6 Tips to Run an Incredibly Effective Sales Contest

"Mark, I need to get our sales activity up. My salespeople just won't make enough dials. What should I do?"

Run a contest.

"Mark, my team is terrible at forecasting. They do not take it seriously. They do not follow our best practices. What should I do?"

Run a contest.

"Mark, we just launched a mission-critical product into the market this quarter. However, our sales team is stuck in their old ways of selling. What should I do?"

Run a contest.

If the sales compensation plan is Batman, the sales contest is Robin. Contests are almost as effective as the compensation plan when it comes to motivating the sales team and driving the desired behavior. Contests bring a fun, dynamic aspect to a sometimes mundane daily routine. Contests can be aligned with desired behaviors, and, unlike commission plans, can be temporary and short-term focused. Contests can even be used to build team culture.

For these reasons, I ran a sales contest almost every month when I led HubSpot's sales team, especially in the early years of team development. Here are the six best practices I found most effective for sales contest design.

1) Align the contest with a short-term behavior change desired for the majority of the team.

Like sales commission plans, sales contests are a great way to drive home desired behavior. For example, you may fear a summer slump and want to boost activity in June. This desire would be difficult to pull off through the commission plan. However an activity-based contest in June would do the trick.

2) Make the contest team-based.

If there are 12 people on the sales team, form four teams of three salespeople and have the teams compete rather than have every man for himself. This approach has a remarkable impact on team culture, especially in the early phases of team building.

For the first three years at HubSpot, every contest I ran was a team contest. The positive impact on team culture was remarkable. I would often see high-performing salespeople help out their teammates who were lagging behind. The lagging salespeople worked late in order to avoid letting their teams down.

After three years of team-based contests, I finally ran a contest based on individual performance. For the first time, I witnessed accusations of cheating and saw backstabbing behavior on the floor. We immediately returned to team contests.

3) Make the prize team-based.

In addition to making the contest team-based, choose a reward that the team experiences together. Rent a limo to take the team to the casino, buy them a golf outing, or send them sailing for the day. Making the prize team-based maximizes the positive impact on culture. Not only does the team win together, they experience the reward together. They return to the office with photos of the great time they had ... together. People feel good about their colleagues. Teams feel motivated to win the following month.

4) Send out updated contest standings every night.

At least once per day, the contest standings should be published to the entire sales team if not to the entire company! This is such a critical execution point. Without daily updates, contest effectiveness will drop precipitously. Even if it means compiling and posting the results manually, publish the results every day.

5) Choose the time frame wisely.

The time frame needs to be long enough to drive home the desired behavior change but short enough that salespeople stay engaged. A daily time frame is too short. Weekly contests are on the briefer end of acceptable. A quarterly time frame is probably too long. Monthly contests are ideal.

6) Avoid contest fever.

Don't read this post and implement five simultaneous contests. Overlapping contests will dilute each other. Run one contest at a time for a given group of salespeople.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the new book The Sales Acceleration Formula. It is republished here with permission.

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