Like you, I have worked for sales managers and general managers who get all excited about internal competition — you know, those annual Sales Contests where the top producer wins and everyone else loses. Typically they have names like “Spring Sales Sweepstakes” or “Las Vegas Extravaganza.” I guess these events are designed to get everyone fired up for sales success.
Well…maybe they do. But in my experience, one thing these contests don’t do is build teamwork. I don’t mean to sound contrarian, but I hate sales contests! I’m convinced they do more harm than good.
Now before you label me un-American, since we Americans love a winner and all that, let me add that a contest with multiple winners where everyone has a shot at winning the Big Prize is fine. Nothing wrong with incentives — I’ve spent most of my career in an incentive-focused environment. But incentive and competition are two different things. In an effort to get your sales team fired up, are you inadvertently sowing seeds of mistrust and an unhealthy competitive spirit between people who are supposed to be pulling together? Your poorly thought-out sales contest may end up with unfortunate unintended consequences.
In my experience with salespeople and sales teams I have always placed a high value on healthy teamwork. Having a bunch of hard-charging Lone Ranger types, each looking out for Number One, has NEVER been my preferred route to sales success with the teams I’ve led (which probably explains why I would last maybe thirty seconds working on Wall Street!). Teams support one another. Teams collaborate. Teams aren’t afraid to share ideas and leads. Teams build each member up when things are tough and challenge each member to work more effectively. In short, teamwork is a highly-prized value, so anything that undermines teamwork is probably a bad idea. Including most sales contests.
By the way, depending on your sales environment, well-crafted territories can also build teamwork. I once worked for a national firm in which each of the sales reps had a large, defined territory, resulting in a high level of collaboration. If I traced a lead to a home office in Chicago, I knew I would be passing that lead along to my colleague Mark in the Chicago sales office. I also knew if he found a lead and traced it to the Pacific Northwest, he would pass that lead along to me. We all watched out for each other and worked together for the good of the company. Later, however, after I left that firm, I heard that they had done away with territories, leaving each rep free to pursue leads wherever they were in the country. So guess what? Mark and I would have gone from being collaborators to competitors. Maybe I’m dumb, but that doesn’t sound smart.
So, sales managers, if you want to incentivize your team, go for it! But why not come up with a set of prizes or bonuses or whatever in which everyone can win? Set goals commensurate with each salesperson’s experience level and billing potential. Avoid the Darwinian “I win, you lose” approach that I fear is still too common in many sales environments. I predict your organization will reap the rewards as the spirit of teamwork is enhanced. And if you think I’m being a competition wimp — well, you may be right. Still, why not try it and see if it works? I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well your team does when they really are working as a team!