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In the fast-paced and competitive world of sales, understanding and optimizing compensation structures is crucial for both employers and sales professionals. One key component of sales compensation is On-Target Earnings (OTE). OTE is a critical concept that can drive performance, attract top talent, and align the interests of sales teams with the company's goals. In this blog post, we'll introduce and explain OTE, share best practices for implementing it, and provide real-world examples of how it is applied in the sales world. We’ll also explore related concepts such as clawbacks, sales incentives, sales commissions, variable pay, and overall compensation.

Table of contents

    What is On-Target Earnings (OTE)?

    On-Target Earnings (OTE) represent the total compensation a sales representative can expect to earn if they achieve their sales targets. OTE includes both a fixed base salary and variable components like commissions and bonuses. It serves as a benchmark for potential earnings, giving sales reps a clear understanding of what they can earn by meeting their targets.

    Example: If a sales rep has a base salary of $50,000 and a target commission of $50,000 for achieving their sales goals, their OTE would be $100,000.

    The Importance of OTE

    OTE is crucial for several reasons:

    1. Attracting Talent: A competitive OTE can help attract top sales talent who are confident in their ability to hit targets and earn substantial income.

    2. Motivating Performance: Clearly defined OTE provides motivation for sales reps to achieve and exceed their targets, driving higher performance and revenue for the company.

    3. Transparency: OTE offers transparency in compensation, helping sales reps understand how their efforts translate into earnings.

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    Best Practices for Implementing an OTE

    To effectively implement on-target earnings models, anyone should follow these best practices:

    1. Set Realistic and Achievable Targets

    Ensure that sales targets are realistic and achievable. Targets should be challenging yet attainable with effort and skill. Unrealistic targets can demotivate sales reps and lead to high turnover rates. 

    Setting realistic and achievable targets involves understanding the market, analyzing historical data, and considering individual sales rep capabilities. It’s essential to base targets on data rather than arbitrary goals. This can be done by reviewing past sales performances, understanding market trends, and considering the economic environment. 

    Engage your sales team in setting these targets. Sales reps are more likely to commit to targets they helped set. Their on-the-ground insights are invaluable for setting practical goals.

    Targets should also be adjustable based on feedback and changing market conditions. Flexibility ensures that targets remain fair.

    Example: A company selling enterprise software might set quarterly targets based on historical sales data, market conditions, and individual rep performance. For instance, if the historical data shows an average of 15% growth per quarter, setting a target slightly above this, such as 17%, can be challenging yet realistic.

    2. Balance Base Salary and Variable Pay

    A well-balanced compensation plan includes a competitive base salary and substantial variable pay opportunities. The base salary provides financial stability, while variable pay incentivizes high performance.

    Balancing base salary and variable pay involves understanding the role of each component. The base salary should be enough to provide financial security to the sales reps, covering their basic living expenses. This stability allows them to focus on their performance without the constant pressure of meeting their basic financial needs.

    Variable pay, on the other hand, should be substantial enough to motivate high performance. It should be directly linked to the achievement of targets and objectives.

    The ratio between base salary and variable pay can vary based on industry standards, job roles, and company policies. A common practice is a 50/50 split, but this can be adjusted. For example, senior sales positions might have a higher variable pay component compared to junior positions. 

    Example: A sales rep with a base salary of $60,000 and the potential to earn an additional $60,000 in commissions and bonuses has a balanced OTE of $120,000. This balance ensures that the rep has financial security while also being motivated to exceed their targets.

    3. Align Compensation with Company Goals

    Ensure that the OTE structure aligns with the company’s goals and objectives. Sales targets should drive behaviors that contribute to the company’s success, such as acquiring new customers or increasing sales of high-margin products.

    Aligning compensation with company goals means that the sales targets and the OTE should reflect what the company aims to achieve in the short and long term. If the company’s goal is to expand its customer base, the OTE plan should reward reps more for new customer acquisitions. If the focus is on profitability, higher commissions should be given for selling high-margin products.

    Regularly communicate company goals to your sales team and explain how their targets and compensation align with these goals. This ensures that every sales rep understands their role in the company’s success and is motivated to contribute towards it. Additionally, aligning compensation with company goals can foster a sense of purpose and direction among the sales team.

    Example: If a company’s goal is to expand its customer base, the OTE plan might include higher commissions for new customer acquisitions. For instance, a sales rep might receive a 10% commission for new customers compared to a 5% commission for existing customers.

    4. Implement Fair Clawback Policies

    Clawbacks protect the company’s interests by allowing the recovery of previously paid commissions if certain conditions are not met, such as a customer canceling their contract within a specific period. Communicate these policies clearly to your sales team to ensure transparency and fairness.

    Implementing fair clawback policies involves clearly defining the conditions under which commissions can be clawed back. This might include situations where a customer cancels a contract within a certain period, non-payment by the customer, or any fraud or misconduct by the sales rep. The clawback period should be reasonable and clearly communicated to the sales team to avoid any misunderstandings.

    Ensure that the clawback policies are consistent and applied fairly across the board. This fairness fosters trust and transparency within the sales team. Also, provide detailed documentation and training to your sales team regarding these policies. This will help them understand the terms and avoid actions that might trigger a clawback.

    Example: A sales rep earns a commission on a sale, but if the customer cancels within six months, the company may claw back the commission. For instance, if a sales rep earns $5,000 in commission on a contract that is canceled after four months, they would need to return the $5,000 to the company.

    5. Regularly Review and Adjust OTE Plans

    Market conditions and business goals can change, so regularly review and adjust OTE plans to ensure they remain competitive and aligned with the company’s objectives. Seek feedback from your sales team to identify areas for improvement.

    Regularly reviewing and adjusting OTE plans is crucial to maintaining their effectiveness. Set a schedule for reviewing your OTE plans, such as quarterly or bi-annually. During these reviews, consider changes in market conditions, company goals, and sales performance. This will help you identify any gaps or areas that need adjustment.

    Engage your sales team during these reviews. Their feedback can provide valuable insights into what’s working and what’s not. They can highlight any challenges they face with the current OTE structure and suggest improvements. Use this feedback to make data-driven adjustments that can enhance the effectiveness of your OTE plans.

    Additionally, keep an eye on industry trends and competitor practices. This will help you ensure that your OTE plans remain competitive and attractive to top talent. Flexibility and adaptability are key to maintaining an effective OTE structure.

    Example: Conduct quarterly reviews of the OTE structure to adjust for market changes, sales trends, and feedback from sales reps. For instance, if a particular product line is underperforming, consider adjusting the targets or commissions for that product to boost sales.

    Real Examples of OTE

    Let’s explore how different companies apply OTE in the real world.

    Example 1: Tech Startup

    A tech startup selling a new SaaS product could set an OTE for their sales reps at $120,000. This includes a $60,000 base salary and $60,000 in potential commissions. This represents a 50%-50% distribution between base salary and variable pay in case 100% quota is achieved. The commission structure rewards reps for both new sales and renewals, aligning with the company’s goals of customer acquisition and retention.

    Example 2: Established Enterprise

    An established enterprise software company could set an OTE of $200,000 for senior sales reps. This includes a $100,000 base salary and $100,000 in potential commissions and bonuses. The company uses a tiered commission structure, where reps earn higher commission rates as they exceed their sales targets. This structure motivates reps to overachieve and drive more revenue.

    Example 3: Retail Sales

    A retail chain could set an OTE for store managers at $80,000, with a $50,000 base salary and $30,000 in potential bonuses based on store performance. Bonuses are tied to metrics such as sales growth, customer satisfaction, and inventory management, aligning the manager’s goals with the company’s overall performance.

    The Role of Sales Incentives and Commissions

    Sales incentives and commissions play a crucial role in On Target Earnings (OTE), forming integral parts of the sales compensation plan. We already know that OTE represents the total potential earnings a salesperson can achieve through a combination of base salary and additional incentives such as commissions. By linking OTE with sales incentives and commissions, organizations can effectively motivate sales representatives to perform at their best while ensuring alignment with the company’s objectives.

    Adding sales incentives and commissions to the OTE structure not only encourages sales reps to strive for higher performance levels but also fosters a sense of accountability and drive towards achieving sales targets. This strategic integration ensures that sales professionals are incentivized to exceed expectations and contribute significantly to the company’s overall success.

    Let’s deep dive into the different OTE components:

    Sales Incentives

    Sales Incentives are additional rewards offered to sales reps for achieving specific goals or milestones. These can include cash bonuses, trips, gifts, or other perks. Incentives should be designed to drive behaviors that contribute to the company’s success.

    Example: A company might offer a trip to an exotic location for top-performing sales reps who exceed their annual targets.

    Sales Commissions

    Sales Commissions are a common form of variable pay based on a percentage of the sales revenue generated by the rep. Commissions should be structured to reward both individual and team performance, ensuring that all members are motivated to contribute to the company’s success.

    Example: A sales rep might receive a 5% commission on every sale, incentivizing them to close more deals and increase revenue.


    Understanding and implementing On-Target Earnings (OTE) is crucial for optimizing sales performance and attracting top talent. By setting realistic targets, balancing base salary and variable pay, aligning compensation with company goals, and implementing fair clawback policies, you can create an effective OTE plan that drives success. Sales incentives and commissions further motivate your team and align their efforts with your company’s objectives.