on January 29, 2009

« Older How to elevate my career to the next level?   |   Where can I find life-sized, realistic goat... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.