Sales Contests

The Top Rep Goes to Hawaii

What better way to motivate reps than to get them to compete to win a fabulous exotic trip to Hawaii? They will push that much harder to make extra sales to edge out the other guy and grab the prize.

The Big Day arrives and the winner is announced. Look, that sob Bob won another trip… the reps moan in unison. Bob has won so many trips he can use the frequent flier points to take another.

I wonder if the manager knows what Bob is thinking…..

He’s thinking how idiotic the exercise is. He could care less about going to Hawaii. In fact he sunburns easily and finds it boring. He prefers fishing in a peaceful little lake with his family. Of course they would never have a contest with a destination that didn’t sound exciting…. It could have been worse, they could have sent him to Vegas… smoky, disgusting Vegas. He’d much rather have the money, making his dream of a cabin on the lake that much closer to a reality. He ignored the trip and the hoopla all year. If they would have offered cash he would have done even more to pull in some deals….

There are 22 reps on the team. One goes to Hawaii making the others feel like losers, which the are in the scheme of things. They knew they had little chance of winning so why try? It actually demotivated them and some looked for other jobs and found them. When asked why they quit they just mumbled something about a better opportunity.

Where’s The Research?

Contests are one of those timeworn ideas that sounded good, were widely copied without much thought, and in many cases perpetuated since the managers always get to go too. I have yet to see any substantiation that they make economic sense or have any positive long-term effect on a sales rep’s “motivation.”

A common-sense approach seems to indicate that a zero-sum game like a contest has more losers than winners, people don’t appreciate being made to feel like a loser, top performers don’t get that way from external motivators, and there are almost always conflicts of interest with the managers. Contests pit rep against rep so any collaborative team spirit is thrown under the wheels of the contest train.

The Alternative

If you want reps to cooperate and help each other, measure every action and policy against that ideal. Use the money that would have been squandered on trips for training, as extra pay for a team leader mentor that helps more junior reps, or at least for a fun time that all get for the group meeting a specified (fair) goal.


Just in case anybody would interpret this as sour grapes, I won every award the available while a rep including trips to Hawaii, resorts in Arizona, a run through the warehouse at Costco (keep everything you can put in a shopping cart in 3 minutes, a box of trophies, blah, blah, blah…. I would rather have had the cash.