How to Use Contests to Inspire Your Millennial Workforce

The sales leaders I work with are constantly in search of new motivation for their teams. With short attention spans and tech distractions, focus is a scarce commodity for millennials, making it even more challenging than ever to keep your newest salespeople engaged.

Whether you’re running a company or managing a sales team with millennials, you can learn how to leverage the human psychology behind the power of competition to make your workforce more productive.

In recent months, things like the Olympics, Pokemon Go, and Fantasy Football have captured the public’s imagination. The Olympics were the site of incredible competition between the world’s greatest athletes.  Pokemon Go is a mobile game where players catch Pokemon Go in real world locations. Fantasy Football is a billion dollar industry that lets groups of friends create leagues, draft teams and compete each week based on how many fantasy points their players accumulate.

Let’s look at exactly what makes games like the Olympics, Pokemon Go, and Fantasy Football so addictive - and ready for optimization in your sales team.

How to Run Sales Competitions For Millennials

Every great sales leader knows that rivalries can actually drive their salespeople’s motivation and increase morale through some healthy competition.

And chances are, your company has a healthy rival or two. Likewise, you may already run the occasional sales contest to get your team fired up.

But if that’s the only thing spurring on your team, you’re just scratching the surface of motivation. By approaching workplace competitions with a broader strategic aim, managers will be able to tap into the triggers that drive the millennial workforce, like career progression, mentorship and an open, collaborative work environment.

This brand-new study from Deloitte illustrates the importance of using competition strategically — with millennials, you have to know the right buttons and how to push them.

Here are four competition formats every sales team should be using:

1. Salesperson versus Goal (like Pokemon Go)

2. Salesperson versus Other Salespeople

3. Salesperson versus Their Own Past Performance

4. Sales Team versus Sales Team (like Fantasy Football)

The most common sales competition formats are Salesperson versus Goal (quota) and Salesperson versus Other Salespeople (leaderboards). The other competition formats, Salesperson versus Their Own Past Performance and Sales Team versus Sales Team, are now emerging as powerful alternatives.

If you’re managing a millennial sales force, it’s high time to rethink your approach to sales contests. The advent of new technology and pop culture phenomena like Pokemon Go and Fantasy Football give you an array of options. Let’s take a look at each one.

How Pokemon Go Can Make Your Salespeople More Effective

Want to get people off their feet? Issue them a challenge then track their real-time progress towards achieving it. That’s the simple premise behind Pokemon Go and it’s easy to apply in your sales force.

The importance of setting and tracking progress towards goals is well-established in sales

Goals have the best chance of being realized when you:

  1. Write them down

  2. Make them public

  3. Share them with peers

  4. Regularly review and revise them each month

Another major finding is that salespeople need several different types of goals. A quota goal is a good start, but managers should also be setting daily and weekly benchmarks around key activities like phone calls and emails, meetings, other touches with prospective customers, and the conversion of leads.

This second set of goals is really about driving daily activity, tracking incremental progress and celebrating small wins. Every salesperson loves a quick, easy endorphin boost—so if you’re looking for ways to reinforce positive behavior, look no further.  This competition format is the reason you can’t go to your local park without seeing 50 people playing Pokemon Go.  

How You Can Rethink and Revitalize Traditional Sales Competitions

Most sales organizations already have a sales leaderboard. Many are running Sales Performance Incentive Funds (SPIFs), call blitzes, and monthly or quarterly recognition programs for top performers.

But as just about every sales leader will attest, running the same sales contest over and over again loses value. The concept becomes stale and reps start responding with less and less enthusiasm. When this happens, it’s time to start tweaking your sales competition formats.

There are two ways that sales leaders can get even more from this classic type of sales competition. First, make the competition data and rankings as real-time and public as possible. Why? Because people hate delayed gratification - just look at the outcry over NBC’s 1-hour delay in broadcasting certain Olympic events.

A TV leaderboard that broadcasts live cold call or email rankings to the sales bullpen is much more effective than just scrawling it on a whiteboard or uploading a spreadsheet with hours or even days of lag time.

Second, look into new incentives tailored to the millennial demographic. According to USA Today, millennials prefer and are more motivated by personalized rewards that focus more on unique experiences than just money or gift cards.

Why Battling Yourself is the Best Way to Win

According to Deloitte, “personal goals and ambitions” and “career progression” influence millennial decision-making more than almost anything else. In sales, career progression has a very clear starting point—improving across key sales performance metrics associated with your position.

To keep the idea of self-improvement top of mind, try having sales team members compete against their own past performance. I advocate picking 2-3 key sales activity metrics—like calls, emails or prospect touches—and tracking team member performance across each metric at daily, weekly or monthly intervals.  

This has two benefits. First, it targets the behaviors that drive quota. Second, it’s much more consistent and sustainable than other forms of competition, since you’re competing against your past self to become an even better salesperson.

Besides hitting quota and cashing a commission check, the best feeling a salesperson can have is seeing their own tangible improvement. Whether you choose to measure ‘hustle’ metrics or actual production metrics (like meetings set or deals closed), you’re giving salespeople positive reinforcement for achievements like beating their previous week’s outbound call number.

How Fantasy Football Could Change the Way You Think About Sales

Even if you’ve never played fantasy football, I highly recommend looking into a team-based fantasy sales competition - where teams of reps receive a real-time, overall performance score based on 2-3 KPIs. This competition format made a huge leap in legitimacy last year when the Harvard Business Review independently endorsed it as a way to create motivation, accountability and recognition opportunities for sales teams.

The article’s author, Ethan Bernstein, conducted a study of a Fortune 1000 sales team who created a 60-person Fantasy Sales League using Salesforce and Ambition. In his review, Bernstein found that the quarter-long competition led to “stunning improvements for sustained periods of time” across four key sales performance metrics.

What makes this fantasy sales contest structure work? According to Bernstein, it represents the reinvention of gamification as ‘teamfication’. Salespeople are accustomed to solo competitions with quota and each other. However, what makes team-based competitions powerful is the collaborative paradigm it creates, which facilitates peer-to-peer coaching, accountability and motivation.

The enthusiastic adoption and endorsement of fantasy sales as a viable competition format is one of the more eye-opening recent developments in sales leadership. Like both Pokemon Go and Fantasy Football, fantasy sales creates a sense of community around competition.

I spoke with the team behind Ambition - a popular sales performance platform covered by both the Harvard Business Review and the Sporting News - to learn more about how this works. According to COO Brian Trautschold, the addictive qualities of Pokemon Go and Fantasy Football come from “positive feedback loops, real-time score updates and the sense of community tied to the competition.” They create the initial personal investment, then keep people involved via powerful triggers from their peers and live updates. In other words, the very same forces that make Ambition sales contests so powerful.

We’ve just scratched the surface of new methods for motivating a sales force via competition. For further reading, I encourage you to check out this excellent article by James Madigan and this Harvard Business Review article that discusses competition formatting in-depth.  

Do you have other forms of competition you’re using inside your sales team? I’d love to hear about them.

Jeremy Boudinet is the Director of Marketing for Ambition, an App Exchange platform that syncs Salesforce with any data source and tracks real-time performance data across your entire team. Visualize core benchmarks, score overall user performance, and set up custom sales contests complete with TV leaderboards, email alerts, personalized highlight reels and theme songs, plus much more. Learn more @ambitionsales.