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9 creative sales contest ideas that work

Written by: Jennifer Kelby & Carl Friedrich
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Creative sales contest ideas can motivate your team to reach unprecedented heights. Sales competitions help drive new levels of drive, focus, and energy in your sales reps.

From telecom customer care centres to heavy-equipment manufacturers, companies in every industry are running sales incentive programs to inspire sales team and channel partner performance. Standard compensation plans can only do so much – to really increase performance, you need the engagement and motivation that only a well-thought-out, creative sales incentive contest can provide. Paycheques are essential for taking care of bills and living expenses but nothing beats earning a one-of-a-kind travel experience or choosing the perfect gift (for a friend or family member – or yourself!)

There are many reasons for sales managers to run a sales contest, such as to:

  • Create focus and excitement around new or profitable products
  • Engage and motivate sales team reps and channel partners
  • Recognize behaviours that lead to success, like training completion or steps to a sale
  • Encourage middle performers to set higher goals
  • Promote healthy competition
  • Reward top performers for success


They're popular for a reason.

Over the last 18 months, here are the most common sales incentive contest ideas we’ve seen companies use:

1. Do This, Get That

This classic sales incentive contest rewards sales reps for doing as much of an activity as possible while offering payouts for each activity they complete or sale they make.

For contests that require proof of a behaviour (photo of a sales display, invoice number or date of sale), adding in “claims” functionality allows for data capture while avoiding payouts for those not engaged in the program.

2. Step It Up

This plateau sales incentive contest uses two to five pre-determined goal levels and allows sales reps to earn at the highest level they achieve. This can be the perfect fit for sales teams who have been running Do This, Get That incentives programs but need a fresh approach. The flexible nature of this contest allows sales reps to be awarded a combination of awards points, merchandise or even travel awards at the different goal levels.

3. GoalQuest

This sales incentive contest is carefully designed to engage your entire sales team and drive incremental performance by moving the middle. Rooted in the science of behavioural economics, GoalQuest features segmentation to group like-performing sales reps, self-selected goals to increase sales team motivation, and all-or-nothing reward achievement so you only pay for performance.

4. TargetPoint

Instead of focusing on one metric at a time, this sales incentive contest allows leaders to assign sales reps up to five goals simultaneously. Goals and awards can be the same for the entire sales team or they can be unique for each sales rep. Use this structure to focus on key products and metrics, reward multiple behaviours or build a balanced scorecard for sales reps and non-sales team members.

5. Stack Rank

Also known as a leaderboard contest, this is the most commonly-used sales incentive. Use carefully though – while it’s easy to justify simply rewarding your top sales performers, a leaderboard may have the unintended negative consequence of discouraging engagement in the vast majority of your sales team.

To be most effective, use it to complement other sales incentive contests, offer awards that are motivational and inspiring like points, merchandise or travel experiences or pre-determined points throughout the contest period to “reset” the sales leaderboard and give more than one group of people a chance to win.

The sales contests examples above are the most popular for one reason: they get results. But there are many other creative sales incentives that are effective in driving both sales team and channel partner results. Here are some other sales contest ideas for work we see gaining in popularity:

6. Break the Bank

A competitive variation on the Do This, Get That contest, this sales incentive contest can be useful for getting your sales reps off to a fast start. A banner or tracker is posted to the contest  website showing the awards available to earn and creating a sense of urgency.  It’s then up to the sales reps to rush to complete as many activities or make as many sales as possible before the bank runs out.

7. Learn & Earn

Sales team leaders realize that product knowledge is a key ingredient in getting appointments and making sales. This sales incentive contest awards reps for participating in training activities and is a very effective way to make sure reps have the knowledge they need to succeed.

8. Missions and Challenges

Originally created to introduce gamification into sales contests, mission-style incentive programs are now seen as a broader way to motivate new sales reps, drive valuable activities, and create urgency in the sales process. Missions provide a clear path for sales reps to follow and reward them as they go.

9. Breakthrough

Combining the plateaus of Step It Up with the power of Do This, Get That, the Breakthrough sales incentive contest gives sales reps the opportunity to earn cumulative awards as performance targets are hit. It’s a great way to motivate sales reps to get out of their comfort zone and set higher goals.


Ever wonder why most sales contests with high expectations seem to fall short? 

It might be the fact that they're based on faulty assumptions. We've compiled data from over 1,000 incentive programs and come up with five of the most common contest mistakes you might be making right now. Take a look:

Five sales contest mistakes to avoid.

If any of these sound familiar, it's time to consider what really inspires better performance – and base your next contest on science, not speculation.

What’s the right sales contest for my team?

Both research and experience say there is no one contest that’s perfect for every situation. How to motivate your sales team and channel partners depends on the problem you are solving for, the team you are trying to motivate, and the budget you have.

Sales team leaders might be satisfied with awarding the efforts of their top 10 performers each month – but think about all of the performance you’re leaving on the table. If you can motivate middle performers to engage with a sales contest, you’ll increase sales double digits in the short term and drive incremental, bottom-line results over time.

Let's figure out how to motivate your sales team together Get in touch
Carl Friedrich

Carl Friedrich

Contest Manager, Reward Systems Group, BI WORLDWIDE

Carl has over 10 years of experience working on behaviour change programs with a focus on rewards and program analytics to drive effective program design. Currently all-in with sales incentives, Carl uses sales data to design contest structures that provide incremental results by engaging the entire audience.
Jennifer Kelby

Jennifer Kelby

Sr. Contest Product Manager, Reward Systems Group, BI WORLDWIDE

Jen has over 10 years of experience in sales, analytics, product management, and incentive program design. For the past 5 years, Jen has designed and implemented GoalQuest® programs, a product that has delivered over 1,100 self-selected incentive programs and generated over $2 billion in incremental sales for Fortune 1,000 companies. Jen has also worked on research projects on incentive program design and has performed “deep-dive” analyses on incentive programs and has been working on various other contest structures for over 6 years.

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