Gamification and Sales Automation

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Anyone interested in the direction that business applications are evolving toward these days will have encountered the term “gamification.” In addition to the fact that my spell checker insists on changing it to “ramification,” I don’t much like the word—it seems a little too contrived. But, gamification looks like it is here to stay, even though experts have widely different views about what gamification is.

The basic idea is simple. People like games, but they don’t like work. Games are fun—so put key elements of games into work, and work will become fun. Too much of a stretch?—I don’t think so. I think gamification fits extremely well with computational selling (sales automation, sales force automation, etc.) In fact, I have always been downright enthusiastic about the idea.

Gamification owes its name to a British geek called Nick Pelling and dates to around 2002. It’s been popularized by a generation weaned on video games who have now entered the work force. But there is nothing too mystical about the idea. This is what Andrzej Marczewski says in his nice introduction to gamification:

I will be honest. The word gamification is a ridiculous one. It does nothing to help you sell the idea to people. My advice is to concentrate on words such as engagement, motivation, behavioural change, and productivity.

Those last few activities should be the end goals of computational selling systems—engagement, motivation, and productivity through behavioural change. But there are dozens of ways to skin the cat. Here are a few areas that come to mind that work well with some game mechanics built into them.

Data collection and retrieval

I’m going to distinguish between objectives of CRM and SFA, both of which have gained reputations among salespeople as being top heavy in the data entry department—salespeople would rather sell than fill in forms. That’s OK, but sometimes you can’t avoid it.

The central tenet of CRM is to amass and use customer data. Quality data has to be carefully scrutinized and part of the responsibility for that will come from the sales force. Gamification can help—it relies on clear goals and rules of play. Establish the rule book companywide on what good customer data is, and reinforce it through rules and help facilities in the sales and CRM applications.

SFA to my mind is more about computation of the sales process. Again, follow gaming practice and establish a common, well-defined and respected sales process. Map it out in your SFA application. Build workflow enforced strategy planning. Everyone in the sales team must follow the process because they have to. Yes, even gamification has mandated activities. But, if the game elements are introduced correctly, users will know what to expect and adhere to the rules and there will be adoption.


Modern gaming depends on video and computer graphics and is predominantly visual. Visualization can bring the sales process alive to the extent that the salesperson is eager to record another opportunity because it’s fun to see it take a personality in a machine, whether a computer, tablet, smartphone, or whatever.

What is the sales cycle? Do the salespeople know what it is? Well, it’s an arrow, a linear depiction of time passing. Your app should visualize it, make it front and center, draw it, animate it, update it, compare it. Show the start and end points, and duration. Show three parts of the arrow representing the natural phases of the sales cycle. If the sales cycle shortens, then the length of the arrow changes—it’s nice to see that happen dynamically. If you have 20 sales cycles you see twenty arrows of different lengths. Draw a line through them that represents today. Salespeople like this stuff and respond well to it. It’s fun in a game, and it’s fun in a sales app.

Intelligent systems

Even a smartphone has enough power to be intelligent. I read that gamification increases the velocity of feedback loops to maintain engagement. I agree—we do that in ASPEC, and it’s powerful. Using a well-designed sales model crafted in the computer we can get real time constructive feedback and assessment of the progress in a sale. That’s a WOW, and one of the most convincing arguments for using game mechanics for sales automation.

Building a compelling narrative

A sales opportunity is always accompanied by a story. The story sets out a thread woven from interactions between customer and salesperson (and their competition). The story is influenced and changed many times through the sales cycle. The objective is to create a winning story. Use gamification to make sure that the way to winning is clearly understood. A good story built using our intelligent system and proven sales process can be more easily followed using the principles of gamification. The salesperson is an essential part of the story, but so is the game of the sales process.

A good way to review the progress in the sale is to break down the story at a point in the cycle and reassemble it in the computer—then compare the two viewpoints. Often, this exercise leads to salespeople recognizing looming problems or breakthrough strategies they had previously missed.

Competition, Incentives, Analytics

Competition is an essential feature of gamification. As SFA and CRM systems are shared, it’s easy to build competitions that can be played in a real time scenario. Who is leading in won opportunities over the first quarter? Who has generated most business this year for product xyz? Competing with oneself can also motivate. Set up personal goals for selling product, accessing accounts or reducing discounting.

Analytics are often tied to this kind of activity, but analytics can also point to more attractive selling options. Maybe sales opportunities are discovered too late in the buying cycle, or a salesperson can be avoiding up front work in the probing phase to rely more on a strong close. Creating information, processing it and presenting options to the salesperson are all features of game, and can be carried one with effect to sales automation systems. Salespeople love this stuff—it reinforces that putting good data in can get real, helpful information and guidance out.

So, there are a few thoughts on using elements of games in sales apps. I have a few detailed examples that I would like to show in future posts. I am a believer!

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