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Playing to Win: Could Gamification Boost Your Sales Success?

“As a salesperson, you must be competitive because sales is a zero sum game,” writes Anthony Iannarino. The president and chief sales officer of Solutions Staffing believes, “If you are competing for your dream client’s business, either you will win the business or your competitor will. To win, you have to be competitive. You have to love a good fight. You have to want to win oshutterstock_130932089ver your rivals.”

That’s fine if you want to lead a team of sales people by brandishing the old saw: “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Improve your next 1-on-1 with this data-backed guide for sales managers. 

But it’s not always so cut and dried. Great sales people have a complex set of characteristics that extend beyond competitiveness to include empathy, assertiveness (not aggression) and self-awareness. Innovative managers understand that it takes many different approaches to motivate a sales team to win.

Gamification is one strategy that’s designed to be a win-win for managers and salespeople. The term describes the larger trend in which game mechanics are used in workplace processes to help engage people and change behavior. Technology research firm Gartner predicts that 2014 is the year that 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will apply gamification to at least one part of their company.

It’s Not A Game

To apply this concept to your own sales team, it’s important to know first that gamification isn’t about playing games. Instead, Rajat Paharia posits, it’s the internal motivation triggered by playing games like Monopoly –where all you stand to win is a pile of paper money and bragging rights. As author of the book Loyalty 3.0 and founder of Bunchball, Paharia’s taken a hard look under the hood of employee engagement.

There he found five things that spark motivation in anyone’s mind, all of which are present when you play a simple game.

  • Autonomy: I control.
  • Mastery: I improve.
  • Purpose: I make a difference.
  • Progress: I achieve.
  • Social interaction: I connect with others.

The difference comes in because leadership should be constantly engaging its staff to stretch further. Once the Monopoly game is over, it’s done. To keep the momentum going for a sales team, it’s important to take those motivators and plug them in to a bigger picture. In essence, it’s the way sports teams work. Every time a match is played, the stats are analyzed by coaches, players, and fans. Within a sales force, gamification takes the stats from each sales person and pushes them together into a master blueprint that tracks the success of the entire team.

Don’t Eliminate Competition Completely

The competitive spirit does have a place in gamification –in the larger context of the team. The way it works best is to create a real-time leaderboard (there are multiple apps for that) which make the data very personal, another key component of sparking engagement.

Bob Marsh, CEO and founder of LevelEleven sees it this way:

“Include employee photo displays and engagement tools, such as audio splashes that demand attention when someone makes a big move in a competition. Whether on flat-screen monitors in central locations around the office, or on each employee’s iPhone, these leaderboards would surround entire sales teams, keeping individuals cognizant of where they, and their colleagues, stand in competitions–and motivating them to see their face move to the top.”

With this strategy, Marsh says his team realized a 230 percent spike in sales.

Reward Collaborators

Though sales staff may be eager to see their avatar move up the ranks of the leaderboard, the approach suggested through Paharia’s Bunchball is not to create a “star” culture that fosters unhealthy competition. Instead, a successful gamification initiative recognizes the individual and the team equally.

Some companies do this by turning sales team performance into a fantasy sports competition. Harvard Business Review describes one case where a sales team partnered with gamification provider Ambition to increase its inside sales referrals by 200%. Reps on the sales team became part of a fantasy league and were motivated not only by the social and interactive component, but by the fact that the system was fair. Employees and managers were on the same page with the data and transparency of each rep’s performance.

When global consulting firm Bluewolf tried gamification to enhance social collaboration, each employee’s profile linked to all their recent blog posts, white papers, and social media updates. As the information was shared both internally and externally, Bluewolf was able to create “a network of brand ambassadors” that elevated the company’s entire leadership profile.

The days of winning a Cadillac or a set of steak knives are coming to an end.