Marketing Department (CBA)


Date of this Version



European Journal of Marketing 29.13 (1995): 42-66.


Copyright © 1995 MCB University Press; published by Emerald Group. Used by permission.


Aims to improve understanding of an important and widely used management tool for motivating the salesforce – sales contests. Begins by introducing the question: what factors are associated with salespeople's feelings towards a sales contest? Several potentially relevant characteristics that are expected to be associated with various feelings towards contests are discussed. To test the hypotheses, data were collected through verbal protocols and surveys from salespeople belonging to a division of a Fortune 100 firm. Results indicate that salespeople's self-esteem, commitment level, and career stage play a role in influencing feelings towards the sales contest.

The impetus for this research was the question: what factors are associated with salespeople’s feelings towards a sales contest? If certain characteristics are associated with particular salesperson feelings towards contests, recommendations can be made to management regarding issues they should consider in the design and implementation of sales contests. Potentially, these recommendations will become salesforce specific, with sales management deciding how to use sales contests dependent on the characteristics of their selling personnel.

Approaching this question we were concerned with two issues: identifying salesperson characteristics that could be expected to affect salesperson feelings towards special incentives; and choosing a research design that would allow salespeople to express their feelings towards special incentives while also providing specific information regarding the focal salesperson characteristics we had identified.

Addressing the first issue, we felt that of the numerous variables that have been used in sales research it was possible to develop a rationale why several (e.g., task-specific self-esteem, organizational commitment, career stage, track record of winning/not winning contests) could be expected to affect feelings towards sales contests. If they were found to have an effect on feelings, the insights would contribute to theoretical understanding in this area. The survey component of the study provided these variables.

As to the second issue, salespeople from a Fortune 100 firm which uses contests regularly were provided with an opportunity to “speak freely” about their company sales contests. By having respondents provide both verbal protocols and survey responses, analyses were possible that begin to shape an answer to the question posed above. Numerous insights emerged, increasing understanding of this important special incentive tool. The findings lend encouragement for further research across varied settings.

The next section provides a brief review of the literature on sales contests. We then describe the characteristics of the firm and the sales contest studied. This is followed by our hypotheses and supporting rationale, including an explanation of the method used to examine the hypotheses. Finally, we report the results, and conclude by discussing the implications of the findings for managing sales force special incentive programs.