I'll be the first to admit that gamification sounds gimmicky, and frankly I'm not a fan of the term. But in 2014, sales gamification--which we define as the application of competition and leaderboards to motivate sales behaviors--has evolved beyond just a trendy buzzword. Don't believe me? Look at how corporate giants such as SAP, Comcast, PayPal, and Stanley Black & Decker are tapping gamification to inspire sales teams. Some of the country's best and brightest companies have leveraged gamification theory and produced legitimate business results.

Plenty of skeptics have voiced their opinions, too, however. Concerns that employee gamification programs are a limited method of engaging employees have received a lot of press attention lately. In fact, the former Wall Street Journal reporter Farhad Manjoo recently referred to gamification as "an ugly neologism that has seen terrific hype and terrific backlash in Silicon Valley over the past few years." It's a valid point, only because there is such a lack of understanding across the market. In one too many instances, companies become too focused on slapping badges and rewards on every little project. They miss the bigger picture and don't realize the potential of gamification.

How Gamification Can Work

The key to successful sales gamification is understanding when and how to apply it so sales teams focus on meaningful behaviors that address key business objectives. Think of the oldest sales management trick in the book: the sales contest. That's very close to what people would label as gamification, especially today when contests can be managed in real time right within a company's CRM system.

Still not sold on the idea? Consider the following four benefits you can use gamification to produce.

1. Amp up competition

Salespeople are competitive by nature. Running contests via gamification apps allows sales managers to tap into their reps' ambitious side. In most cases, it isn't the contest prize that encourages sales reps to succeed; they're fueled by the competition itself and an opportunity to see how they stack up against their peers in an objective way.

Take, for example, HelloWorld, a leader in digital engagement that works with some of the largest brands in the world. The company used gamified competitions to support sales of a new product last summer. It was having difficulty getting its more than 100 salespeople to pitch a mobile product recently brought to market and wanted a new and different way to inspire them. Once contests were up and running via a gamification app, the HelloWorld team increased sales of the new product by 230 percent. The big incentive? A dinner out for the winning sales team. Oftentimes, recognition is enough of a reward.

2. Encourage collaboration

The sales landscape has changed. More sales reps work remotely than ever before, leaving them devoid of collaborative company spirit. By running integrated sales contests, reps who work in field sales offices can feel more connected to their entire team.

Businesses like Dyn, a New Hampshire-based technology firm, have seen gamification promote global bonding. Sales reps who had never met prior to the competitions started regularly congratulating and getting to know one another as they began competing against one another. And when they collaborate, best practices start rolling in, which helps everyone win together.

3. Open mentorship

Stemming from the collaborative element of gamification is the opportunity it creates for increased employee dialogue regarding challenges and best practices. When employees see where they rank on the leaderboard for different contests, they'll get a better sense of their own strengths and weaknesses, because the ranking is based on objective data. More often than you might expect, this inspires bottom-level performers to seek out coaching from either their sales leaders or top-performing peers. It doesn't discourage; it actually inspires.

4. Create an engaging workspace

I've been in sales for more than 20 years, so I know firsthand how challenging a career it can be--and how rewarding it can be when done right. Though the wins are financially and emotionally exciting, the dead ends can seem paralyzing. Adding a dose of healthy competition helps combat that feeling of disappointment (or, in some cases, boredom). Gamification creates a more captivating work environment.

Remember a few years ago when a Gartner study predicted that by 2014 most gamified apps would fail? Well, here we are in 2014. The gamification space is flourishing, and where the concept is used effectively, sales teams are producing more quality, dynamic work as a result.