Are Sales Contests Gone for Good?

The emerging trend of gamification could be a successful and fun way to motivate your agents.

June 19, 2015

One of the things I remember most vividly from my time as a sales professional was the excitement and buzz that would fill the office when a sales contest was announced.

The structure was normally something like this: For each quarter of the year, if you hit a certain quota above your normal number of sales and the team performed above average overall, then the company would invite you on a trip to a resort destination — all expenses paid with spouses and plus-ones welcome.

It usually shaped up to be a large group, and I remember those trips fondly as times when coworkers became great friends.

The trip was a great way to toast to each other’s success, and that of the company, while relaxing and having fun. But in many ways, the best part was the road map getting there – the anticipation when you were just one contract away from contest levels or when the office is lagging behind, so you’re cheering on your coworkers and supporting them as they strive to make their contest numbers, too.

When business was hard, sales contests brought levity. They brought people and excitement into the office and strengthened relationships. We were a fun crowd to be around, and our clients felt that, too.

So why isn’t anyone doing sales contests anymore?

For one thing, agents today work more independently. They operate from home, via mobile, and on their own terms. Offices are physically smaller and no longer function as the social centers and training hubs that they once were —at least not to the same extent.

The role of a typical real estate sales manager has also evolved. Once an integral player not only in sales contests but also in the day-to-day work of an agent, today’s sales manager may be responsible for an office of 100 or more agents, functioning more as a resource than as a traditional manager, mentor, or coach.

These days, a traditional sales contest — complete with the blackboard, the reporting systems, the spreadsheets, and so on — would be a huge undertaking for a manager. And the ROI isn’t there anymore, either. One of the main benefits of a contest used to be that it would give agents a reason to come in to the office (where all meaningful work took place) to check the leaderboard. More bodies in the office meant higher productions — but today that just isn’t the case.                

With less capacity to run them and a lower ROI, it’s no surprise many offices have retired their sales contests.

But companies in other industries are beginning to revive the concept in the context of a contemporary sales force – and they’re producing some impressive results.

Enter gamification.

The idea is to update sales contests to align with the modern sales process, which is heavily digital.

Several Silicon Valley startups are dedicated to doing just that. One, called Fantasy Sales Team, brings the wildly popular concept of fantasy football to the sales contest concept. Reps draft a virtual team of coworkers and rely on their performance in order to win.

This encourages a novel combination of both competition and support, perfect for motivating a modern sales force. Thanks to the wild popularity of fantasy sports, a huge number of salespeople are already familiar with the concept.

Fantasy Sales Team is just one version of an emerging trend in business called gamification. While the term evokes video games, and can backfire if that’s all your sales contest is, the results of gamification done right are hard to argue.

Clayton Homes, a Berkshire Hathaway company that builds homes across the U.S., was profiled in the Harvard Business Review earlier this spring for their use of a fantasy sports–based contest that increased production by over 200 percent.

First rule of the game: know your people.

Still, an earlier Harvard Business Review article serves as a timely reminder that not all salespeople are alike; as such, not all will respond to contests with equal fervor.

Most sales forces have a small group of stars, a small group of laggards, and a large group of producers in between. It turns out that slight nuances in a contest, such as the number and type of prizes awarded, can make the difference between your core producers (the in-between group) rising to the occasion or sitting it out.

With the move to a digital sales contest, you have the luxury of analytics to help you determine who’s engaged and who is not. But in most ways, the task of motivating agents is still a very human one.

So, you know your sales manager? The one in the big brick-and-mortar office with the task of training, motivating, and counseling your agents live, in person? You’ll probably want to keep them around.


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Mark Leader is a national speaker, author, and founder of Leader’s Choice, a real estate training and coaching company. Over the course of 20 years, Mark and his team of trainers and coaches have helped tens of thousands of sales professionals raise their production and increase their revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars. As a sales professional, Mark averaged 93 closings for eight consecutive years. Learn more about Mark at