Gamification? Good! Gaming the system? Bad! Human nature devalues your sales contest by cheating and gaming the system. You owe it to the business and the contestants to structure sales contest to discourage or eliminate cheating. The business owner or sales leadership needs to learn why people cheat, how big prizes drive bad behavior, and what you can do to minimize or eliminate gaming the sales contest gamification system.

Cheating will always be with us.

There is cheating, and there is gaming. The only real difference is degree. Cheating is a blatant violation of business ethics and, in some cases, the law and moral conscience. Gaming abuses exploits system loopholes, fudges the rules, or misdirects sleight-of-hand. Studies show people will do what they have to in order to get ahead; some do so at any cost.

In a 2013 study, researchers found that sales contest compensation based on random bonuses makes participants cheat without effecting productivity. They found “the more productive workers behave more dishonestly.” In a final criticism, they claim that cheating behavior is a direct response to the perceived fairness of the compensation plan” (Gill, Prowse, & & Vlassopoulis, 2013).

Another analysis demonstrates “a crucial management consideration becomes that of determining sufficient but not excessive award values” lest it cause salespersons “to become tempted to use inappropriate behaviors while pursuing contest goals” (Murphy, Dacin, & & Ford, 2004).

When salespeople try to game the sales contest system by outright falsifying performance data, by manipulating a co-workers’ performance data, or by end-running the sales contest rules, they are cheating.

Reduce the problem 

  1. Leadership behavior: Ethical behavior starts with the sales leadership. Managers who model admirable behavior have the upper hand. Gamification cheating and gamingSpecifically, evidence shows close and mentoring relationships between salesperson and supervisor assures sales contestants of an increase in positive attitude and performance expectancy.
  2. Right-size awards: Prizes motivate performance. How well and how successfully matters most. Sales contestants prefer greater award values. But, decisions on size and type of award must be sufficient – not excessive. With too much difference between first and second place awards, you will see more cheating among the top competitors. If the spread between contest finishes is too narrow, there is no motivation to move from one low or mid-position to the next.
  3. Perceived value: Contestants perceive cash rewards as compensation earned but value travel and merchandise as rewards for sales performance. Industry sectors, like car and real estate sales, have traditions of themes and awards, but they might consider adding variety in terms of sales contest frequency, duration, and rewards.
  4. Require registration: Introducing a registration process to the sales contest offers the chance to engage employees into the rules and regulations. It lets you define performance, rules, and expectations. Building rewards into the weeks before and after the contest should reduce or manage their stalling or sandbagging leads and closes. Pre-contest registration lets you define what cheating or gaming means. Participants need to know the parameters and penalties on competitive behavior.
  5. Monitor compliance: You need to publish key performance indicators (KPIs) as you understand them and acknowledge progress in those terms. A leaderboard motivates, engages, and reveals that there is a watchful and trustworthy monitor. Contestants expect leadership to guarantee transparency, and they should be held to the same standard.
  6. Self-regulation: When you publish clear key performance indicators and post team and individual performance, sales contest participants will police performance reporting in their own self-interest.
  7. Designate masters: Sales rainmakers game the system without some redirection. You can tap their energies and prolong their engagement by letting them lead a team or designating them as master sales leaders. After meeting certain personal goals, Master Sales Leaders will partner with the newer or poorer performers to improve their joint-performance.

Cheating tests the sales contest rules, disrespects competitors, and reflects poorly on the business for letting it happen. It ruins the return on investment in small ways and large. And, it runs the risk of rewarding absolutely the wrong behavior (especially in gamication system). Finding a tough and disciplined sales contest software program will monitor, report, and verify performance. It will encourage engagement, quality performance, and your ROI.


Gill, D., Prowse, V., & & Vlassopoulis, M. (2013, July 4). Cheating in the workplace: An experimental study of the impact of bonuses and productivity Retrieved February 7, 2014, from University of Oxford Economics Department

Murphy, W., Dacin, P., & & Ford, N. (2004). Sales Contest Effectiveness: An Examination of Sales Contest Design Preferences of Field Sales Forces. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science

Other sources:

Can You Cheat Your Way to Success ? Black Sales Journal

Cheating in the workplace: An experimental study of the impact of bonuses and productivity by David Gill Oxford University – Department of Economics, Victoria Prowse Cornell University – Department of Economics, Michael Vlassopoulos University of Southampton – Division of Economics

Creating a High-Performance Sales Culture by Leo Dirr, InsideSales.com Blog

Sales contest effectiveness: An examination of sales contest design preferences of field sales forces by William H. Murphy, Peter A. Dacin, Neil M. Ford

Driving the wrong behaviours with rewards by Andrzej Marczewski, Gamification Blog

Gamification: Overjustification Effect and Cheating,  by Andrzej Marczewski, Gamification Blog 

How to Prevent Fraud in Contests by Jen Lauck, Second Street

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