Sales management: competition- a double-edge sword

Sales teams

Sales teams

Ask most sales management whether they have ever used some form of competition as a management technique and most will answer – “yes – and if I must say so it worked great.”

Stories abound about how competition can be used effectively inside a sales team.  As a matter of fact, most people who study the use of competition in the workplace suggest that sales as a field is more conducive to the application of competition practices then many others.

However, like most management techniques competition can cut both ways – that is it can be toxic inside a sales team.

So, how do you build healthy competition inside your sales team? How do you leverage the upsides and minimize the possible downsides.  Recently we came across an interesting article by Douglas Freeman that suggests four pillars for getting right:

  1. Empower individuals. Set team goals, celebrate those wins, and empower individuals to take responsibility for the team’s success by showing them what their contribution means to the team.
  2. Acknowledge personal goals. Your sales team will be winning if each salesperson is winning, so it’s important to create an environment in which they can do just that. When goals are shared, everyone on the team knows what everyone else is working towards – this can help salespeople achieve their goals and stay accountable, and it brings everyone closer together as a result.
  3. Create a learning culture.  Creating an environment that promotes ongoing coaching and personal improvement. The most competitive salespeople are competitive with themselves, first and foremost. As a sales manager, that means you must create an environment that challenges these individuals every day.
  4. Celebrate success.  Finally – have fun, but keep score.  Salespeople who will thrive and have fun in competitive and team environments are ideal – keeping an eye on the scoreboard and trying to figure out how to raise the score.

So what about the dark side of the force?  What are some of the downsides that competition can generate if not managed and executed skillfully.  From our observation two tend to jump out.   These can be easily managed but if not they can be problematic.

It can create a “have and have not” environment if the same players win all the time.  This can lead to resentment of the other team member, as well as, the manager.  A second particularly telling negative outcome in sales is the “win at all cost” mentality.  Managers need to be alert to possible early warning signals of this problem because the consequences can impact the client relationship in some cases.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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1 Response to Sales management: competition- a double-edge sword

  1. In helping hundreds of companies run more effective sales contests and competitions, I can say confidently, structured the right way, they can have tremendous impact. That being said, there are two major problems that 99% of companies have with their sales contests and incentives. First, the same top performers tend to win most of the time. This demotivates and even frustrates the middle 50% of the team who are really the target for any sales contest; your top 20% will perform without it. Second, it’s very hard to keep reps engaged. The moment they fall behind or out of contention, they lose interest and stop paying attention. Keeping more reps motivated longer is the goal. Here’s a quick video explaining this in more detail as well as ways to solve the problems in your competitions:

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