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5 Strategies for Improving Your Sales Contests

Here’s the thing: Even when you think they’re working, sales contests can be ineffective.

For proof, take a look at your last 15 winners. You’ll probably see the same names, over and over again — the salespeople who move the needle the most.

While those people love your contests, the salespeople in the lower and middle performance brackets do not.

That doesn’t mean you should never hold another contest. These five strategies will incentivize everyone on your team, promote internal collaboration and coaching, and ultimately have a bigger impact on your bottom line.

1. Gather feedback

When designing your sales contest, it’s important to get feedback from your salespeople. After all, they’re the ones who are participating.

Todd Richardson, director of inside sales and development for HR software company Lumity Inc., said this strategy is a great way to get more buy-in.

“Normally, the VP of sales chooses the contest’s details and then rolls it out,” he said. “Giving the team a voice in the process makes them much more motivated.”

To implement this informally, ask your salespeople what they liked and what they’d change about previous contests. Then, describe your current ideas and request their feedback.

A more formal option is establishing a contest committee. This committee would be responsible for refining the contest idea, implementing it and tracking the results.

“We seek to understand each team’s ‘language of love,’ i.e., what they care about,” said Ram Parimi, director of sales for hospitality company Social Tables.

2. Use different metrics

There are a couple good reasons you should use activity-based metrics. Adam Rizika, vice president of sales and marketing for media technology company VidScale, points out that salespeople are typically measured on their units sold or profit made by commissions and quotas.

“If you’re running a sales contest, you’re trying to motivate your team in a different way,” he said. “Plus, contests should have a shorter time frame than commissions or quotas, which are given out quarterly or annually.”

In addition, the most effective sales contests motivate the entire team — not just the people at the top. Using activity-based metrics make winning attainable for every person on the team.

Some activity-based metrics:

  • Number of phone calls
  • Number of voicemails
  • Number of meetings
  • Number of trade shows attended
  • Number of emails

3. Give ‘experience’ prizes

Research shows that experiences make people happier than possessions. Rather than giving your winners gadgets, gift cards or cash, find unique and meaningful experiences to give them.

Not only will these prizes be more satisfying, but they’ll subconsciously associate your company with the good memories they form.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • Tickets to a big sporting event
  • Two movie tickets and a voucher for dinner at a nice restaurant
  • An all-expenses-paid weekend trip
  • A wind-surfing, kite-surfing, kayaking, surfing or bungee-jumping outing for two
  • Mixology classes and bartending supplies
  • A wine-tasting

“The last prize I offered was a trip to New York City,” Rizika said. “I’ve found that salespeople put a greater value on experiential prizes than just their monetary value.”

4. Make it collaborative

Running a sales contest is a great way to engage your reps and generate enthusiasm. But contests usually have a downside: They also encourage competition.

The fix? Make at least one aspect of your contest collaborative.

“By using contests that my salespeople won as team, I created a really happy, almost familylike environment,” Richardson said.

Like Richardson, you can establish goals for the whole team — or, have salespeople compete in small teams. If your company has multiple locations, try having entire offices compete.

Rewards can be collaborative as well.

Parimi said that when Social Table’s sales team was less than 20 people, the entire team would “run out” and go take shots at a local bar for every 20 deals closed.

“This encouraged team members to work as a group and united them under one mini goal,” he said. “It helped us hit our bigger goal of 100 deals.”

Similarly, Richardson took the entire office out to lunch each time his team met their objective.

5. Add some fun

Giving your sales contests a fun or novel angle isn’t necessary — but it’s definitely a great way to make your salespeople more gung-ho and show them that you care about more than profits.

So, rather than just calling it a “sales contest,” have a theme. A sports-related theme, like a March Madness or Super Bowl bracket, is usually a hit, but you can also tie your contests to the season or a company-specific tradition.

In addition, you can pass out T-shirts that match the theme (and if you have teams, give each team a slightly different shirt.)

And rather than announcing the winners over email or in a meeting, consider having a kick-off or wrap-up party.

Rizika also recommended giving one or two “wild card” prizes, such as “weirdest customer request granted,” “most unexpected close,” or “longest time spent on phone with one customer.”

With these five changes to your sales contest, you’ll not only reach every person on your team, but you’ll also bring them closer together. Ultimately, you’ll win, your salespeople will win and your bottom line will win.

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