Create Healthy Competition – The Science of Sales Motivation #3


So far we’ve gotten the straight dope(amine) on the biology of motivation in part 1 of the series and learned how to put the power of progress to work for us in part 2. This week we turn to something familiar to all of saleskind – competition. Is there anything better for sales team motivation?

But at some point in our career, a lot of us have probably had that sales manager that pits rep against rep in a battle royale to the (ego) death. What ‘horrible bosses’ like this end up creating is a culture of fear that tends to motivate only the most ruthless sales reps while alienating everybody else.

But what’s the flip side of this story? These terrible sales managers are just trying to meet their numbers in the only way they know. At the core, they know competition can drive people to perform; they’re just a little misguided in execution. All they really need is some structure, maybe a few tools, to transform the environment from one that’s killing morale (or worse) to one that fuels growth through healthy competition.

Because the instinct about competition being a pro is right; it can be a very good thing in the workplace. Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing says: “Whether professional musicians or school children, studies have shown competition fuels creativity and even improves the quality of the work produced.” Let’s look at some key principles of healthy competition to motivate your sales team.

4 Principles for Creating Healthy Sales Competition
  1. Make it Fun. The stress of meeting quota is real. You can make it bearable by creating an environment where competition is fun, based on gamification.
  2. Focus on continual improvement. Healthy competition doesn’t only focus on winning and losing; it tracks employee improvement as well. Help people compete against themselves by monitoring their progress and increasing confidence as they improve.
  3. Use cooperative competition. Instill a team- and company-goals above all mindset so that salespeople are motivated to do the right thing and work together toward a common goal, at the same time as they’re working toward their individual goals. Working together and helping others has been proven to release those brain chemicals that enhance motivation and bonding – and feel good.
  4. Reward your best reps; recognize other achievements. In other words, stay positive but balanced. It’s important to differentiate and reward the best, or what’s the point in going for the win? But there are other things to track and recognize to ensure motivation for everyone. Celebrate for success!

And finally, understand that only some people benefit from competition. 25% of people are unaffected by competition; 25% ‘wilt’ in a competitive environment; and 50% benefit from competition. Yup – it’s back to science and biology folks: age matters, gender matters, one particular gene enzyme matters. You can read all about it in ‘Top Dog.’ The good news as a sales leader is, you’re likely to run into an even higher percentage of salespeople who are motivated by competition – it’s in our blood!