Why Competitions Suck?

Have you ever been thinking about how sales competition works?

Imagine Mary. She's the best salesperson in the whole region. When Sales Director announces the next competition in selling a new product, she feels, well, frustrated.

  • The first reward is the latest iPhone.
  • Places 2nd to 10th got a voucher for a SPA or bungee jumping.
  • "Not again! How many iPhones you can sell on eBay?" - she thought.

Mary likes her job. She believes in the product, has a considerable storytelling talent, and is well-organized. Mary doesn't need to be "motivated" additionally with the competition. iPhone she wins is a waste of your money.

Brandon is just an ordinary salesman. He does his job good enough to keep him under the radar. When Sales Director announces the next competition in selling a new product he feels sad.

  • Next competition.
  • Again the same winners.
  • Again he'll see that this is not a place for him.
  • He'll never get to the top performer's zone

According to our research, classic sales competition demotivates about 60-80% of your team. Burrhus Skinner, one of the greatest psychologists said:

The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount.

To design an environment that really supports achieving great results, you need to take under consideration at least 3 crucial issues:


Structure of your team. Very often, your best teammates are already high-skilled and well-motivated. Their results are above average besides your actions. The potential to grow is much more significant when you look at people in the middle. They have no chance to win the competition, but very often, they don't need much to perform better. And the best part: even a tiny increase of 80% of your team (middle ones) sums up to a much better total score. Put your focus on the guys in the middle, and you will see the results!


The difficulty of the requirements. Michale Jordan's famous quote is:

I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

I can hardly believe that the excellent result of your teammate is based only on doing things right. People usually need to learn something new, start using a new behavior, operate with gained information. They try and fail many times. And very often get demotivated too quickly. Or avoid even trying because they fear failure.

Why not reward them for trying to keep them on the right track? Research shows that rewarding people for effort instead of result makes them be more creative, cooperative, and learn new skills faster. Rewarding employees for trying, especially at the very beginning, when good results seem to be very far away, has been proved to be the best strategy to start.


Key motivational dilemma. What kind of choice do your employees have? When is this EXACT MOMENT when your salesman decides if he/she does what is needed? Example.

  • You have a team of 50 people.
  • They sell a simple product primarily to their regular clients.
  • Now you want them to sell a new product: more complicated, more expensive to new clients.
  • A higher quarterly bonus seems not to work on that.

Why? Because every morning just after coffee Mark sits down and plans his day. He knows that he has to start selling a new product, but... at this very moment it is much easier to call an old client and talk about the same product as usual. He is afraid to feel ridiculous when explaining the advantages of the new product to a new customer - higher bonus after 3 months... far far away. To change one's decision in this very moment, you need to be accurate. Give him or her immediate rewards for each small step. Each victory needs reinforcement.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Urszula Rudzka-Stankiewicz

Urszula Rudzka-Stankiewicz

Psycholog, HR-owiec, Trener. Szefowa konsultingu one2tribe oraz założycielka Gadżetów Trenera. Od ponad 5 lat na rynku gamifikacji i gier w Polsce i zagranicą. Komunikacja, biznes, gry.