The Science Behind Gamification & Field Sales

We’re not here to play games. Or are we? More and more sales teams are turning to gamification to boost motivation and increase performance. Why games? Well, we can start with the neurochemical basis. When you play a game, and you score a point, it releases dopamine—a reward chemical in your brain. That feels amazing. It’s a reward our bodies give us for succeeding. Games engage our own bodies’ reward system to inspire and motivate us to work a little harder, and be a little more creative in our approaches.

Other types of reward are harder to manage and slower to take effect. Constantly keeping sales teams amped up for a job that requires a lot of energy and enthusiasm is challenging, and not everyone responds to the same kinds of motivations. Millennials, for example, show a lot less interest in praise and even bonuses than their older counterparts.

Negative motivators are worse than ineffective positive motivators. When people feel stressed, they release a hormone called cortisol that actually reduces the brain’s ability to function because, when we’re in real danger, the brain bypasses the thinking areas of the brain and goes straight to the controls that tell us to run. It’s much better to keep people positively motivated, which gaming can do. And if you don’t believe me, remember what happened when they introduced a little game called Pokemon Go?

What’s Great About Sales Gamification

  • It shows a reps performance in real time. If somebody makes a sale, you award a badge and let everyone on the team know about it. They also might rise to a new level in the leaderboard—a public scorecard that shows how well players are competing against one another.
  • It creates camaraderie. Many sales reps spend all day in their cars, visiting stores. It’s hard to feel the support and connection of being on a team. Games acquaint you, even remotely, with the other reps and builds rapport. And yes, you’re competing against your teammates, but it’s friendly competition.
  • It lets the whole organization know how you’re doing in sales and keep everyone involved in a way that’s compelling and engaging. There are a variety of reports and dashboards that help in future decisions, but beyond that, they keep everyone connected with your success in real time which is another great motivator.

How Gamification Works

There are many gamification strategies but the basic idea is that everyone on the team has a profile and a score. If they make a sale, they earn a prize. This might just be a badge added to their profile. Badges add up and convert to bigger prizes. Ultimately there should be a physical reward, not just a digital one, for which gamers are competing.

Everyone has a place on the leaderboard and a successful sales call can move them up rapidly. It’s exciting to see your name jump up several notches. And if it falls, people generally don’t feel discouraged, they feel a renewed sense of drive to put their name back on top again. This is especially true for millennials who have watched themselves “die” in video games a thousand times and just take it as a driver to not let it happen again. Software can’t replace a good sales manager, but can sure take a lot of the pressure of motivation off.

The Right Way to Gamify

The games have to be fun, remember that dopamine and cortisol? You want people enjoying the competition, not cutthroat. Management is important in setting the tone. You also want to make a plan to get everyone on board. While millennials may be an easy sell, you will probably have some salespeople who don’t like the idea of gamifying what they do. You may want to give them the option of not participating. It could be, over time, that they’ll see the fun and rewards other sales reps are gleaning from the program and change their minds.

Games also have to be well thought out. You don’t want to just implement any gamification strategy and say “Go!” You need to make sure that the competition is based on key performance indicators (KPIs), has clear and consistent rules and outcomes. You also want to reward the steps leading up to the close of a sale. More recognition for the right early moves leads to more sales.

Incorporate the latest news about the game into weekly sales calls, emails, and the company newsletter. Think Fantasy Football or an organization pool. Gamification builds a connection.

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Bruce is the founder and CEO of RW3 Technologies. Having spent more than 35 years in the consumer goods and grocer space Bruce has experienced the industry disruption first hand and understands how artificial intelligence, POS data, and mobile technology can transform a good organization into a great one.

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