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The Gamification of B2B Sales: an introduction

The-gamification-of-salesA global wave of low employee engagement and a shift in values are putting the productivity –and profitability– of sales organizations at risk. It’s no secret that a solution to motivate sales forces to behave in ways that are aligned with organizational goals is urgently needed. In recent years, an emerging sales management practice to achieve that goal has emerged: gamification. However, if gamification is to be used effectively, sales leaders must begin by understanding it well.

The purpose of this article is to provide you an overview of an emerging business practice in sales management: gamification. To do this, I will start by explaining what is gamification and then move on to explore some areas where it can be applied in B2B sales.

What is gamification?

Gamification-DefinitionFirst and foremost, what is gamification? Let’s begin by recognizing that there is no formal definition. Gamification is defined in slightly different ways by researchers, practitioners and industry observers. For instance, Kevin Werbach – gamification expert and professor at University of Pennsylvania– defines it as “the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.”

Gabe Zichermann – author of several books on gamification such as “The Gamification Revolution”– has a different perspective. He defines it as method to solve problems and change behaviors. According to Zichermann, it “engages people and changes behavior with the best ideas from games, loyalty and behavioral economics.”

More recently, Brian Burke – Gartner’s analyst and author of “Gamify” – defined it as “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” As you can see, there is a plethora of definitions. Despite the range of definitions, I can recognize a common theme. Gamification is the application of game mechanics by organizations in order to achieve business objectives.

The variety of definitions indicate that it is a hot topic. In fact, gamification is no longer a fad but rather a growing trend in the business landscape. And, therefore, it should come as no surprise if you see your competitors embrace the concept. But why is gamification being embraced?


In my opinion, there are two equally important drivers behind its growth: 1) low employee engagement levels among sales and marketing professionals and 2) growing importance of intrinsic values.

You can read my comments about the wave of low engagement among sales and marketing people and its consequences in a previous post. 

morotWhen it comes to a shift in values, it can be said that extrinsic rewards are no longer enough to motivate employees. Nowadays, you need to pay more attention to intrinsic motivations. ProSales Institute’s research has clearly demonstrated that the carrot and a stick approach that relies on extrinsic or financial rewards – such as bonuses and commission – is not always the best way to motivate sales teams. It can even be counterproductive.

Our findings have been confirmed by two of the most influential motivational researchers Dan Ariely and Daniel Pink. They have shown that intrinsic rewards such as autonomy, mastery and purpose are highly valued and have a stronger impact on employee motivation than extrinsic rewards. 

The combination of these two trends triggered an urgent need to create fun and game-like work experiences in sales organizations. However, as urgent as it is, two questions remain: How to use gamification in B2B sales? And what are the core components of gamification? Let’s address the second question by taking a closer look at game mechanics.

game mechanics: points, badges, score boards…

According to Stefan Thorberg from The Inspiration Company – a leading gamification provider – there are five game mechanics typically used in business gamification programs. These include points, rewards, badges, scoreboards and levels. Although you will hear more about the details of each one of them during the upcoming seminar, here is a short description:

1. Points:

Points represent fictitious values. The important thing to remember about points is that they do not have financial or monetary value. The non-financial character allows for points to be equally measured even if you combine money, numbers and percentages. They are simply numeral points, which players earn and collect for their performance.


2. Rewards:

Just as points, rewards are also non-monetary values. Players earn rewards after one or a series of performances. Alternatively, players can get rewards in exchange for points. Rewards can be either physical (product, ticket to an event or a gift card) or virtual products and services (certificate or peer recognition).

3. Certificate/Badges:

Players can also be rewarded with certificates in the form of virtual badges, medals and trophies. These serve as a way to proof that a specific goal has been achieved and to provide instant gratification. Players can earn and accumulate multiple certificates/badges once they reach several levels.

4. Scoreboards:

Ranking system that keeps score on player’s performance. It can also be called leader board as it usually shows which players are leading the competition and which ones are not. They are a great way to visualize individual as well as team performance.

5. Levels

When a player has reached a goal or accomplished a number of tasks, a new world or level within the game can be started. The purpose of having levels is to keep players engaged after they master the previous level. Each level increases in difficulty and imposes new challenges to players.

So now that you are familiar with five game mechanics, it is time to explore how to put gamification to work.

Where to apply GAMIfication in B2B sales?

Wondering if you can apply gamification in B2B sales? The answer is Yes. If you listen to an online course on gamification by professor Kevin Werbach, you will find out that the areas in which gamification is commonly applied can be grouped into three domains or categories. These include customer facing, employee facing and change management (see table):

GamificationTableTable 1: Gamification in B2B sales: Application domains and objectives it helps to achieve.

1. External or customer facing

The first category has to do with applying gamification to acquire and/or engage customers or prospects. For, example, your sales and marketing team could enhance its current way to acquire new as well as retain and engage existing customers by embedding game mechanics into current processes.

Let me illustrate what I mean by using the case of Autodesk, a provider of B2B software products and services, as an example. At Autodesk, the sales and marketing department used gamification to increase free-trials of one its software. By incorporating game mechanics into their marketing campaigns, they were able to increase trial usage by 40% and conversion rates by 15%. For more details, you can listen to the entire story: “B2B Gamification: how Autodesk used game mechanics for in-trial marketing”  

2. Internal or employee facing

You can also apply gamification in an internal or employee facing context. Why not use it to motivate your sales team and to make sales training more engaging?

The goal is to help you keep sales teams focused on what matters – reach their quota. If used properly, gamification advocates promise you can avoid productivity drops and high turnover common in traditional sales teams.

A company called Snofly applied gamification on its inside sales organization as a means to deal with low engagement and high rep turn over. According to the white paper “Gamification Buyer Guide”, the percentage of sales reps meeting their quota went up to 50% from 45% and call quality increased from 38 to 51% after three months of using a gamification platform.  

3. Change management

The third and last way to use gamification is to support your sales change management efforts. As you know, change involves the adoption of new selling behaviors. Nonetheless, you also know that salespeople do not always embrace new selling activities and behaviors enthusiastically. Often, sales teams resist undertaking something unfamiliar or uncertain.

In this situation, why not use fun and game-like experiences to, for example, encourage adoption of CRM tools or adherence to a new sales process? A great example of gamification applied to sales change management is the gamification program adopted by a leader in the Nordic logistic industry: Bring. Called Bring Points, the program has been integrated in its lead generation and management process. Since the fall of 2014, Bring is encouraging the usage of the CRM system by giving away points and rewarding salespeople for using the CRM system when working on a lead.

Gamification and SALES LOGICS:

So far I have described the different areas in which gamification can be applied within B2B sales organizations. It is clear that in the B2B sales context games are not made to relax and entertain sales teams. Games are deployed to achieve concrete business objectives or goals.

If you consider using gamification to achieve business objectives, be careful not to fall into a common pitfall. The pitfall to use one gamification approach across two different sales logics: traditional and complex. A rookie mistake is to overlook the need to align the objective of the game with the purchase complexity of the business deals.

Have you consider that salespeople working in deals with low complexity – traditional sales – are driven by different factors than sales reps involved in complex deals? Consequently, games need to be designed taking into account what makes them tick. If you want to implement an effective gamification program, make sure you understand the different aspirations of traditional and complex salespeople.

In the same way, have you consider that the behaviors you want to reward will vary depending on whether you are managing traditional or a complex sales teams? While you might want to encourage and reward competition and perseverance in traditional sales, it will be counterproductive if you start rewarding value creating sales teams for these behaviors. In the case of complex sales teams; collaboration, teamwork and customer understanding are behaviors you should be rewarding.

Do you have a clear understanding of what motivates your sales team? Do you understand their desires and aspirations? Do you know how to reward them? Learn more about your sales team by looking into ProSales motivational model. 

Additional sources:

Conversation with Stefan Thorberg, The Inspiration Company. Friday 19, 2014

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