You can use a single question to determine how experienced a sales manager is. Ask them, “What has a bigger impact on your team’s success: Sales skills, or motivation?”

Newer managers tend to say the former, while more experienced ones pick the latter.

The reality is, motivation isn’t just a little more important than sales skills -- it’s far more influential. While individual selling styles, methodologies, and processes might differ, core sales techniques don’t change.

Keeping your team members engaged, uplifted, and inspired is often far trickier than teaching them what to say on a connect call or in a prospecting email. A well-designed sales contest is one of the best tools in your arsenal.

In the past three decades, I’ve learned a great deal about effective sales contests (often by making mistakes). Here are six of my biggest takeaways.

How to Run an Effective Sales Contest

1) Keep It Simple

Your salespeople shouldn’t have any trouble understanding the rules of your contest. When it’s hard to understand how to win -- or who’s currently in first place -- their enthusiasm about participating takes a hit.

What does a simple contest sound like? You could reward every salesperson who meets a certain target for meetings set, or give prizes to the five reps who increase their calls-to-demo rate by the highest percentage.

Aim for a contest you can explain in two sentences or less. And if you’re still unsure if it’s confusing, ask one of the senior salespeople on your team for their feedback. (As an added benefit, they might spot loopholes or problematic rules you’ve missed.)

Along similar lines, only hold one contest at a single time. This guarantees you won’t distract your team from the behavior or outcome you’re trying to promote.

2) Make It Fun

Contests should have an element of fun. A little levity helps your salespeople bond and makes the competition more memorable.

To give you an idea, I used to give away my services to the winning salesperson. I’d wash the rep’s car, pick up their dry cleaning, even clean their house -- whatever they wanted.

It’s always fun to see your boss doing a menial task. This type of prize also shows your team you’re devoted to their success (and have a great sense of humor!)

Try crafting your contests around office inside jokes as well. For example, perhaps the winner gets to take everyone to lunch at a local restaurant the entire office loves.

3) Involve Your Salespeople in the Planning Process

Alternatively, let your reps choose what they’ll win. I used to get everyone in a room and ask, “Do you need a team motivation program?”

The answer was always yes. I’d explain the contest rules, then say, “You’ve got X dollars -- decide what the prize or prizes will be.”

This strategy has three effects. First, your reps are more invested. Having direct control over a major aspect of the competition drives buy-in from the start. Second, the reward isn’t what you think they want, it’s what you know they want. Third, your salespeople will feel gratified by your decision to hand over the reins.

4) Give Daily or Weekly Updates

Few people stay committed to a competition if they don’t know where they stand. Strive to give daily or weekly updates, depending on how quickly each salesperson’s status changes. At HubSpot, we typically put up a live dashboard so every rep can check on their progress whenever they’d like.

Some salespeople will check it every hour -- that’s how intent they are on being number one. Imagine losing this powerful motivator just because you didn’t keep your team up-to-date.

5) Don’t Make False Promises

It might sound obvious, but never promise a prize you can’t deliver on. In 2002, a waitress who won a sales contest for a new Toyota was understandably furious when she was presented with a toy Yoda instead.

She sued her employer -- and won.

If you don’t deliver what you promised, your salespeople will lose trust in you (not to mention, all motivation to engage in future competitions). Before you announce a prize, calculate what you’ll be on the hook for if your reps do as well as possible. You might not be able to afford the reward if they really blow it out of the park. When in doubt, skew conservative.

6) Hand Out Prizes ASAP

I once gave my salespeople their prize money nine months after they’d won it. Needless to say, they weren’t happy.

You’ve set a deadline for the contest -- why should the deadline for the award be less important?

The takeaway is, distribute prizes as quickly after the contest ends as possible. It’ll be far easier to rally your team for the next contest if they’re not still waiting for their prizes from the last one.

Follow these six guidelines, and your sales contests will noticeably impact your team's motivation -- and just as importantly, their results.

HubSpot CRM

Originally published Feb 10, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated June 29 2020