PLAY YOUR FOLKS AGAINST EACH OTHER.
Sales Contests are a fun and powerful way to bring out the inner rockstar in your Sales Folks. Play to win.
“The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting above average effort.” - Colin Powell, Former Four-Star General of the US Army
Hired the most skillful person on your Sales team? Uh-Oh. Big mistake. You should have hired the most motivated. It may not make a big/overt difference when the sailing is smooth (which, in the current pandemic, is so far from reality that it’s a dot on the surface), but when it comes to the crunch (the ‘real’ reality of the #newnormal), hunger always prevails – trumping both ability and experience. It upsets HR’s neatly arranged boxes of hierarchy, role, and title. It levels the field, so to speak. Stay hungry, stay foolish, and all that. Indeed, at the workplace, motivation is the single biggest factor that differentiates rockstar performers from laggards.
Sales contests offer an exciting and tested way to keep those motivational fires going, making sure the winning tempo and momentum never flags. All contests – not just in Sales - essentially work on the premise of ‘Relativity’. How do I rank relative to others? Everyone wants to be better than ‘that dude/lady’. There’s something about the prospect of beating someone else that brings out both our worst and our best. The trick is to minimize the former and increase the latter, which a healthy and fun state of competition is designed to foster. That, in fact, is what the best Sales Contests do. And in the process, they end up achieving much more. Like rekindling the passion in the job. Sharpening and upgrading skills. Making short work of crazy targets. And, of course, growing the business.
Yes, Even Sales Contest Have Theories
The relentless need to stay ahead of the competition means that Sales Leaders have historically tried to decode ways and means to keep their teams motivated. In the 1970s, the Expectancy Theory encouraged leaders to move away from merely documenting reports on team motivation to tinkering with variables and processes that would help them actually identify factors that influenced team behavior. It was agreed by most that levels of motivation were determined essentially by three factors: Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence – and that higher motivation results in the increased effort. Expectancy can be defined as our guesstimate of the AMOUNT of extra effort that will be needed to engineer an enhancement in results.
Instrumentality is our guesstimate of the extent to which that extra burst of performance will influence additional rewards. Valence, roughly speaking, refers to the desirability (love-hate) of the reward. Studies tell us that Expectancy and Instrumentality are a function of factors such as the impact of past performance, task conflict, feedback, task variety, task significance, the perceived concern of management, supervisor consideration, tenure, and self-esteem. Valene, on its part, is affected by pay, promotion, and perceived sense of accomplishment – although the biggest impact on Valence is caused by intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, which need to be present in the mix in a judicious balance.
Components of Sales Contest Design
A Sales contest – while factoring in short-term sales goals and long term business objectives – must primarily be designed keeping the abilities, traits, and goals of its participants in the center. While you must break down the various components and redesign them according to what works best for you and your teams, here are the typical pillars a Sales Contest rests on:
This refers to the performance expectation, nature, and benchmark one must fulfill in order to win. Goals can be of three types: Process-centric, Outcome-centric, and combined Process and Outcome centric. Process-centric goals focus on selling skills, product knowledge, and success behaviors. From an Expectancy Point of view, when these are not adequately tracked and measured by supervisors (such as in the case of fleets-on-street and field forces who work outside the zone of direct supervision for most of the time), faith - and by extension - interest, in the contest will fall.
Outcome-centric goals – which focus on volume, revenue, and improvements in customer satisfaction - are more popular and universal in nature and, being objective and easily measurable, also witness both higher Expectancy and Instrumentality: Naturally, they generate greater confidence and participation in Contests. With less need to monitor (participants in this format appreciate having the freedom to pick and choose their own working methods and operational style), they are also easier to implement and manage. As a broad takeaway: Closer relationships with the leadership, the opportunity to be coached by them, and greater time spent working under the direct observation of supervisors (which leads to greater faith in the fairness of the system) - leads to a greater preference for a combined (process cum outcome-based) reward system for contests. Women, in general, tend to show a tilt for the same.
This pillar is about figuring who is the principal actor (participant) of your contest - individuals or teams? The bigger question is, whether team or individual, does everyone have an equal/fair shot at winning, or is it biased towards a particular group or role? Limiting the number of winners too drastically can dampen morale, a finding that is consistent with commonsense reasoning. However, it has also been noticed that in situations where there is an opportunity to work closely with supervisors whom one holds in high regard, folks prefer contests with a smaller number of winners. This is perhaps because being under the direct gaze of the contest conductor (superior / boss) increases confidence in the fairness of the process and objectivity of the appraisal, something ‘fieldwork’ – which happens outside the supervisor’s line of vision – cannot always guarantee.
This refers to the length of time over which the contest is LIVE and valid. This varies typically between 3 months to a year or more. While duration by itself doesn’t / can’t stoke interest in a contest, the insufficient duration can dampen the participative spirit. The one box that needs to be mandatorily ticked with all groups is adequateness – ie, the duration must provide the sales member sufficient time to prepare and practice strategies. Empirically, it has been seen that a minimum of one sales cycle is the most effective in designing the contest around.
It has also been observed that seniors and veterans – in keeping with higher levels of confidence – prefer contests with a longer duration which, simply, allows them to stay in the game longer and thus win more. Salespeople who are more ambitious and have more status-based-need-for-achievement prefer shorter cycles which allows them to move on to the next contest after quicker gratification and closure. And Sales folks at higher base salaries (common in roles where territory objectives comprise KPI’s beyond just short-term sales volume and when a salesperson’s influence on volume isn’t always easy to evaluate) relish contests with longer duration.
What is the form in which the reward is being given out – in cash, in-kind, or a mix of both? Studies suggest that while rewards-in-cash tends to work better for members with greater lower-order needs (existential requirements like food, clothing, and shelter), rewards-in-kind work better for those with a greater proportion of higher-order-needs, such as recognition, praise, and self-esteem (an example of incentives/rewards in this bracket are privilege club memberships, luxury cruises and so on). Statistically across a wide diversity and cross-section of participants, however, cash emerges a clear winner – and is a particular favorite amongst lower-income ranks and role groups.
The same reward can hold different significance for different individuals based on their personality traits, financial/social status, and extrinsic/intrinsic motivations. Value and valence are interlinked. Studies support the ‘commonsense notion’ that contest participants will prefer rewards with a higher materialistic value (cash being one). This is particularly true of highly competitive salespeople and high achievers (who fancy their chances of earning exponentially in a framework like this) and young sales personnel at an early phase of their careers (for whom financial security and lower order needs are still a big priority). That said, it is not recommended to push the ‘value’ up so high that it distracts the participant from the actual mission – which is not only to make a sale but generate overall goodwill vibes for the brand with each interaction and transaction (there may be other KPI’s attached to each Sale mandate).
Benefits of Sales Contests & Prize Ideas
1. Increased sales, new markets, more customers, and faster business growth are amongst the most overt upshots of a well-strategized and deftly executed Sales Contest program. But drill down, and several other exciting advantages begin to show.
2. The ability to double-down on big-ticket activities and high payoff/value targets. Contests make this easier since big tickets translate to the most lucrative sales contest prize ideas for winners.
3. Turn regular targets and bread-and-butter activities more streamlined and profitable through increased volume.
4. Increase adoption of digital channels, CRMs, and tech infrastructures (which are popular platforms for hosting most contests), something which drives its own benefit.
5. A combination of reduced earnings, bruised ego, and social pressure can cause laggards and low performers to raise their act. To make this happen, you must maintain and share leaderboards for your contests.
6. A spirit of healthy competition can lift morale, bring teams closer, and reduce employee turnover. According to research, only 12% of employees actually leave for more money – making a strong case for company culture. And it’s common knowledge that engaged employees are also more profitable for businesses (driving 2.5X more revenue than their counterparts).
7. If you can design the right incentives for your contests (aka prizes) – which is a layered blend of extrinsic and intrinsic motivational drivers and a story for another day – you can build a ‘Great Place to Work’ which attracts top talent.
8. Integrating coaching opt-ins within the contest template trains up your Sales army in real-time and on real-tasks, making for a powerful and personalized training experience. As a related exercise, one can also invite non-participating seniors to cheer on players from the sidelines even as they share their own daily activities publicly on the intranet, dropping subtle hints and clues which participants can leverage as ‘expert cues’, on-the-go.
Bring out your Hidden Leaders with Leaderboards
Nothing captures the essence of a multi-player contest like a Leader-board that’s designed around your key KRA’s, so make sure you maintain one irrespective of the nature of the activity you are hosting (although you can tweak its avatar and form to suit your team’s personalities and contest genre). From keeping the spirit of competition on the front-burner to providing real-time feedback (which acts as an ‘alert’ to nudge, coach, and tweak success behavior) to provide cogent and single-window visibility to the leadership, a leaderboard is quite the heart of the Sales Contest.
A CONTEST MEETS THEIR CRAVINGS
- 32% of Sales Reps want to know the dope (data) on how they stack up against peers.
- 26% of Sales Reps hold public recognition as their biggest motivation.
- 21% of Sales Reps relish a dose of healthy competitiveness at work.
Get Started with these Cool & Effective Sales Contest Ideas
1. Run a contest for each day of the week and keep changing the theme every day.
Map the theme back to your overarching Sales goals/ big KPI’s and success behaviors - be it sales volume, revenue, building brand awareness, upselling, cross-selling, a new launch, conversion, loyalty/retention, raising benchmarks, promoting behaviors, boosting morale, referrals, or customer review. Create a Sales Rockstar of the Week / Month type badge or award to recognize your most consistent performers.
2. Try Gamification, such as a Sales Bingo for instance.
This is pretty much the same as the regular ‘family and neighbors’ version, except that objectives can reflect your targets such as making a certain number of calls / social messages, getting a foot in the door (first response or sales), achieving a meeting with the corner suite (CXO) or a ‘dream client’ and so on. Raffles – where a Raffle ticket is distributed upon every milestone achieved and sweepstakes like draw organized at the end of the month with grand prizes – is another popular gag. There is software these days that come loaded with interesting gamification ideas that you can custom-fit to your Sales Contests.
3. Team vs Team
Nothing works like teamwork, even when they are pitted against each other. Nothing brings out the dual spirit camaraderie and competition quite like team games, either. So instead of pitting rep vs rep (which is the standard format and an effective one, too!), build clusters and gangs. We tend to perform better when we are ‘doing it for the team’, making it a win-win! Get innovative when selecting your teams and choosing the names: Senior vs Junior, Ice-cream lovers vs Chocolate lovers, Show(wo)men vs Smooth Operators, and so on. You can also extend the idea into a pan-country/globe sports league or tournament, like the IPL.
4. Improvement based
This means designing the contest around incremental betterment witnessed during the course of the activity. Peg the contest around anyone important Sales Metric and study the progress of each member vis-à-vis that specific KPI. As a happy bonus, this type of contest is particularly effective in lifting your laggards and Middles (low and middle achievers) up the ladder.
5. Get creative with incentives and rewards/prizes.
This in itself guarantees a shot of adrenalin into the contest. Winner Decides (winner gets to decide the big incentive within financial and other parameters), Win A Favour From The Boss (winner gets to claim a special favor from the supervisor), Leave Office Early (winner gets to leave work early for an entire week), Money Chamber (winner grabs as much moolah as they can, standing under a shower-spray of currency notes), There’s Something Called A Free Lunch (winner bucks the popular notion that there’s nothing called a free lunch by indulging in exactly that for a week), Take The Boss’ Place (winner gets to sit on the hot-seat and run the department for a day)… the list is endless if you decide to let your imagination take wings.
Involve your participants in the action at every stage (planning, execution, tracking, evaluation, reward), keep things simple and make sure contest prizes are (A) commensurate with the achievement + (B) aligned to the wish-list and persona of the winner + ( C ) handed out without delay to maintain the tempo – and you’re set. Sit back, press Play, and rediscover your teams in winning moods and avatars you didn’t realize they were capable of. All powered by a simple contest.
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