cyclistsSales competitions have been around for decades because most great sales professionals are naturally ambitious and incentive-driven. In fact, their desire to compete can often be traced back to childhood.

But even though sales teams have an innate competitive drive, contests don’t need to be cutthroat to be effective. Finding the right level of competition will add excitement and motivation to the team dynamic without creating a hostile environment. 

recent employee engagement study conducted by TechnologyAdvice found that over 55% of salespeople prefer to work in a competitive environment -- with 30.5% hoping for a very competitive workplace. However, if the environment is too intense, sales reps near the bottom of the performance ladder can become discouraged, which is the exact opposite effect sales managers hope to inspire. 

The following five tips can help on your quest to strike a balance between competition and collaboration and keep every team member striving towards the goal. 

1) Experiment with different sales contest structures.

High stakes competitions where the winner takes all don't generally lead to sustained engagement. Top salespeople are already motivated and don’t need a contest to drive their performance. And even when multiple winners are possible, if there’s only one way to win a competition, employees lose motivation as soon as they realize they won’t reach the goal. 

To combat this, sales contests can incorporate prizes for top achievers in different categories. This strategy sustains the competition while allowing those who fall behind on a single goal to achieve another. 

For salespeople that are less competitive (or perhaps daunted at the prospect of being at the bottom of a leaderboard with no hope of bridging the gap), team-focused competitions are a popular alternative. Splitting salespeople into groups can leverage a competitive environment while also introducing collaborative elements into the contest. Measuring individual contribution as well as overall team progress can be a huge motivator to win. After all, no player wants to let the team down.

Team-based competition also turns the sales contest into an opportunity for collaboration between stragglers and top-performing peers. When A-players share their insights and expertise, the team gains a competitive advantage and the whole company benefits from the increased bottom line as well as the professional development of its entire sales team. 

2) Beta test before scaling.

There’s no one-size-fits-all competition solution. When searching for the right degree of competition for a department, companies should pilot test their programs before unleashing the sales contest kraken. What works in theory or at another company may not ring true for every sales team. Use a small team to test different levels of competition before implementing a program across the entire sales force in order to avoid costly pitfalls. 

3) Work in "mini" contests.

Most sales contests last one to two months. If middle tier sales reps don’t have a reasonable chance to catch up to the contest leader, team members can lose motivation. 

Offering additional “mini” contests gives participants the chance to earn some extra points or win several times during a longer, overarching contest. A one-hour or one-week mini contest is also a great way to test new incentives or metrics while layering on additional competition.

4) Incorporate non-revenue based goals.

While testing pilot programs for your company, keep in mind that sales competitions shouldn’t always center around who sells the most. The focus of a sales competition should be determined by the needs of your company, as well as what metrics motivate your team. Some unique key performance indicators (KPIs) to build a sales competition around include: 

  • the amount of time it takes a salesperson to follow up with a new lead
  • how many meetings are being scheduled each week
  • whose sales pipeline has the most accurate data
  • average time to move a prospect through the sales funnel
  • amount of calls made
  • how close a salesperson is to meeting their quota

Building competition around improving activities within the sales process is a great way to motivate positive behavior changes. It doesn’t make sense to hold a sales contest around who’s meeting their quota if your company’s biggest issue is sales forecasting or CRM adoption rates. Additionally, adding competition and prizes to the sales process can help motivate sales reps who aren’t normally driven by traditional revenue-based sales contests.

5) Keep track of what's working.

When testing solutions, it’s important to keep track of which strategies are successful. Determining what works for your sales team is an iterative process. Sales competition software can integrate directly into a company’s CRM to document your team's data. In addition, real-time analytics immediately give sales reps an accurate way to monitor their progress and success throughout the day, as well as provide an overall view of what works over the long term. These features are necessary to create a winning level of competition among your salespeople. 

So while traditional logic may say that a contest only has one winner, smart sales managers know that a department sinks or swims together. Work from that mentality when designing your next company sales contest.

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Originally published Nov 19, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

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Sales Contest