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Selling Microsoft

Playing Games with Sales

Sales contests are a great way to encourage high performance among sales teams while keeping it light. Here are some tips for setting up a sales contest.

This is the time of year that sales management must look at pipeline levels and goals for August and September, and determine if there's the necessary level of activity to exceed targets.

Microsoft partners certainly need to focus on the short-term sales cycle, but they also need to have a longer-term perspective. As an executive you must also focus on creating an atmosphere of fun, high performance and teamwork.

Sales contests can be a great way to encourage high performance while keeping it light. Over the years, I've seen great sales contest ideas executed poorly. It's critical to think through what your objectives are and what you want the results to be, and then clearly write down the objectives, rules and incentives.

Infusing your sales culture with fun is the main outcome. Surely you want to add "net new clients" and increase sales, but it's sales leadership's objective to make the sales contest a fun experience.

Different types of contests will achieve different goals. Some should be held annually to address sales objectives, company business strategies and potential seasonal fluctuations. Others can be scheduled as needed to help launch new products or services, promote new releases or upgrades, or tie into your customers' larger campaigns. Still, others can consist of short-term incentive games designed to motivate sales personnel to accomplish specific objectives by a specific deadline.

A Contest Sampler
Following are a few typical goals, along with ideas for contests that might help achieve them:

  • Increase sales volume: Consider adding a cash bounty for each additional new seat, each new customer or revenue sold beyond a certain target value. Set a quarter-to-date objective beyond your sales goal; that way, everyone on the team can win.

  • Improve customer service: Periodically survey your entire customer base. If satisfaction reaches a certain goal and if your company is profitable, everyone gets a cash bonus. Keep a visible scorecard of your goals and results so that everyone is constantly aware of your objectives.

  • Acquire new clients: To boost the number of new clients each quarter, consider creating a "bounty bonus" plan. For example, salespeople could earn a bounty bonus -- either in cash or in points that can be redeemed for rewards -- for each new client or each competitive replacement of a specific vendor's customer. In addition, you could offer bounty bonuses for salespeople who exceed their quarterly or annual quotas for new accounts or net new revenues. You might even create "most wanted" posters with the bounties prominently displayed to help keep salespeople focused on contest objectives.

  • Overcome seasonal slumps: If your sales typically slow down over the summer, try launching a prospecting activity contest in March, April and May. For instance, award sales team members points for each new face-to-face call or sales demonstrations that they make during those months, with accumulated points eventually eligible for prizes. Such an effort can go a long way toward increasing the number of opportunities in the pipeline from June through August.

Competition Considerations
I'll leave you with some issues and questions to help you plan a successful sales contest:

  • Determine what you want the contest to accomplish.

  • Set the ground rules. Are all sales executives on equal footing for the contest? Again, be sure to put the rules in writing, making provisions for those and other situations that could arise.

  • Make the contest length the same as the sales cycle, but never run the contest to the last day of the month or sales period.

  • Set specific goals that can be measured weekly or monthly.

  • Incorporate an exciting theme.

  • Consider making rewards gifts, rather than cash.

  • Boost team members' motivation by getting their families involved.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at ken@acumenmgmt.com.

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