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3 Ways to Keep Sales Gamification Healthy

If carefully executed, contests can keep your team members motivated, enhance their skills, and improve their communication.
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You've run what you might call the typical sales contest, with spreadsheets to track points earned and cash offered to winners. But that format is actually not so typical anymore. Today, contests involve apps and digital leaderboards and personalized badges. This evolution makes you wonder: Is "sales gamification" unhealthy for sales teams?

In certain cases, the answer is yes.

When sales leaders constantly pit members of their entire team against one another in one-size-fits-all competitions, for instance, the same reps end up getting an ego boost seeing their names atop the leaderboard, while others find discouragement at the bottom. When management only publicly recognizes those falling behind in competition, they incite negative morale. And the cases when leaders don't take advantage of the communication opportunities that leaderboards open? Unfortunately, they're all too common.

You could try to choose from hundreds of resources for help in avoiding these and other crucial sales gamification mistakes. Instead, save yourself the overwhelming process by starting with these three best practices:

1. Don't just run sales competitions. Use them to coach the team.

Simply running competitions via leaderboards around the office isn't going to effect beneficial change in your sales environment. You need to get conversations going with a positive spin, by asking salespeople questions like: "You should be rocking this leaderboard, so what's going on there?"

A well-executed competition can also inspire reps to open the lines of communication themselves. Let's say a usually lethargic sales rep knocks on your door and says, "I'm not okay with being at the bottom of the leaderboard. Can you give me some advice?" Since the competition motivates a critical sales behavior--like moving prospects to a key stage in the sales funnel--you answer by doing more than just coaching that rep to win. You teach your team sales strategies and share insights.

Sound ideal? Publicly display leaderboards, keep your door open, and you can expect it. The Monterey Company, a California-based lapel pin company, can attest to that. Two weeks into its first competition, the rep at the bottom of the leaderboard approached Paul Stark, the company president, to ask for help moving up. Stark offered ongoing coaching from there, and the rep took his advice seriously. The rep didn't win that specific contest, but he continued using what he had learned long after the competition had concluded.

2. Open opportunities for peer mentorship.

There will be times when reps just don't feel comfortable approaching their superiors for advice. That doesn't mean they won't seek mentorship elsewhere. Sales gamification can inspire reps to approach their top-performing peers for coaching, too.

For example, say low-performing reps hesitate to take a new product to market. They're nervous to pitch it until they see colleagues higher on the leaderboard selling it. When reps see that a new product can be sold successfully, they'll ask those top performers for tips and tricks, generally becoming more comfortable with the task at hand.

3. Restructure competitions as needed.

Don't limit your gamification strategy with one-size-fits-all designs, in which all team members compete against each other time and time again. If you do, the primary product of the competition will be burnout.

Instead, break up competitions according to performance levels. The most basic way to do that is to create three different versions of a contest--one for top performers, one for middle-level performers, and one for bottom-level performers.

With this structure you won't have reps at the bottom of the leaderboard staring at the same faces that consistently dominate the top and thinking: I have no chance to win, so why should I even try? Rather, individuals will compete against others on their level, which will help to raise everyone to levels higher than they would reach in a one-size-fits-all competition.

Building competitions to motivate specific behaviors, like making calls or booking meetings, can change your team's habits. At the same time though, make sure to keep focus on your own habits. Leverage the communication opportunities that sales gamification offers and structure competitions carefully. You'll not only be maintaining healthy gamification but ensuring healthy results.

IMAGE: Alamy
Last updated: Dec 18, 2013

BOB MARSH | Columnist | CEO and Founder of LevelEleven

Bob Marsh is the CEO and founder of LevelEleven, which gamifies CRM with high-impact competitions. The company's flagship product, an app named Compete that creates contests within Salesforce.com, has been widely adopted. Marsh is an established thought leader in the sales management and enterprise gamification space. A native Michigander, he is passionate about revitalizing and nurturing the startup ecosystem in Detroit.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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