Sales contests are a popular way to increase motivation and productivity among employees, but do they actually work? This blog post looks at the pros and cons of sales contests to help you decide if they’re right for your business.
I remember when I was working in sales, my company would hold these big contests every quarter. The prize was usually a trip or some kind of bonus. Everyone would get super pumped up for it and we would all go above and beyond to try to win.
Looking back, I’m not sure if those contests really did anything to improve our performance long-term. Sure, we’d see a spike in sales during the contest period, but afterward, things would always go back to normal. And sometimes the stress of trying to win could even lead to burnout among employees.
What is a Sales Contest?
A sales contest is an event where salespeople compete against each other to see who can sell the most products or services. The contest may last for a certain period, or it may be based on a certain number of sales. The winner of the contest may receive a prize, such as a cash bonus, a paid vacation, or a new car.
How to Run an Effective Sales Contest
In three decades of running sales teams, I’ve picked up some valuable lessons about successful sales competitions. Here are my top six takeaways.
1. Keep It Simple.
Your sales team should have no problem understanding how your contests work. When it’s difficult to understand how you can win — or who is currently in the lead — their enthusiasm for participating in your promotions will wane.
A simple way to encourage your salespeople to make more sales is to hold a simple competition. You could reward your top-performing sales reps by giving them a prize, or you could simply give rewards to the top five performers. By keeping it simple, you can ensure that everyone understands the rules of the competition and stays motivated.
As an additional bonus, they may be able to point out any flaws in the contest rules that you might have overlooked.
By only running one campaign at once, you can focus your team members on the task at hand.
2. It Should Be Fun.
Competitions can be a fun way for your sales team to get to know each other better. It also helps with bonding and makes the experience memorable.
My team used to love it when I gave away my services as a prize for whoever sold the most. I would do anything the winner wanted, from washing their car to cleaning their apartment. This showed my team that I was dedicated to their successes and had a great sense of humor.
If you want to show your team members how dedicated you are to helping them succeed, consider hosting a fun competition. You could base it around an inside joke that everyone in the office enjoys, and the winner could receive a gift card to a restaurant that everyone loves.
3. Plan Your Contest with the Sales Team.
Ask your sales team what prizes they want. I once hosted an all-hands meeting with my team where I asked them, “Do you need a team incentive?”
The answer was almost always “yes”. I would explain the rules of the competition, then ask, “What prize or prizes would you like?”
This tactic has three main benefits:
- Your sales team will be more invested.
- The reward is what you know they want.
- Your salespeople will like the idea that you handed over the reins.
4. Provide Updates.
Give your salespeople frequent updates on where they stand in your competition. Depending on how quickly each sales cycle moves, you may want to give an update every day or every week.
5. Keep Your Word.
In 2002, a Toyota winner was upset when she was given a toy Yoda instead of the car that was promised.
She sued her employer and won.
Before you offer any prizes, calculate how much you’ll be on the hook if your sales team blows it out of the park. You don’t want to promise something you can’t deliver on.
6. Distribute Prizes ASAP.
I once awarded my sales team their prize winnings a full nine months after they had earned them. As you can imagine, they were not pleased.
The most important part of running a contest is making sure you distribute the rewards as quickly as possible. This will encourage your team members to participate in more competitions in the future.
What is the Purpose of Sales Contests?
Sales contests are a great way to incentivize behavior that you want to see more of from your sales team. By offering prizes for things like the most number of new sales, the most upsells, or the most cross-sells, you can encourage your team to focus on activities that will help grow your business.
Managers can set up their own custom goals for sales reps, whether that goal is setting up demos, making a sale, or anything else.
Prizes are important to any competition, so make sure you have set aside a portion of your marketing budget for this.
When deciding what prize to offer, you should take into account the compensation of your sales reps, the difficulty of the task you’re asking them to do, the added work they’ll have to do, and how long the contest will last.
Keep the contest light and fun. Your sales reps are already dealing with a lot of negativity and pressure.
Sales contests are a great way to motivate your team and promote healthy competition. Regardless of the size of your sales team, you can implement a contest that will get your representatives excited and improve performance.
By offering prizes for the top performers, you can create excitement and encourage friendly competition among your team. Not only will this improve morale, but it can also lead to increased sales numbers.
My first foray into professional sales was when I was 17 when I was hired to sell shirts outside Fenway. While that job was its challenge, the monotonous nature of daily, repetitive, and unsuccessful phone calls was not.
As a sales manager, part of your job is to keep your team feeling positive and motivated. You also want to make sure they have the tools they need to overcome the inevitable rejection.
Sales teams everywhere are finding creative ways to make their workplace more fun. From blasting loud music to using nerf guns, these tactics are becoming more and more popular.
As a sales coach at Kinnek, I’ve found that these contest ideas have been incredibly successful at getting my team motivated.
Spark Engagement and Motivation
Everyone loves a competition.
By incentivizing your team with a sales competition, you can encourage your reps to strive for a goal or specific metrics. This can drive the behaviors and activities you want to see more of.
They’ll want to show off their prize, so a small, well-timed reward can be extremely effective in driving short-term results.
Sometimes, a gift card to Amazon or Starbucks is just what the doctor ordered. But other times, it’s fun to think outside the box and come up with a unique prize for a contest.
But who has time to remember what all these small details are?
And we did.
When planning your next sales contest, consider some of these great (and inexpensive) sales incentives! With 33 ideas to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your team.
- Choose a Zoom background for a week.
- Pizza and beer.
- Care package with the winner’s favorite snacks.
- Choose a Slack profile picture and status for a week.
- Stop work an hour early for a week.
- Fun office supplies.
- Name your next contest after the contest winner.
- Public shout-out on LinkedIn from the CEO.
- Happy hour with the CEO.
- Free hour per day for a week to do something related to their career development.
- Recognition in a company-wide email from the CEO.
- Handwritten thank-you note from the CEO.
- Token from the winner’s university that they can display at the office.
- Lottery tickets.
- Picture of the winner featured on the company blog for a week.
- Recognition on all company social media channels.
- Team members record a video congratulating the winner and then post it on social media.
- Sponsor for a conference.
- Bring a friend to a conference.
- Homemade fun sign in a picture frame.
- Day off before or after a holiday weekend.
- Sing praises about the winner at the next team meeting.
- An office-wide list that says “Why We Think [Winner] Is a Rockstar” and have everyone contribute.
- The number of points won equals the amount of PTO hours.
- Additional 30-minute break each day for a week.
- Give the contest winner a fun nickname and make everyone call him or her that name for a week.
- The winner gets to pass off one project to another team member.
- One-on-one mentoring session with the CEO.
- Be quoted in a big PR article.
- Gift card for any fun home office accessory.
- Custom bobblehead.
Sustainable, Long-Term Growth
The ultimate goal of a sales organization is to drive sustainable, long-term results. While a short-term incentive or contest can be fun, it’s more important to put in place processes that will drive your team to success in the long run.
The best sales teams have a combination of:
- Effective, results-driven behaviors
- Strategically crafted processes
- Well-placed incentives
The three elements above are a critical part of your performance management system.
Why Sales Contests and Motivators Can Steer New Hires to Greatness
Your new hires are the future of your team.
You carefully interviewed and recruited them for their outstanding talent/drive/work history etc. and now the process of onboarding begins.
Integrating your new and existing team members is a process that many managers overthink.
It’s as easy as tapping into our primal instincts.
One tried and true method for cultivating a healthy and productive sales environment is to incorporate contests into the routine.
Most of us get started in the sales industry because of our competitive nature, so nurturing this natural inclination to perform at the top can be yet another way to keep the office environment from getting stale.
Let’s face it; even your best salespeople can lose their competitive drive over the years.
This downward motivation spiral is often simply a side effect of years spent in the pressure-loaded competitive market.
However, new hires are chomping at the bit, right?
This is the time to stoke the flames.
So how do you harness that squeaky-clean-newness and preserve that drive to sell past those first few months?
By utilizing a reward system, not only will you see an improvement in overall morale but your original team members are going to experience a renewal of their competitive spirit.
Combining fun, motivation, and the drive to win into your office will not only break up the day but will also allow you to see what happens when your team members really push it to the limit.
Why Do Sales Contests Work
Contests and competitions are one aspect of history that continues to repeat themselves.
Beginning with the early Greek Olympic Games to our ongoing nationwide obsession with football each Sunday, we thrive off of competition.
In fact, this satisfaction doesn’t only come from competing ourselves but also by competing vicariously through our adoration and loyalty to our favorite sports teams and athletes.
Delving even deeper into the psychology behind competitions, let’s look at some great information from Psychology Today.
Competition is what psychologists refer to as an “extrinsic incentive.”
This basically just means that the motivation to adopt the behavior is sourced externally. So it’s something you do for the reward.
The drive remains as long as the incentive is still there.
Keeping that motivation thereafter the contest has ended can be a bit tricky, which is perhaps the one downside of extrinsic incentives.
But why do we have such a natural drive to win?
Simply put, we hate to lose!
In the high-pressure sales world, winning is what we strive for!
We “win” a lead, we “win” a sales presentation…essentially we perform in a variety of ways but we win when we convert or meet our goal.
It’s a high-pressure environment day in and day out in the sales world.
If we can continue to nurture this need to win as sales managers while adding entertainment value, then our whole team wins.
The business is also victorious since sales goals will be met and performance should increase across the board.
In a survey of faculty, students, and staff at Harvard School of Public Health almost half stated they would rather exist in a world where the average salary was $25,000 and they earned $50,000 than one where they made $100,000 but the average was $200,000.
Think about that for a minute…nearly half of the people interviewed would rather make less but be above the average rather than make more and be behind their peers.
If that doesn’t sum up competitive nature, what possibly could?
As a human race, many of us suffer from a term known as “last place aversion.”
This phenomenon has shown time and again that those closer to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder typically oppose economic policies that will help those below them.
Basically, no one wants to be the last place in sports, career, and economics.
(If this concept interests you, check out The Economist’s article on last-place aversion.)
Remember that horrible fear of being picked last for a team in gym class? We never really lose that fear.
Success Stories About Employee Competition
Story #1: Competition platform by Bob Marsh
An article written by Bob Marsh on the topic of employee competition highlights his own success story.
Realizing that the employees on his sales team at ePrize, a large digital engagement provider, were largely involved in the world of real-time results and digital stimulation, Marsh decided to create a competition platform, unlike most others.
The following is an excerpt from his post on Inc.com.
“I’m talking real-time digital leaderboards–the kind that offers options for personalization. That includes employee photo displays and engagement tools, such as audio splashes that demand attention when someone makes a big move in a competition. Whether on flat-screen monitors in central locations around the office, or each employee’s iPhone, these leaderboards would surround entire sales teams, keeping individuals cognizant of where they, and their colleagues, stand in competitions–and motivating them to see their face move to the top. Some call it gamification. I just call it making things happen so you can hit your number.”
“We saw immediate results, with a 230 percent spike in sales.”
“It took us three months of around-the-clock work, but we created an app, called Compete that we thought would do the trick. It runs within Salesforce.com and allows sales managers to design competitions based on very specific goals. Whether a manager needs to drive Salesforce.com adoption, or rally their team around key sales initiatives, managers could now build an engaging competition around that goal. They’d simply download the app by visiting the Salesforce.com AppExchange, and have access to creating as many competitions as necessary, for any given duration.”
Story #2: Sales contest by Fuelzee
Another example of a successful sales contest comes from Dan McGraw, founder, and CEO of Fuelzee.
Rather than only rewarding the top salesperson, he decided to develop a system that rewarded the team member who was trying the hardest.
McGraw shared the following bit of his experience in a BusinessNewsDaily.com post:
“Every time someone got a no, we tracked it in our system, and the person with the most no’s received a $100 gift card every week,” McGraw said. “This might sound crazy, but you get a lot of no’s when doing sales. The more no’s you get, the closer you are to getting a yes. The prize of getting a yes is way larger than $100, so you still wanted to get there. This nearly doubled our outbound calls and motivated the whole team.”
As you can see, there is no right or wrong way to run a contest.
As both these examples show us, the format, motivator, and prize are largely shaped by your team and the needs of your business.
So let’s bring this back to our own sales teams.
We have a group of new, motivated salespeople in addition to our existing team members. With our newfound understanding of why we thrive off competition, we are now poised to create something great for our team.
Not only will contests mimic the competitive market of our sales team, but they will help reward creativity, bring some fun in the office and also appeal to our human need for recognition.
2 Steps in Creating a Sales Contest
If contests are new to you, you can start working them into your office at your own pace. You can check out our sales contest templates here.
This can be as little as introducing a one-hour-a-week contest to test the metrics and feel out the waters.
Making a contest as a sales team motivation strategy is a solid idea. Just as you beta test most things in your daily life, try mini-contests to get you started.
See if they work as sales team motivation strategies and then make adjustments as necessary.
Step 1: Choosing the motivator
The most important part of the competition is the prize, right? First, figure out what you want to use as the carrot you are dangling in front of your team.
The great thing about contests is that they allow you, as the manager, to look at what areas require improvement and then offer motivation to improve them!
2. Fun activities and rewards
There are many other ways to harness that passion and competitive spirit without going over what you can afford.
Fun is also an aspect of the office environment that is often lacking and introducing it back into the workweek can also be motivator enough.
Offering perks and rewards for the team or individuals when goals are met can be a great way to elicit hard work from your team.
3. Career reward
Keep in mind that everyone on your team won’t be motivated by the same thing.
For some, the opportunity to improve and reach new heights in their career is what drives them to work harder than the rest.
Rewarding specific sales team members with opportunities and experiences within the company is another great motivator.
Perhaps scheduling some one-on-one meetings, lunches, etc. with a senior in the company or allowing the contest winner to attend strategy sessions they normally don’t have access to will be the reward your team members are looking for.
Step #2: Choosing the contest
Now that you have chosen your reward, the fun part is deciding on the contest.
This part will be unique to you and your team.
As the manager, you know your office well so deciding on the best course of action when it comes to contests will rely on your knowledge of what your company needs and what motivators work best.
1. Sales fantasy football
To use this contest, you will begin by using a player scoring system that uses 2 to 4 key performance metrics.
Now you just need to create a fantasy sales league of your own, complete with a regular season, playoffs, and of course the company championship.
This is just one example that shows you contests don’t have to be high-tech to be effective.
2. Motivation email to your sales team
Everyone needs a word of encouragement at times.
Especially your sales team, they are constantly getting rejected, and they constantly need to be reminded of why they are valuable and how much they are needed at your company.
This is where giving motivation emails for your sales teams come in.
You don’t have to get up and speak in front of everyone all the time. (Giving motivational speeches for your sales team at group functions or on special occasions).
But most times you have an opportunity daily to use motivational emails to motivate your sales team.
3. Mining for gold
This great contest idea comes from Repignite.com.
This sales contest is a great way to get more business.
It’s as simple as having your team reach out (or “mine”) for new business from their existing customers.
Depending on your company, “new business” is likely to come in a variety of forms ranging from purchasing new products or services to enrolling in additional programs.
Incentivizing your sales team to get the most from your current customer base is a great habit to set into practice.
Things to Consider in Creating Contests
No matter what contest you choose, there are a few main points you want to consider.
Know your metrics inside and out
Once you have a baseline for your sales metrics, you will be better able to measure success in the future of your contests.
Focus on areas where you need improvement
Identifying areas where your sales (or your team as a whole) can improve will give you contest ideas right off the bat as you create motivation for improving these points.
Make sure all rules are communicated properly
Develop a sense of urgency
By utilizing these contest ideas and motivational techniques, you will notice that as performance increases, workplace morale is elevated as well.
So, what’s the verdict? Are sales contests a good idea or not? Ultimately, it depends on your business and your employees. If you feel like your team could benefit from some extra motivation, then a sales contest might be worth considering. Just make sure to set clear goals and expectations, and don’t put too much pressure on your employees.
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