Stop for a second to think about what really motivates a salesperson. Recent research from Aberdeen Group found that the No. 1 motivator is money. (Shocker!) Following that is competition with peers and recognition for a job well done.

Sales leaders focus on financial motivations by giving commissions and employee bonus plans that rightly reward the end result--closing business. However, capitalizing on salespeople's desire for competition and recognition is often missing.

Research from McKinsey showed that praise and recognition from managers is the most effective way to motivate employees, yet only 41 percent of leaders actually offer much praise. And advisory services firm CEB finds that coaching from a manager accounts for a 17 percent increase in sales performance, making the difference between those who make and miss their sales numbers. This is a big reason why sales coaching tools such as, which show managers other ways besides financial incentives to motivate reps, are seeing such explosive growth.

So what in the world does this have to do with sales contests?

When a manager runs a sales contest, the purpose is typically to create energy and focus around some key sales initiative. That might be taking a new product to market, getting more face-to-face meetings with clients, or upselling to existing clients. (Here are some more examples.) But to make a contest really take off, a manager needs to use it as an opportunity to work more closely with the team and get team members working with each other.

Here are three ways to maximize the impact of your sales contests by aligning them with coaching moments.

1. Launch

Talk with your team about why you're launching this initiative and how they will be measured, so the team is fully aligned. Let's say you're trying to quickly onboard some new salespeople. You can explain to the new recruits that you want them to get off to a fast start, and the best way to do that is to get them pitching one or two specific products that you know are easy to understand and sell.

A contest helps here, as it makes all the participants aware of how others are doing, and makes the onboarding process a little more interesting. This is particularly helpful to get teams in different offices working together more.

2. Get executives to chime in

After the contest goes live and the leaderboards start to populate, get a key executive to weigh in. It could be something as simple as an email or Salesforce Chatter post to the team such as, "Hey gang--thanks for putting your attention around this key initiative for our business. Kudos to Jen, Dave, and Jessica, who are off to a fast start here! Who's going to give them a run for their money?" That simple message will go a long way by recognizing people for a job well done and showing further evidence of the importance of the initiative.

3. Coach performance

Sales numbers are often shared publicly, but coaching reps to actually get more sales can be difficult. Real coaching gets into the weeds on the behaviors and approaches that lead to sales. A sales contest brings that to life, as it creates attention around a key initiative and presents results in an objective way, on a leaderboard that gives you data you can use in your coaching.

For example, let's say one of your team members is in the middle of the leaderboard. With those results so front and center, this is a fantastic opportunity to understand what they're doing and share your thoughts on how they can perform even better. It also opens the door for reps at the bottom to have a discussion about what they can do to take home the victory the next time around.

So the next time you're looking for better ways to coach your team, think about using contests as a catalyst.