Is Paying Straight Commission Dangerous?

Nov. 26, 2012
Contractors wonder, “Will paying my techs straight commission turn honest people into liars and thieves and ruin my company’s reputation?”

My observation has been that the overwhelming majority of service technicians are honest to a fault. About the only thing they could be accused of consistently misleading people on is pretending they know more than they know, which is human nature and not a crime.

Televised “sting” operations make viewers think dishonest selling tactics by service techs are the norm. However, my experience of having spent 30 to 40 weeks per year over a 15-year period running service calls with techs all across North America causes me to ask, “Where do they find these guys?”

The Truth About ‘Sting’ Operations

Having declined an offer by a television network to assist in a sting operation, I’ll explain their procedure in setting them up. They contact ethical contractors in an area for a list of unethical companies they feel are likely candidates for such an operation. They not only inquire as to what companies to call, they ask which specific techs (with bad reputations) to request for service.

You’d think that, with that kind of information, the deck would be stacked in the television show’s favor. Despite this, after surreptitiously taping dozens of service calls, they occasionally are unable to catch anyone doing anything unethical and have to scrap the project.

‘Wolves in sheep’s clothing’

Techs working on straight commission are not always “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” i.e., salesmen masquerading as techs. Setting aside the few companies with a company culture of total thievery, I find that straight commission techs working in ethical companies tend to be at least as technically proficient and honest as techs who are paid on an hourly basis, if not more.

That sounds odd, doesn’t it? I was as surprised to learn this as you.

Techs making serious money on straight commission usually have nowhere else to go to make the kind of money they’re making, so they tend stay with the company, which is good. As a result of this, they will defend the company fiercely against anyone whose actions run the risk of getting the company investigated and closed down.

The ‘New Guy’ Treatment

One of the best shops I’ve ever visited pays its techs straight commission. When I arrived, I had my morning introductory meeting with the techs, and went outside to climb into a truck and start running calls. About a dozen techs were waiting for me in the parking lot. They cornered me, and basically said, “Listen, Mr. Big Sales Trainer From Out Of Town, this is a good company that does good work, and all of us are making more money working here than we ever will anywhere else. We don’t know you, so we’re going tell you the same thing we tell every new guy: You do anything to damage this company’s reputation, you lie to or mislead anyone, you cause anyone to complain about us, you do lousy work, and you’ll be sorry!”

While others are busy saying that hypothetical techs will become corrupted when they go on straight commission, I’ve had real-life straight commission techs warning me against dishonesty!

What About Quality?

The first straight commission shop I ever worked at had the most technically proficient techs I ever worked with. They were also very versatile. Believe it or don’t, I actually worked with a guy who, with very little help from me (I was mostly in the way), sold and installed a furnace in the morning, hung a chandelier in the early afternoon, and completely replaced a main drain line by nightfall. I saw this with my own two eyes and his work was immaculate.

Most techs working on straight commission are not paid to run callbacks, so they double- and triple-check their work for quality.

I’ll add that, in view of this, they are not prone to pretend to know how to do things they don’t know how to do. This further reduces callbacks.

Paying your techs straight commission will not ruin your company when you’ve hired competent, ethical people. In fact, you might find it actually improves your company.

Charlie Greer is the 2012 Tom McCart HVAC Consultant-of-the-Year, and is the creator of “Tec Daddy’s Service Technician Survival School on DVD.” Charlie can provide live sales training for your technicians online via Skype. For complete details go to or call 800/963-HVAC (4822). Email Charlie at [email protected].