Fundamentals Of Effective Sales Incentive Plans


Employees are the lifeblood of every construction company.  No matter the size of the company, each individual serves a purpose, and their performance either helps or hinders the organization – there is no middle ground. With that in mind, realize that the goal of every business owner should be to:

1)Hire the right individuals for each position

2)Set them up for success

3) Ensure that they are making a positive contribution to the company

In this fifth article in the series, we will explore successful sales incentive (reward) plans and strategies that are commonly used with Business Development and Sales managers/professionals across the construction industry to help with #3 above.  


Read More: How To Recruit and Hire Top Performers

As a business owner or Business Development Manager, you have the ability to set up sales incentives, compensation packages, and a successful sales incentive program that motivates your employees to make positive contributions to the success of your company.

While money is not the only motivator, it is typically the ‘biggest' motivator and the easiest for your employees to recognize.  So, we will start with common financial structures of bonus and sales incentive programs, and later we'll explore some other ‘fringe' benefits that can be used to complement these plans and help drive employee performance.

businessman, consulting, business

Business Development

Business Development professionals in the construction industry are often the most misunderstood people at a company.  They typically do not estimate project opportunities and do not manage projects or other employees. They rarely produce anything physical or tangible, and successful ones are not even in the office very often.  

However, they are often the lifeblood of the company. They are responsible for finding and nurturing relationships with potential clients, partners, and suppliers.  They feed the company with opportunities for new work, new projects, partnerships, and deals. They are the driving force that creates all the work that the rest of the company performs: estimating, project management, construction, accounting, human resources, etc.  

Remember, Tom Watson of IBM famously said “Nothing happens until someone sells something”. It is the responsibility of the business development people to find the opportunities, bring them to the company, and then help to close the deals.  Their sales performance is their positive contribution to the company. 

For smaller companies, this role is usually filled by the owner, who is the original business development engine (sales funnel) for the company. They forge and nurture relationships with people who become their first clients.  As the company grows and becomes more successful, the owner may charge their project managers with business development and sales in target markets, or hire full-time business development professionals to fill this role. 

If enhancing your business development strategy is something you are looking for, check out our page: We design Sales Incentives Programs for Construction Companies.

Read More: What's So Great About Procore?

Ascent ConsulWhat Do the Desired Results Look Like?

When thinking about compensation and incentive plans for your business development people, it's helpful to think about the actions and results we are trying to achieve and reinforce. The key desired results we should be expecting from our Sales Team at both the GC and Subcontracting level are the same:

- Build strategic partnerships that result in high-value project opportunities

- Generate leads, manage customer and partner relationships, and close deals

- Meet or exceed the company's strategic growth, marketing, and sales goals

There are also some secondary results we may desire from our Business Development managers:

- Enhance relationships with clients, prospects, and partners

- Identify new services that would appeal to existing and new clients

- Prepare and present quarterly goals and forecasts for future projects

So, what if we could design the right sales incentive program for successful Business Development managers that drives these key results we are trying to generate?

Read More: Building Employee Loyalty


What Is A Sales Incentive Program?

The most common incentive programs for Business Development managers are commission-style and are based on the Contract Value and Projected Revenue of each project. This system can be used for both General Contractors and Subcontracts alike.  

The Contract Value is exactly what it sounds like the value of the contract signed with the client. 

The Projected Revenue can be calculated in several ways but is typically calculated as the Contract Value minus all direct costs to perform the project.  This would include all labor, materials, equipment, subcontractors, and direct costs associated with the performance of the project.  This is often referred to as the gross profit on a project, as it does not include company overhead costs.   


Let’s create a sample project for this article:

$100,000         Contract Value


$25,000           Labor

$20,000           Materials

$5,000             Equipment

$12,000           Subcontractors

$20,000           Direct expenses

$82,000           Total cost


$18,000           Projected Revenue ($100,000 - $82,000) = 18%

Listen to Adam Cooper Discuss Incentive plans for the Competitive Contractor 

Read More: Articles | Ascent Consulting | Project Financials

Incentive 5

Tasks and responsibilities

The estimate should be built by the Estimator and is used to bid, negotiate and win the project.  It is not typically performed by the Business Development manager or personnel. However, a talented business development professional will not just bring opportunities in the door, they will see the opportunity all the way through to the close. 

This would include providing insight into the client's budget, pain points, goals, and desires, positioning their company as the best solution for the project, helping to drive up the value of the services being provided, and potentially handling any final negotiations that lead to a signed deal.  In this way, they are able to leverage the relationships they've built and nurtured into strategic partnerships that lead to high-value (profitable) projects for their company.

So, how can we structure a sales incentive program that drives the key behaviors we are looking to reinforce? 

In order to drive the first key behavior “build strategic partnerships that result in high-value project opportunities”, we can set a minimum profit threshold that must be satisfied in order for a deal to qualify for a commission.  This is often set as a function of the company overhead level (the typical range is 8-12%). 

Assuming our sample company runs at a 10% operating budget, then they might set the minimum profit level at 15%.  This now becomes a simple yes/no gateway; any project that does not meet this requirement would not qualify the business development person for a commission.

Based on this qualifier, our sample project looks to be a ‘high-value' project, with an estimated profit of 18%.

So, now that the project qualifies for a commission, how do we calculate and pay that commission?  What are the industry standards? How do we ensure that the BD person continues to nurture the client and stay involved? 

The commission structure is often set as a tiered-percentage system.  This means that there are distinct ranges that pay set percentages.  The tiers for the commission structure would be set for your company based on several factors, such as average, minimum, and maximum project sizes, typical profit margins, type of work, duration of projects, etc. 

Within this basic framework, you can increase or decrease the number of tiers and adjust percentages, which are often set as diminishing percentages.  What this means is that as project values go up, the percentages go down. 


Here’s an example: 

incentive 5 chart

Sales Incentives Examples (Real-Life)

The reason the percentages diminish as the project value increases are mainly attributable to the amount of risk the contractor is taking on the project.  Smaller projects typically have less risk and are therefore more likely to achieve estimated profit levels.  Larger projects inherently have more risk associated with them, and therefore the company can assume that the profit will more closely be linked to the performance of the Project Manager.

Additionally, it does not make sense to offer high commission percentages on large projects, as they do not promote consistent behavior.  For example, if the Business Development person receives a flat 3% commission on a $1MM project, this would equate to a $30,000 payout.  If they can make 1-2 sales like this each year, then they are likely to only chase these types of clients and projects and will not give each opportunity and client equal importance. 

This is probably not in line with the company's desired behaviors of consistent performance in nurturing prospects, enhancing relationships with clients, and consistently meeting sales goals throughout the year. 

Conversely, using the tiered structure, the commission on a $1MM project would be calculated as:

$100,000 x 3% = $3,000

$400,000 x 2% = $8,000

$500,000 x 1% = $5,000

Commission = $16,000

This is a much more reasonable commission (by industry standards) and also keeps $14,000 in the project budget for the PM to use to mitigate risk.

In our tiered bonus example (from the chart above), a project must have a minimum contract value of $25,000 in order to qualify for a commission.

  1. For contracts up to $100,000, the commission will be 3% of the contract value.

  2. For contracts between $100,001 and $500,000, they will earn 3% on the first $100,000, plus an additional 2% on the money between $100,001 and $500,000.

  3. For contracts between $500,001 and $1MM, they will earn the commission from #2, plus an additional 1% on all money up to the $1MM.

  4. For contracts over $1MM, they will earn the commission from #3, plus an additional ½%. 

So, for our sample project, the business development person would earn 3% of $100,000, or $3,000 as a commission.  This could be paid as a lump sum upon receipt of the first payment on the project or could be paid out over time based on the duration of the project. 

Commission payout terms would be decided for your company based on many of the same factors. If you perform short-term projects (less than 3 months duration), a one-time payout often makes sense.  If you perform longer-term projects, then tying commission payments to monthly billings/receivables may be preferable for maintaining cash flow. 

This also incentivizes the business development person to stay engaged with the client for the duration of the project.  Should there be any billing (or other) disputes, the BD person now has a stake in resolving them to the client's satisfaction while also protecting the company's interests. 

Read More: Construction Project Labor – Cost Management


Types of Sales Incentives

Let me explain the types of sales incentives available in your market. The sales incentive is divided into two types: Monetary rewards and Non-monetary incentives.


Non-monetary incentives

As in our previous articles (parts III and IV), we listed some ‘fringe' benefits you can offer your people as incentives beyond money.  Here are some of the most common ‘extras' that are given to successful Business Development people as incentives:

  • Extra paid vacation days (PTO)

  • Company vehicles or vehicle allowances

  • New/upgraded company laptop

  • Company-branded merchandise and clothing

  • Restaurant or store gift cards

  • Air travel rewards (travel vouchers, seat upgrade certificates)

  • Tickets to sporting events and concerts

  • Golf clubs or other sports equipment

  • Electronic devices and gadgets (Bluetooth speakers, headphones, radios, mp3 players, tablets, etc.)

In Conclusion

We hope this article provides you with some ideas for your own sales incentive plan and shows you how to create a structure that rewards Business Development people for their performance and supporting the goals of the company.  We also welcome your feedback and suggestions for other ways you've found to incentivize your BD people!  Leave a comment below, or email us with your ideas so we can share them with our readers!


Read Part III: Rewarding Project Managers

Read Part IV: Rewarding Construction Estimators



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Adam Cooper

Ascent's founder and president, Adam Cooper has over three decades of experience in construction business ownership, sales & marketing, project management, construction technology, company operations and leadership.

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