Aligning Compensation with Channel Selling

\"AlignA core philosophy in developing sales compensation models is to reward salespeople for what you want them to do … which is sell.  Salespeople need to be aligned with their company\’s, and in the case of manufacturer reps their manufacturers, goals.  Historically for electrical manufacturer reps this typically related to selling to electrical distributors and their agreements with manufacturers were written specifically for sales to / through electrical distributors. But, in a changing, more diversified, industry, are goals still aligned?
A few recent discussions, a current research initiative and the upcoming NEMRA Annual meeting led to wondering if rep commission agreements, and maybe models, need to re-evaluated. For manufacturers and distributors that can more effectively and properly ensure that their reps are compensated, the greater potential for salespeople to be aligned with manufacturer goals (sell more) and distributor goals (gain rep support to help the distributor sell more / better support the manufacturer line.)
And much of the issue relates to clear direction so that there is alignment of goals and a willingness to share non-customer specific sales information, at a minimum.
What led to the \”wondering\”?


Currently we\’re analyzing the results of our State of eCommerce from an Electrical Buyer Perspective.  We\’ve received input from contractors and end-users on how they are currently utilizing the web / eCommerce and what their outlook is (the report will be available shortly for purchase).  There are a couple of questions that essentially ask \”where are you buying online?\”  The answers, in some cases not a surprise, are:

So, eCommerce generates some questions:

  • Many rep agreements do not pay for sales to other channels. With eCommerce expected to increase in importance as an alternative ordering system but also enabling customers to purchase outside of their marketplace.
  • There is becoming more diversification by distributors. MRO companies are gaining a greater percent of electrical sales. Are reps compensated for these sales in their territories? If not, should they be calling on these companies\’ customers? Helping these companies?
  • Who gets compensated for sales from the eTailers / eDistributors? Is anyone generating demand for products that are sold via these companies? Will these sales / customers ever require service?
  • And for sales from electrical distributors, who should be compensated for the sale to the distributor to stock / sell the material and conversely what happens to wherever the product is sold … across territories?
  • Do manufacturers want reps to only sell products that will be sold to customers that will use the product in the rep territory?
  • Do manufacturers want reps to sell to all types of distributors? Certain types? Only to electrical distributors?
  • If there are service issues, do reps first need to ask \”where did you buy this from?\” and if the answer is not \”an electrical distributor\” then the rep refers the customer to the manufacturer?

And there are other similar questions.
And eCommerce only generates the question. As these distribution organizations sell cross territories and/or diversify their offerings and manufacturers sell through multiple channels, contractually who gets compensated?

Regional and Central Distribution Centers (RDCs and CDCs)

I recently spoke with some manufacturer rep salespeople (not principals) who joined their agencies after they were manufacturers. You know the moral of the story … they are now seeing the issue from the other side of the fence (spend a day in someone else\’s shoes).
They were telling me that they don\’t actively support distribution in their marketplace as the material for a distributor is sent to a local RDC and they do not know if the principal receives any point of sale / purchase information to accurately pay the salesperson on the accounts he is calling on. This is a principal issue if he / she is receiving the information, however, if the distributor is not providing the appropriate information to the manufacturer (i.e. which material is sold by which branch and to where, geographically), then the distributor is complicit in not getting the right support. Why would a salesperson want to call on a distributor for whom they don\’t know, or believe, that they are getting compensated to support?
Is the rep\’s compensation model aligned with the manufacturer goals? Do they want the rep to sell to

  • All electrical distributors?
  • Only certain types (i.e. independents, chains (and which ones)

Is it aligned, or perhaps misaligned with the distributor? Is that distributor getting the best support (demand generation support, customer service) from the rep if the rep is concerned about getting appropriately compensated? Or will the rep, if they can, quietly guide business to another distributor in the market?


The upcoming NEMRA meeting may be a forum to start, or in some cases, continue the conversation. The issues will continue and the percent of electrical sales sold solely through electrical distributors will continue to decline (distributors – ask your manufacturers what channels they sell through.)
A couple of years ago NEMRA started laying the ground work to be of assistance to distributors and manufacturers to improve the accuracy of reporting. This can help distributors align with their manufacturers\’ sales organizations and ensure that the local rep salesperson is appropriately compensated. This is NEMRA\’s Minimum POS Reporting Standards which focuses on where the product is sold (zip code level) but does not ask the distributor for end-user customer information or end-user sales information.
To date:

  • almost 40 manufacturers have endorsed
  • Graybar and Rexel have endorsed
  • A couple of independents have endorsed / expressed interest
  • And one of the marketing groups is considering encouraging its members to support

(and if you are a manufacturer, you can learn more by contacting NEMRA or CMG as we\’ve been facilitating this initiative for NEMRA or you can email us for a company of the NEMRA standards)
Distributors can improve their alignment with their local rep by providing the information necessary for local, and all, reps to be compensated appropriately where the sales are within their local market or more broadly (via online sales).
Manufacturers, on the other hand, may wish to consider how their sales compensation model is best aligned with their business and channel goals.  Which type of distributor do you want your reps calling on? What demand creation activities are being expected today? How is your product being sold … what is different today than when you wrote the rep contract 5, 10, 15, 25, 50 years ago?
So, the questions become

  • Manufacturers, are you aligned with your sales strategy?
  • Can your rep compensation model be a competitive advantage to capture share of mind?
  • As a distributor, are you capturing more of your key reps\’ share of mind? And are you giving your manufacturer\’s everything they need to ensure this?

Rep policies don\’t change quickly, and some reps have spent extensive time negotiating their agreements, but if tomorrow\’s channel / business will look different than today\’s, are other models available?
Some thoughts

  • Perhaps this starts with standardized reporting to improve accuracy and reduce duplicate efforts via better POS reporting.
  • Reps should better network based upon manufacturer alignment to discuss potential models (if a manufacturer has 30 reps, realistically they can\’t have 30 rep compensation models.)

Consider … if you were in direct sales and your company only paid on commission based upon what your customers bought but your company, and customers, didn\’t provide sales reporting that you had confidence in, would you support that customer long-term? How long would you stay with your company? (assuming you had choice).

\"ChannelWhile we work with all members of the channel, for reps we can also help with:

  • Distributor Satisfaction Survey
  • Strategic Planning
  • Network Group Facilitation

For manufacturers, as it relates to rep interactions, we can help with:

  • Advisory Council Facilitation
  • Conducting a Rep360 to gain feedback

And if you are attending NEMRA, we\’ll be there.  Let\’s get together to discuss POS and more.

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2 thoughts on “Aligning Compensation with Channel Selling”

  1. Good post.
    Reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my RMs. He told me they were now selling on Amazon and how his company wanted me to answer if distributors asked him. I asked about how I would get compensated. He said I wouldn’t as they don’t get POS from Amazon but they expected my support. I’m thinking now I should send an email to my distributors and the end-users and contractors I know that I support electrical distributors and nicely mention we don’t get compensated on purchases through other types of distributors and online companies so can’t support companies who buy from them for service issues or in providing product information.

  2. Compensation plans should be updated periodically to ensure business alignment. Companies should not be concerned that plans are sacred and change can be too disruptive. E-Commerce brings in another level of complexity that requires considerable thought regarding cost of sales, type of product/service and potential after sale support. Effective communications, POS reporting if available and experienced field management can work through most issues. In the end, salespeople will always find a way to maximize their commissions, once they fully understand the goals.

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