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9 creative sales contest ideas that work

Written by: Jennifer Kelby, Sr. Contest Product Manager & Carl Friedrich, Contest Manager, Reward Systems Group, BI WORLDWIDE


From telecom customer care centers to heavy-equipment manufacturers, companies of all kinds run sales contests for their teams. Compensation plans can only do so much – to really increase performance, you need the sales engagement and sales team motivation that only a well thought-out sales contest can provide. Paychecks are essential for taking care of bills and living expenses but nothing beats earning a one-of-a-kind travel experience or choosing the perfect gift (for a friend or family member – or yourself!)

There are many reasons to run a sales contest, such as to:

  • Create focus and excitement around new or profitable products
  • Engage and onboard new team members
  • Recognize behaviors that lead to success, like training completion or steps to a sale
  • Encourage middle performers to set higher goals
  • Reward top performers for success


They're popular for a reason.

Over the last 18 months, here are the most common sales contest structures we’ve seen companies use:


Do This, Get That

This classic sales incentive structure rewards reps for doing as much of an activity as possible while offering payouts for each activity they complete or sale they make.

For those situations where you need reps to tell you about their activities or provide proof of a behavior (photo of a sales display, invoice number or date of sale), adding in “claims” functionality allows for data capture while avoiding payouts for those not engaged in the program.


Step It Up

This plateau structure uses 2 to 5 pre-determined goal levels and allows reps to earn at the highest level they achieve. This can be the perfect fit for teams who have been running Do This, Get That contests but need a fresh approach. The flexible nature of this structure allows reps to be rewarded with a combination of points, merchandise or even travel awards at the different goal levels.



This unique, patented sales contest structure is carefully designed to engage your entire audience and drive incremental performance by moving the middle. Rooted in the science of behavioral economics, GoalQuest features segmentation to group like-performing reps, self-selected goals to increase sales team motivation and all-or-nothing reward achievement so you only pay for performance.



Instead of focusing on one metric at a time, this sales contest structure allows leaders to assign reps up to five goals simultaneously. Goals and awards can be the same for everyone or they can be unique for each rep. Use this structure to focus on key products and metrics, reward multiple behaviors or build a balanced scorecard for sales reps and non-sales team members. 


Stack Rank

Also known as a leaderboard program, this is the most commonly-used sales incentive idea. Use carefully though – while it’s easy to justify simply rewarding your top performers, a leaderboard may have the unintended negative consequence of discouraging sales engagement in the vast majority of your team.

To be most effective, use it to complement other contest structures, offer rewards that are motivational and inspiring like points, merchandise or travel rewards or pre-determine points throughout the contest period to “reset” the leaderboard and give more than one group of people a chance to win.


The sales contest ideas above are the most popular for one reason: they get results. But there are many other contest structures that should be used in specific times and places. Here are some others we see gaining in popularity:

Break the Bank

A competitive variation on the Do This, Get That contest, this can be useful for getting your reps off to a fast start. A banner or tracker is posted to a program website with a total amount of points or rewards that are “in the bank” and available to earn, creating a sense of urgency. It’s then up to the reps to rush to complete as many activities or make as many sales as possible before the bank runs out.

Learn & Earn


Sales leaders realize that product knowledge is a key ingredient in getting appointments and making sales. This contest structure rewards reps for participating in training activities and is a very effective way to make sure reps have the knowledge they need to succeed.

Missions and Challenges

Originally created to introduce gamification into sales contests, mission-style programs are now seen as a broader way to onboard new reps, drive valuable activities and create urgency in the sales process. Missions provide a clear path for reps to follow and reward them as they go.


Combining the plateaus of Step It Up with the power of Do This, Get That, the Breakthrough structure gives reps the opportunity to earn cumulative rewards as performance targets are hit. It’s a great way to challenge reps to get out of their comfort zone and set higher goals.


What’s the right sales contest for my team?

Both research and experience say there is no one contest perfect for every situation. How to motivate your sales team depends on the problem you are solving for, the team you are trying to motivate and the budget you have.

It might be easy to say that at the end of the month, the top 10 performers get rewarded for their efforts – but think about all of the performance you’re leaving on the table. If you can get middle performers to engage with a sales contest, you’ll increase sales double digits in the short term and drive incremental, bottom-line results over time.



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Carl Friedrich

Carl Friedrich

Contest Manager, Reward Systems Group, BI WORLDWIDE

Carl has over 10 years of experience working on behavior change programs with a focus on rewards and program analytics to drive effective program design. Currently all-in with sales incentives, Carl uses sales data to design contest structures that provide incremental results by engaging the entire audience.
Jennifer Kelby

Jennifer Kelby

Sr. Contest Product Manager, Reward Systems Group, BI WORLDWIDE

Jen has over 10 years of experience in sales, analytics, product management and incentive program design. For the past 5 years, Jen has designed and implemented GoalQuest® programs, a product that has delivered over 1,100 self-selected incentive programs and generated over $2 billion in incremental sales for Fortune 1,000 companies. Jen has also worked on research projects on incentive program design and has performed “deep-dive” analysis on incentive programs and has been working on various other contest structures for over 6 years.

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