7 steps to making your sales contest more profitable, productive, and fun

By Geoff Alexander, Inside Sales Telesales Tips Blog

Today’s topic is sales contests. Are they effective at motivating salespeople and creating more business, or not? Here’s a query from last week’s mailbag…

Hi Geoff, Do you have any suggestions on creating contests that generate motivation for a sales team? Do you think contests are worthwhile? Is a contest age specific; different motivators for different age groups? I’ve been in situations where contests are laughed at behind the manager’s back because they’re not rats looking for cheese. Other situations a contest added motivation because the prize was an iPad for younger group of sales reps. What do you think about contests? Are they worthwhile for temporary gain to “make your sales numbers”? Thx, Jerry

Jerry, the question of running contests comes up frequently when I’m designing our customized sales training classes, and generally, I’m in favor of them, if they’re fun, of fixed, short duration, and have a prize that is actually valued by the eventual recipient(s). Here are 7 ideas that will help to ensure your sales contests are achieving your intended objectives:

1) Make the contest of short (e.g. two weeks) duration. People’s attention tends to wane when the contest runs too long and they could lose interest in getting the prize, too. Attention spans on contests are linked to how exciting the contest is, so keep it short, to provide maximum attention.

2) Make it doable. It’s not very motivating when the contest objective is so difficult that nobody wins. If that happens, you’re not going to get people very motivated when you want to run another contest. A good rule of thumb, if you’re a manager who has done the job yourself, is could I do it, or have I done it myself? And if your best rep has done it before, you’ve got proof it’s doable, and leads to success.

3) Have a contest objective that’s sales-oriented, not work oriented. I’m aware of contests that reward inside sales reps with the most dials per week. In these cases, the winners leave a lot of voicemails, but often don’t have as many quality conversations as the “losers.” A better contest might consist of most qualified leads entered into the system, or something more in keeping with sales-oriented Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). To ensure you really do have sales-oriented KPIs, read my blog post on KPIs, and test your own against the model.

4) Give reps prizes that they value. Jerry brought up the following point: “is a contest age specific; different motivators for different age groups? I’ve been in situations where contests are laughed at behind the manager’s back.” I don’t necessarily think age has anything to do with it, but it’s a good idea to ask the sales team, prior to the contest, what they’d consider to be a good prize. If 2/3 of your team already owns something similar to the prize (e.g. electronic gizmos), it’s not going to be much of a motivator. I’d guess a dinner for two at a really expensive restaurant, that none on the team would really consider to be affordable, might be a good one. But it’s only a guess. To be sure the prize will be perceived to be of value, ask your team.

5) Consider making an “out of the box sales” contest objective. In one of my application development tools clients, the reps weren’t always asking the nature of the application their prospects were developing, nor were they getting project names. The result? They were missing business in enterprise accounts, where multiple teams working on the same project could have used the same tools, sold by my client. They were also missing out on certain vertical markets that hadn’t been formally identified, but ultimately were found to be a strength of my client. So we had a contest that was two weeks long. We asked the reps to compete on two items: 1) What was the craziest application that they’d discovered?, and 2), What was the kookiest name for a project? I can’t remember what the prizes were, but the company had a reputation for being generous. The contest was so off-beat and fun that the reps loved it, and had a lot of good fun one-upping each other. Based on what we found after reviewing the appropriate CRM fields, the reps were finally asking those questions and getting answers. This contest helped to change their behavior, and the company never again experienced a problem with reps not getting application project names and data.

6) If you’re engaged in sales training, tie it to material taught in the class that you really want to emphasize. I always emphasize the value of reinforcement after training. When the team is still pumped after training, why not offer a contest specific to one or more elements addressed in the class that you want to emphasize?

7) Multiple winners are OK. You may want to consider running a contest in which there’s a common high-mark, and everyone achieving it wins. When that happens, you may find everyone pulling for each other and helping each other out, which improves team communication, and encourages your best reps to mentor others who may be struggling. The whole department gets better that way, and some managing skills may surface among your reps that may one day help determine who’s the next manager or team lead. And with more than one person over-achieving, your company should make more than enough money to cover the cost of multiple prizes.

So there are 7 great ideas to help ensure that your sales contests provide the outcome you’re looking for. If you’re a manager, add them to your Best Management Playbook, and if you’re a sales rep saddled with uninspiring contests, considering copying them and forwarding them to the appropriate parties. Any of you out there in blogland have input, either positive or negative, on sales contests?

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