Contests are one of the most effective ways of driving sales. They energize the sales-force, boost sales and significantly increase profits over a specific period of time.

But sales contests are not just about awarding prizes to a handful of winners and offering nothing to the rest of the participants. In some contests, winning and losing comes with an element of luck or chance. In order to make sales contests effectively motivating, this element of chance or luck must be reduced or completely eliminated where possible. Winning must stem from pure ability to perform beyond predetermined standards.

In sales contests it's also not always the case that you come up with one winner. Instead, you should have a target and anyone who achieves this target is a winner.

Before you kick off your next sales contest, keep these six things in mind to ensure it's a rewarding experience for your team.

1. Set a Clear Objective

Do you want to enhance bottom-line profitability? Do you want to increase hard cash sales in a particular product line? In this step you need to decide which area of sales you want to influence the most. Is it generation of leads? Is it orders shipped?

2. Find Workable Ways of Measuring Success

This is where you define the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the contest. Only choose metrics that have the greatest influence on what you are trying to achieve, and which drive incremental results. Avoid metrics that can easily be manipulated. Ensure there's an organized way of tracking KPIs so performance can be compared from one specific period to the next.

3. Find Ways of Getting the Most Out of Your "Middle Group"

The sales team can be divided into three groups; top performers, reliable middle performers, and new/poor performers. One thing you must never do is neglect your middle performers, who make about 80% of the sales force in most organizations. Incremental gains realized in this group can have a dramatic impact on overall sales.

4. Think Outside Cash Prizes

Cash prizes are a good "quick fix", but they are rarely as valuable as they appear. It's easy for a $20 bill to be lumped in with the other cash in an employee's wallet.  Using branded prepaid credit cards as prizes allows for continuous use, and each team member has a card that can be easily loaded and reloaded with cash rewards. Prepaid credit cards can be used at any retail or online store that accepts Visa or MasterCard. One of the most important qualities of prepaid credit cards is that they can be branded, which reminds employees where their reward came from, and why they received it.

5. Don't Forget a Sales Contest Theme

A great contest theme has a name and incorporates unique, exciting collateral pieces. The theme must resonate with sales teams that are overworked, that have increasing amounts of non-sales tasks to complete, and that have probably "seen it all" when it comes to upping numbers. It should be creative, and it should be fun.

6. Keep Participants Continuously Informed and Updated

Constant communication is critical to the success of any sales contest. The contest has to be top of mind not just for a couple days, but for weeks. This means more than just email reminders - use various messages in various mediums. Hold regular meetings, phone calls, check-ins, and share visuals that track progress and numbers.

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