How Sales Contests Kill Sales

Salespeople are motivated by money and competition.  If you want them to sell more, offer more money, and have them compete for rewards.  The sales contest is the perfect motivational combination.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom.  But it’s wrong—and many of the best salespeople will tell you so.  Here’s why.

Money and competition are about getting more money from your customers than other salespeople can get from theirs. And contests are typically short-term affairs—usually a matter of months, a year at most.

Salespeople in a contest are therefore in a rush to see who can extract the most cash out of his customers the fastest.  As one of the hoary old “jokes” about sales goes, “selling is the fine art of separating the customer from his wallet.”

I don’t happen to think that joke’s funny, and I doubt too many customers do either.  But that’s the mentality fostered by a race to extract maximum money per short term time period.

It turns customers into objects.  It telescopes time into the (very) near future.  And so it flies in the face of developing relationships based on helping the customer, and based on a longer time-frame that allows the evolution of strategies beneficial to both seller and buyer.

Here’s the paradox (there always is a paradox when it comes to trust).  Sales contests are usually held to juice up short-term results.  But the best short term results actually come from the ongoing execution of long-term strategies.  Sales contests actually hurt long-term performance.

The mania for measuring short-term has led many companies to execute a massive faux pas—managing for the short-term.   You know the saying: “you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it.”  The unspoken corollaries are, “more measurement is better,” and “if we can measure it short term then we’d better manage it short-term.”

None of it is true.  If you were to manage all the other relationships in your life this way—maximizing the short-term monetary benefit you can extract from your spouse, your friends, your children—then you would live a shallow life that will come to bite you.  It is no different in business.

Do you grant your loyalty and future business to someone who views you as primarily a source of their own short-term financial gratification?  If not, why should you expect anyone else to?

Sales contests are just one of the more obvious manifestations of this mania for short-term, treat-‘em-as-wallets, manage-like-you-measure mentality. It infects comp systems and sales process designs as well.

If you’re a sales manager, measure short-term results—but teach everyone that the best way to get them is to manage long-term.

If you’re a salesperson, then—unless you’re a year away from retirement and don’t give a damn about your reputation—act as if you plan to be in service to your customers for a long, long time.

That’s how they return the favor.

And there’s that paradox again.  The best way to make money is to stop selfishly looking to make money.  Instead, be trusted—by being trustworthy.

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