Do you love to win, or hate to lose?

As a sales manager turned entrepreneur, it’s a question I’ve always asked my employees - especially sales reps. So, I was surprised to hear that very same question posed to tennis superstar Serena Williams in a recent interview. Her answer? The same as the hundreds of sales professionals I’ve asked over the past few years: “Hate to lose.”

The desire to succeed that we see in professional athletes, and that we learn growing up playing sports and games, is essential to sales. Are salespeople and professional athletes fueled by the same competitive spirit? Definitely. A sale is a game. To succeed at that game, and more to the point to avoid losing, you have to fight your way into a win. If you’re in sales, you’ve probably heard the line, “The sale starts when the prospects says no." That’s when the competitive fire kicks in.  

Gamification: Work it or lose it.

Sometimes that competitive spirit gets lost. After nearly 10 years of building a strong sales team within ePrize, a large digital engagement provider, I realized something was missing. It wasn’t just our own sales team. Other VPs of Sales at other companies agreed that the competitive spirit was lagging.

I had an idea. Sales professionals are hypercompetitive people who get revved up by dynamic, real-time competition. Why not create contests and high-impact leaderboards to motivate them? I’m not talking whiteboards, spreadsheets, or CRM reports that are considered longtime motivational pillars in sales. (Frankly, they’re a giant pain in the butt to administer.)

I’m talking real-time digital leaderboards--the kind that offer options for personalization. That includes 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. Some call it gamification. I just call it making things happen so you can hit your number.

We saw immediate results, with a 230 percent spike in sales.

It took us three months of around-the-clock work, but we created an app, called Compete, that we thought would do the trick. It runs within and allows sales managers to design competitions based on very specific goals. Whether a manager needs to drive adoption, or rally their team around key sales initiatives, managers could now build an engaging competition around that goal. They’d simply download the app by visiting the AppExchange, and have access to creating as many competitions as necessary, for any given duration.

While at ePrize, we saw immediate and remarkable results with the app--a 230 percent spike in sales over one summer. It quickly became clear that we had more than a side project on our hands. We had a business to fulfill a market need. We hit a true gap in the market. We decided to build a new company around Compete, and established LevelEleven in October 2012.

Buzzword aside, the trend’s picking up speed as big companies adopt it.

I wasn’t the only one who realized the potential windfall of creating compelling workplace competitions to motivate sales teams. There were other players in the market tackling the same issue, including Hoopla,Badgeville and Bunchball, who called the trend "gamification."

Technically, LevelEleven falls under the category of gamification--but we’re sensitive about it. That’s because gamification has become a buzzword that describes slapping on badges and shelling out awards. And that falls incredibly short of what we and other players do to inspire sales reps and help teams get far beyond what they thought they were capable of.

Lately, the gamification trend has really picked up speed. In the past year, we’ve seen major corporations and businesses deploy gamification and CRM-based solutions across sales teams to drive better results. Aetna, Cisco, Comcast, OpenTable, and even Spotify are big brands using gamification.

We can all agree that regardless of the terminology used to describe it, the concept is sound. Running competitions within the workplace creates a fun and energetic environment. It helps make goals and incentives incredibly transparent. And it encourages people to change their behavior. Importantly, it makes a salesperson’s work visible to their peers and managers. You can’t beat the motivating force of that. 

It worked for the Detroit Pistons.

Given that salespeople are ambitious and competitive by nature, you’d be smart to use that to your advantage, whether you’re a startup or a growing company. If you want to motivate them to focus on the right things and to drive your bottom line, take advantage of the software and app offerings available to make your gamification campaign as dynamic and seamless as possible. You can use competition to achieve anything from progressing your sales pipeline to making sure every contact record has a completed "industry" field. Competition in the workplace can provide serious ROI. Don’t believe me? Look at the Detroit Pistons.

Last summer, the Detroit Pistons’ ticket sales team was looking for new ways to engage reps day-to-day on key products they wanted them pitching and closing, all of which was tracked in their CRM system. They decided to use an enterprise gamification app to run a contest instead of the traditional spreadsheets and whiteboard strategy.

When comparing a contest they ran within the app to one run outside, the team experienced an 18 percent increase in actual ticket sales. They built another contest, this time around selling a key product: single-game suites. Real-time leaderboards and ongoing updates kept selling the suites top of mind. In six weeks, the Pistons reached $500,000 in sales--half of their annual sales goal.

Our competitive nature hasn't changed, but the way we compete, in real-time, has.

For years, managers have been trying to get the full potential out of reps by running old-fashioned competitions. We all remember the classic 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, which tells the story of four salesmen desperately competing in a "sales contest" that offers a Cadillac for the winner and job loss for the two lowest performers. While the Glengarry Glen Ross story isn’t the recommended approach, the psychology behind why competitions work as motivators hasn’t changed much.

Sales contests aren’t new to the industry. But the way we run these workplace competitions to get sales reps engaged and connecting with their leads is evolving rapidly. Today we can run competitions that are dynamic and digital, making them that much more efficient for managing and effective for motivation. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?