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Are we witnessing an evolution from sales force automation to sales force gamification?

30th Mar 2015
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Gamification may be an increasingly popular mechanism within businesses, but there’s one department that has been using it for decades.

Yes, the sales department is no stranger to applying game mechanics to drive the selling process, whether it’s through prizes for the largest sales or leaderboards of salesperson performance.

Nonetheless, that’s not to say that sales leaders aren’t looking at new and more sophisticated ways of employing gamification to encourage certain behaviours from their teams. Indeed, organisations are increasingly deploying gamification to accomplish a variety of mission-critical business goals for salespeople.

Ken Krogue, president and co-founder of, notes: “We have found real-time dashboards and statistics in the form of leaderboards will immediately boost sales significantly. But you can also present challenges around real-time promotions or contests around an effort format (such as calls and appointments) and result format (sales closed). The ability to put statistics in real-time in front of the sales teams and then allow them to compete and to recognise for individual and team achievements has been very powerful.”

Equally as important is to drive staff engagement throughout the department.

“Businesses are taught to be customer-focused, but the real return on investment comes from engaging their own people. The most successful transformations aren’t just in deploying new technologies, but through changing employee mindset, behaviour and culture, to drive true change,” explains Maggie Buggie, VP global head digital sales and marketing, at Capgemini.

“Gamification is not just a solution or game, it is a method of actively engaging employees to drive business transformation. An increasingly engaged workforce can result in improved operational efficiencies, increased productivity and quality of service, increased customer satisfaction and retention, and increased revenue and profitability.”

CRM adoption

Peter Grant, CEO of CloudApps, adds: “Using game mechanics in the workplace encourages employees to innovate and excel in their daily tasks through recognising and rewarding positive behaviour. [In the] sales department, as an example, an employee will be rewarded incrementally for good work throughout a sales process. Entering basic contact details of a lead will register initial rewards and the more detailed the information that is added - such as the lead’s position within the company, to whom he/she reports - the greater the reward. This incremental model ensures that businesses can collect significantly more reliable data on current and prospective customers, allowing for a higher level of customer service and the optimisation of the sales process.” 

And the application of this model is gaining particular momentum with regards to the adoption and upkeep of CRM. User adoption has arguably been the biggest single obstacle to successful CRM implementation for the past 20 years. It doesn’t matter how comprehensive the technology is, and how robust the strategy, if sales reps don’t input data and keep records up to date, the whole project is kaput.

This is a problem, because CRM has emerged as a major competitive differentiator for sales success. With Nucleus Research estimating that CRM offers an average return of $5.60 for every $1 spent, it is unsurprising that investment in the technology is rising rapidly, with CRM usage having increased from 56% in 2012 to over three-quarters today.

Sean McPheat, MD of MTD Sales Training, believes that the challenge that organisations face is the very nature of the beast itself – sales people love interacting with people, not with CRM programmes.

“Many sales people would rather make an additional 10 calls per day or go out on another two prospect visits than update their records, especially as a lot of their commission is riding on the results that they achieve,” he explains. “Having said that, what the same sales people do not realise is that many of them miss out on following up with prospects, they forget crucial information and then using the data ongoing for marketing and farming purposes is a lot harder with incomplete or worse still, no records.

“’I’m getting bogged down with paperwork and admin when I should be out selling’ is a common complaint I hear all the time from sales people. Whether it’s the forms they need to complete or the entries onto a computer to fulfil a new piece of business or whether it’s entering updates into a CRM system, the salesperson at times does not seem to see past their commission cheque and the activity required to bump their salary up to the levels that they need.”

Often, sales people don’t like using CRM because they don’t see how using the system benefits them personally. All too often, CRM systems are viewed by salespeople as “a tool for managers to keep a close eye on their work” rather than a tool that enables them to be more successful.

Sales force gamification

Gamification, however, potentially addresses these issues and a growing number of sales leaders are now exploring how extrinsic rewards and recognition can improve adoption. The potential that this holds is such that Gartner has predicted an evolution from sales force automation to sales force gamification, with managers highlighting the intrinsic rewards of helping colleagues on the team through social indicators, while delivering appropriate extrinsic rewards for more mundane tasks.

“Game mechanics enhance the adoption of CRM tools, driving employees from adoption to addiction and in the process creating a transparent environment in which every member of staff becomes accountable for their individual performance,” says Grant. “Each individual will have a stake in the business and be encouraged to take ownership over corporate goals.

“Introducing game mechanics to CRM systems brings a transparency around the progress that individuals or departments are making with certain tasks. As a consequence, each individual has a clearer view of individual customer relationships and can pinpoint where they can add value to the process. Accounts can be managed seamlessly between different individuals within a department and sales process can be optimised to ensure that the customer gets the best possible service. The holistic view that such reporting systems provide allow businesses to synchronise sales, marketing and customer service departments to deliver a more comprehensive service to customers.”

One organisation that successfully employed gamification to encourage adoption and use of CRM is fleet management and financial services company LeasePlan.

Tom Brewer, then head of commercial performance, was appointed to oversee the rollout from start to finish. Positioned as a business change project, Tom recognised from the outset that it was much more than just a technical software installation. LeasePlan’s underlying goal was to boost sales efforts through the implementation of the Salesforce CRM technology.

“Deloitte recommended that Tom look at gamification as one option to create the ‘surety of user adoption’ right from the outset,” explains Tim Knight, co-founder of CloudApps. “LeasePlan didn’t want to take the traditional ‘hardline’ management approach to adoption as it generated concerns that it would detract from the excitement and anticipation that had built up prior to the launch of salesforce.”

And while Tom didn’t originally believe that he had a user engagement problem, the results demonstrated just what can be achieved by deploying behavioural motivation platforms:

  • 583% increase in contact scouting
  • 385% increase in overall engagement
  • 153% increase in activity completion
  • 843% improvement in team work

No panacea

Whether encouraging good sales practice, motivating staff or supporting CRM adoption, gamification is being put to good use across the sales department. However, gamification in the sales department is not without its challenges

“One of the main challenges is finding a process that actively engages different generations across the workforce,” warns Buggie. “Many workforces at the moment feature a mixture of the ‘baby boomer’ generation entering the latter part of their career, the ‘millennials’ who are just starting out but with an already developed wealth of digital skills, and all the workers in between. Sales managers need to address the different needs and preferences of each generation within the workforce to ensure engagement across the whole company, not just in one area.”

She continues: “There is a fine line when it comes to gamification for the enterprise. Businesses must figure out how to increase employee engagement through gamification while still focusing on improving the organisation as a whole. Make it too much about the game and employees can fail to see the benefits it has for their professional lives or get lost in the enjoyment of the game and fail to engage in the right way. Go too far the other way, focusing less on the enjoyment part of the process, and an organisation faces a lack of engagement from workers.

“Organisations must therefore find the balance, taking the fun aspects of games and applying them to real-life business processes. The aim is to positively influence human behaviour through game mechanics to drive deployment and transformation within an organisation.”

Indeed, gamification is no plug-and-play panacea, and there is also much work that sales leaders must also put in to ensure that gamification successfully incentivises behaviour change amongst their staff.

“Adoption of this approach requires careful planning,” emphasises Knight. “Simply sticking some badges, points and leader boards into your CRM system and expecting to see sales results improve will lead to failure. It is critical to make sure that you have planned ahead and that you have thought through the precise behaviours you seek to motivate and that these are well aligned to your business KPIs and outcomes.”

Knight believes that communication is the key to success - something that requires constant attention and nurturing. Therefore, having a pre-built communications plan will help drive adoption over the long haul.

He continues: “Make sure you have a strong plan for launching your initiative to your users so it is clear to them what you are embarking on and why. If you are transparent about what you are trying to achieve your users will be more inclined to engage and participate. Having an ongoing communication plan will help to keep engagement levels high.”

And Knight also recommends the following tips:

  • Resist the temptation to change every behaviour at once, keep it simple to start with and pick the five or six areas that need immediate attention.
  • Carefully consider the culture of your teams and make sure the theme and wording of the game match. For example, one of our customers in China have a young and predominately female team for which they selected the theme of shopping destinations as a good cultural fit. Another customer in the US with a predominately male and slightly older workforce selected baseball as the theme most likely to motivate and engage. Once you have selected the theme try and match the rewards to the theme.
  • Reward both the individual and the team. Creating competitions that motivate the whole team as well as competitions that motivate the individual will heighten engagement levels.
  • Reward little and often. Regular rewards will keep motivation levels high. Resist the temptation to just have one large ticket item as the prize, you will find that peer recognition is a stronger motivator than any prize you can give. It is the act of giving the gift that is important and the visibility to others, not the actual reward itself.

“Gamification is simply the dynamic used to create the outcome you seek by motivating the behaviours that will drive you to that outcome. In the case of sales, the typical outcome you seek is improved sales performance,” says Knight. “The inputs to this are increased user adoption of CRM systems, greater sales efficiency and improved sales effectiveness. What you really seek is not ‘gamification’ but ‘behavioural motivation’ and the lever to motivate sales people in a positive way is ‘gamification’.”

And while gamification has a long history with the sales department, it is now delivering even greater benefits thanks to increasingly sophisticated and focused deployments.

Knight concludes: “Where traditional methods are failing to drive adoption, sales leaders are recognising that a positive motivational approach is needed. Behavioural motivation platforms can help uncover what the precise behaviours are that drive the ‘winning way’ of your best sales people. They help you to determine the activities that your most successful sales people undertake. Not only does it uncover the ‘winning way’, but it also uncovers the cadence of the right activities and the timing of the right activities.

“Once you know the picture of the ‘winning way’ you can motivate all of your sales team to follow this best practice. Gamification provides that motivation, it nudges users to follow best practice and breaks down the sales process into a series of everyday steps. Gamification motivates users through points, progression through levels and by placing sales people on leaderboards.”

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