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The 5 Principles of Running a Great Sales Contest

Sometimes you need to mix things up to build some excitement on the sales floor. That’s why most VPs have some of their budget set aside for incentives, usually ranging from $100 - $200 per month per rep. When you have a larger sales team, you can do some really interesting things, like pool your incentive budget and run a sales contest. Winner gets the pot. 

The 5 principles you have to follow

But don’t just jump into a contest tomorrow. Think about how to make it compelling for your sellers while also moving the needle forward to reach your target. For a great sales contest, follow these 5 principles.

1. Read the room 

Take the temperature of your team before you get started. If everyone is missing quota and struggling, having a sales contest that’s all about making more calls is tone deaf. Don’t bother your reps with a contest that won’t help solve their problems. Know your audience and pick a challenge that is appropriate for their role and experience.

A sales contest may not be the best way to encourage more sales activity at the moment. On the other hand, if everyone is doing well, either reaching or getting close to their quotas, sales contests can be a lot of fun. Just use your awareness and make sure they’ll enjoy the contest.

2. Make it fun and worthwhile

Contests must be deliberate. What do you want to encourage with this contest? What results are you trying to drive? Everything in a sales organization is related to performance and revenue, but don’t run a contest where whoever has the most revenue this month wins. 

The contest should be about the drivers needed to get to your revenue goal. Start by choosing a part of the sales funnel that seems to be having issues then choose the metric that you want to improve. For example, ask SDRs to increase appointments with inbound customers, AE’s to schedule more demos, and Customer Success to expand a specific product.

Make it fun, but not kitschy. Your contests should be more exciting than day to day work. I’m a fan of team-based contests that are tied to something going on in the world or TV shows like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter houses. Here are two contests I’ve run in the past. 

March Madness 

Run this contest with your sellers during the college tournament. They’re broken up into small teams and compete in a bracket style format. Every day there’s a new metric and those who win, advance to the next game.

World Series of Poker 

Break your reps into teams. Each day has a different metric and depending on how well your team did that day, you receive a certain amount of playing cards. When we do a poker draw and flip 3 cards, you can use your own cards to put together a good hand. If you do, you win a prize. Just don’t make it too complicated. 

3. Assign someone to run the show

Someone needs to be accountable for communicating the rules and assembling data for the contest. They need to create daily leaderboards and standings. This means setting up CRM tracking, including creating new Salesforce reports that bring together data from different teams. 

With any contest, you’ll get out what you put into it. If you half-ass it, forget to remind people about the contest, or neglect building excitement, it’s going to fail and set the tone for how sales contests will be received in the future.

4. Give great prizes

Make your prizes worthwhile. People aren’t going to bust their ass for a $20 Dunkin Donuts gift card especially if you're working with thousands of dollars in your budget. Make the contests compelling, like each winner will get a $1,000 gift card for Uber or a $500 gift certificate to a great restaurant. 

These are just a few of the prizes I’ve offered in the past: 

  • Gift cards for millennial lifestyle companies like Grubhub, Amazon, Uber, or Seamless
  • A choice of tickets for a sporting event or a broadway show
  • A new MacBook or Apple Watch
  • Paying 50% of the rep’s rent for one month

5. Find the perfect balance

Moderate contest frequency. When there’s a contest every month, it just becomes noise.  Instead, plan one really good contest during the middle two weeks of the middle month of the quarter. If you run on a calendar year, that means you run your Q1 contest in the 2nd and 3rd weeks of February. The contest won’t interfere with reps kicking off or ending their quarter.

The TLDR on running sales contests

When you decide to run a contest, be deliberate and plan ahead. Secure enough budget and actively foster enthusiasm on the sales floor. Don’t throw out sporadic or short-sighted contests like, whoever makes the most calls today, I’ll take out to lunch. This will get old pretty fast. Know your audience, give great prizes, and make it fun!

Want more sales leadership advice? Check out the Motion by Rhythm blog.

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