It’s that time of year again: We’re in the thick of March Madness.

Unless your office is in a decommissioned missile silo, chances are, you’ve got an office-wide tournament challenge in place and some friendly collegiate trash talking is in full force (that is, if you haven’t already thrown your bracket in the trash).

Is there a better time to tap into the competitive spirit of your sales reps and get ahead of the inevitable summer slowdown? (Answer: no.)

Everyone knows a well-run sales contest is a hyper-effective way to inject a burst of energy into your sales force. Whether you’re looking to kickstart a big call day, jolt the sales team out of the winter doldrums, or spark some afternoon energy, a successful sales contest can give you the edge you need to hit your numbers.

But if you don’t have the right foundation in place, your competitions will only take you so far — or worse, could be a complete waste of time.

So: here are the three keys to getting a bigger, better lift from every competition you run.

3 Keys to a Successful Sales Contest

  1. Real-time data

  2. Public recognition

  3. Moving the middle

Done correctly, you can run sales contests with live score updates displayed prominently in your sales bullpen that motivate the middle 70 percent of your team to move the needle and hit new highs in performance.

1. Real-time data

The 1980s are over. Manually updating sales numbers on a whiteboard might have worked in the Glengarry Glen Ross era, but the advent of digital technology now lets you track sales team performance in real-time.

The perfect place to put such technology to good use? Your next sales contest.

The buzz of energy associated with seeing your metrics update in real-time is exponentially higher versus using metrics that update once or twice a day. Not only does it drive the competition, but it also allows your team to see where they stand — and gives them the opportunity to course-correct, ramp up their activities (or talk a little smack!) throughout the day.

2. Public recognition

Want to create higher stakes and more excitement around your sales contest? Publicize the results (and shout it from the rooftops).

Handing out highly visible high-fives and celebrating wins (big and small!) creates energy by fanning the competitive flame — everyone loves to be recognized for a job well done — but it also builds culture. Your reps will feel noticed and valued, and more importantly, you’ll help to create “light-bulb” moments where they truly understand how their seemingly ho-hum daily activities have a powerful, cumulative impact on the success of the company.

If you want to get better at publicly recognizing wins:

  • Keep it accessible: This goes without saying — but if you want strong performers to get public recognition for a job well done, be sure that the competition’s standings and outcomes are visible on the sales floor at all times.

  • Make it visually compelling: Think about the difference it makes when you present data in a boring excel spreadsheet versus a beautifully designed deck. The information may be the same, but the latter is so much more engaging. That same principle carries over to the sales floor. (TV leaderboards that display results in real-time are a crazy-effective and efficient solution.)

  • Don’t publicly penalize “losers:” This is a sure-fire way to put a damper on the energy and create a culture of fear versus fun. Of course, every player on your team should be held accountable to the goals you’ve set for them — but anything more than a pep-talk, especially if it’s going to get personal, should be saved for your 1:1s.

3. Motivate Your Middle Performers

A huge risk of running sales contests is incentivizing and rewarding only your top performers, thereby de-motivating the remaining 70 percent of your sales force. In fact, when running competitions, only 10 to 25 percent of your team has a true shot at winning “best/most of” challenges, such as Most Revenue Closed. Your A-team is going to show up continuously, and other people won’t be acknowledged if these are the only challenges you run.

So: structure your contest in a way that empowers middle-tier performers to achieve recognition and opportunities to win.

It’s not hard to do if you get a little creative. Maybe your team-based sales contests place middle performers on the same team as top performers, creating peer-to-peer accountability and opportunities to win. (The Harvard Business Review has endorsed the team sales contest for this very reason).

You could also create tiered competitions based on role, tenure, or prior performance — or design them based on a positive improvement in performance metric over time.

Run Your Best-Ever Sales Contest

For more inspired sales competition formats, check out our Winner's Guide to Sales Contests and read these 7 sales contest ideas run by Ambition clients.


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