Six ideas to making successful sales contests

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

About 20 years ago, my boss pulled me into his office and asked a favor. We were entering June and all indications were pointing to a slow second quarter. The company needed sales. He needed sales. His request was direct: “I need you to pull in every dollar possible this month. I’ll approve whatever you need—just bring in the sales.” I rode in the field every day that month, staying in front of decision-makers and creatively convincing them to place their Q3 orders early. My region finished almost 300% of our quota, and we saved our company’s reporting that quarter. 

Guess what? We had a contest the next quarter and the director of the winning region won a Rolex. Really? I just pulled all my Q3 business into Q2 to bail out the other regions, and now one of them is going to get a Rolex… my Rolex. I haven’t liked sales contests since then, and have bitterly pointed out their shortcomings every chance I get.  However, along this journey of criticizing these types of competitions, I’ve also developed some best practices to getting the most of out of sales contests. Below are six ideas that will help sales leaders develop, promote and execute successful sales contests.

1.    Keep sales contests unpredictable. If your sales team knows that there will be an end-of-year sales contest every December, you’re probably going to have a lot of slow Novembers. By keeping sales contests unpredictable, you’ll avoid rewarding the sandbaggers, and you’ll keep everyone on their toes. When a contest pops up out of the blue, it’ll be more exciting and will reward those who are doing their jobs consistently.

2.    Make an emotional impact. Giving away a dinner for two to the highest grossing sales person is not a contest—it’s a wasted $200. To inspire behavior, a contest needs to make an emotional impact. If the prize isn’t significant enough to spark some excitement, then it would be better not to have one. Spend some money. You won’t regret it.

3.    Have multiple ways to win. If a contest rewards only first prize, then you’ll lose many of the competitors once someone jumps out to an early lead. The best contests reward the winner, but also reward everyone that breaks a certain milestone. For example, the sales person who sells the most hosted access control this quarter wins a five-day trip for two.  Everyone else that sells 125% of their quarterly quota of hosted access control wins a $500 Amazon gift card.     

4.    Involve spouses in the prize. Assuming the desired behavior caused by a contest will require extra work, you need to have the spouses on your side. Instead of creating a contest that simply rewards the winning sales people, include their spouses in the prize.  For example, send the winners on a three-day weekend for two. 

5.    Constantly keep score. I’ve seen most sales contests fail because the leaders don’t keep score or promote activity. Position scoreboards around the office and nnounce the scores at every sales meeting. Send mass emails when the scores are updated. Don’t give up if the activity isn’t immediate. Stay on track and keep score every step of the way.

6.    Reward the whole company. If the sales team reaches a milestone, reward the whole company. For example, if the team reaches their quota on service agreement sales for the month, shut down the office on a Friday afternoon and bring everyone bowling or to play Topgolf. Including the whole company helps bond the sales team with the rest of the company … a very common challenge for most companies.

Chris Peterson is president of the Vector Firm, a leader in helping security companies improve their sales and digital marketing performance.