May 10th, 2013

No More Playing Around: The Pros and Cons of Gamification

Gamification-sales-training

The concept and practice of engaging people for business through games is not new. Marketing experts point to airline frequent flyer mile programs as an early form of gamification aimed at consumers. As for employees, pilots practicing and honing their skills using flight simulators is a good example of how training can be gamified.

How can companies with “normal” operating procedures (i.e., non-pilots) take advantage of gamification in their businesses? With the prevalence of gaming in our society — combined with ever-changing, cutting-edge technology — one could assume that the opportunities would be plentiful, which they are.

Gamification for employees is not filling a staff lounge with foosball and ping pong tables. If that fits your corporate (or anti-corporate) culture, then that’s fine for relaxation and a fun way to blow off steam or take a break with coworkers. Rather, as with the pilots in the example above, true gamification should be viewed as a means to not only enhance the sales training you provide your skilled sales team but also to extend the benefits of their learning by increasing knowledge retention.

As with most things in life, it is prudent to do your due diligence before diving in. Here are a few issues to consider when evaluating whether to adopt gamification for your business.

Why Gamification?

  • Entertaining. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t apply to training materials. Just because you send your sales reps home with training aids, guides, booklets, and maybe even access to online tools doesn’t mean they’ll want to use them. You could be wasting serious time and effort in training supplements that sit on the shelf or fail to rack up site visits and clicks.

With a gamification approach, you make routine tasks or learning a bit more enjoyable. If users want to play the game you’ve created, then you’ll keep their attention and interest while reminding them of what they learned and how to apply it.

  • Portable. In the not-too-distant past, a trained employee’s primary option for brushing up on their new knowledge and skills was to either directly apply those on a regular basis (which still yields the best results) or refer to guides and manuals from the training session. That might be okay for a very organized and disciplined person, but most people aren’t.

Training guides, manuals, and text books aren’t portable. When packing for a business meeting or trip, how often have you thought to yourself, “Gee, I’d better bring my training binder along to peruse on the plane”? Perhaps a quick-tip guide or pamphlet, but they are two-dimensional and contain limited amounts of detail.

  • Competitive. Is there a more competitive role in the workforce than sales? Draw on your sales reps’ natural competitive instincts and peer pressure to drive accountability, and reward the right behaviors.

Games by nature usually have a winner, loser, or at least some type of leaderboard to identify the best players. Use that to your advantage to coax your sales reps into playing the game. With progress of individuals, teams, or both made public, your sales reps won’t want to be the one dragging down their group. Of course, the competition should be in good fun and shouldn’t be used to shame or penalize players.

  • Managerial Insights. When your employees are participating in a gamified learning experience, managers can observe how often sales reps are playing and how successful they are. You can quickly identify those who are struggling and not advancing at the expected pace, those who aren’t playing at all, and those who are excelling at it. This enables managers to know where to spend their time in helping some while appreciating experts. These insights would be difficult to observe with sales reps using self-help guidebooks.
  • Rewards. The only thing sales reps might like more than a good competition is a valued reward. A key ingredient of any game is a reward — not only for finishing or winning, but also for achieving higher levels and making progress. Bragging rights among sales reps or sales teams might be enough, but consider investing in real, desired rewards for the best individuals and teams. Providing an incentive to perform well will ensure that the players play the game, thus exposing them to their learned content and extending the life and ROI of your training.

Cons of Gamification

  • Lack of Strategic Connection. You need to examine your objectives and decide if it makes sense to gamify the activity. Hopefully, the training program was relevant to your sales reps’ jobs and can be easily connected to your overall strategic goals and objectives. (If not, then you’ve got bigger issues.) If you can’t make those connections, then don’t bother with gamification and go back to the drawing board. Sales people are smart, and they will see through it and quit playing.
  • Frequency. Like anything, if you overdo it, then you defeat the purpose of the exercise. You don’t want the game to take over your sales reps’ activities and priorities. It shouldn’t be in their face distracting them away from their job. You don’t want a sales rep to fall behind because you’ve tasked them with playing a game too often or for too long.

Establish limits on playing time. The last thing you need is to get your sales reps hooked on your company’s version of Solitaire or Angry Birds. The best solutions allow users to quickly access the game, make their move, and then get back to their job. Like Richardson’s QuickCheckTM, this should occupy just a few minutes per day.

  • Quality. You can tell when a website hasn’t been updated since the last millennium. The same holds true for gaming. Don’t waste your time creating the next Pong — your sales reps won’t take the game (nor you and your objectives) seriously. In those situations, it’s no longer entertaining or competitive but rather coercive.
  • Budget and Resources. This is an extension of quality but deserves its own heading. If you’re going to do something, do it right. So many companies get dragged down into the rabbit hole on the losing end of “build versus buy.” Just because you have an IT department doesn’t mean they have the time, expertise, or resources to create an effective, high-quality game to supplement your training. Easily nine out of ten companies should buy from an experienced vendor that has kept up with the latest, ever-changing technology and can adapt your game for desktop, mobile, and tablet devices.

Keep It Real

You invested time, budget, and effort into training your sales team. We know that the information and skills taught in a classroom setting quickly erode over a matter of weeks. (We’ve written about the Forgetting Curve in earlier blog posts.) Gamification provides a way for you to leverage your training efforts by turning a finite classroom experience into a long-term refresher of what you want them to know or do differently.

Rapid development in online and mobile gaming continues to evolve and grow among users. Advances in programming and technology, combined with the prevalence of portable devices, make the time for leveraging gamification in a business setting ripe. The challenge is how to use it effectively.

For more on gamification, listen to an interview I recently gave to Top Sales World’s John Farrington. 

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Learn more about Richardson’s new sales training reinforcement tool, Richardson QuickCheck.

Sales Training Reinforcement Tool

About The Author: Dario Priolo

As Chief Strategy Officer, Dario Priolo is responsible for driving Richardson’s market, product, and corporate strategy and planning — sharing critical insights with clients to help them win in today’s changing market place. Dario gathers intelligence and market and customer knowledge to: drive Richardson’s innovation; ensure that Richardson offers the best and most relevant solutions for clients that exceed client satisfaction; and raise awareness of Richardson’s extensive capabilities with sales and business leaders.

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3 Responses to “No More Playing Around: The Pros and Cons of Gamification”

  1. May 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm, Brad "The Uber Geek" said:

    great article with some good insights. Another Issue I see a lot is games that are overly complicated or corny like every time you do x you get to make y move on this Monopoly board. Trust me when I say NO ONE is going to get excited about that. They may pretend to to keep you happy but they are all thinking what the hell is this on the inside.

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  2. July 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm, ramya said:

    great blog…..
    good explanation of gamification.
    nice to see all pros and cons of gamification in one blog…

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  3. November 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm, Danielle said:

    First off, I want to thank Dario for providing us with this valuable information.

    Brad, I see what you’re saying wiith regard to games being corny and overly complicated. I don’t think that gamification requires over-doing it. At Wheeldo – http://www.wheeldo.com – we made sure that the games we use for training are simple and take minutes. I think that’s the magic of gamification. It only takes one simple feature on the UI to engage the user. In addition to that, I think the games aspect is lost if those games do not provide any transparency to user-behavior. We’ve recently update our reports system so that sales reps and managers can view their behavior in the long-term and improve based on results that may or may not have worked.

    Anyway, I hope this information was valuable and would love to hear your thoughts.

    Danielle

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