How to Use Gamification to Motivate Your Sales Team [real examples included]

June 5, 2020 Tarmo Tamm

Would you like to play a game?

The year was 1983, and those fateful words glowed creepily on a screen in front of pre-Ferris-Bueller Matthew Broderick. In this iconic scene from the cult-hit movie War Games Broderick’s character knew he had no business saying yes to the national defence computer that he had hacked into from home.

However, he did. And you know why?

Because humans love games!

If you weren’t around to learn that lesson from War Games in the ‘80s, you can digest a more contemporary version in the form of a recent study conducted at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Researchers hoped to learn whether elements of gamification serve to flip our inherent “play switch” that internally motivates us to perform.


Flip the Play Switch for Internal Motivation

All animals, the study presupposes, have a play mode that’s present from birth.

Flip that switch, and we go from serious beings to people who understand that what we’re currently doing is just for fun. The study cites the essential social and biological functions of this ability to change settings, including stress relief and relationship building.

The Aarhus study randomly divided 90 psychology students into three groups and asked them all to accomplish the same task. Each group discussed a set of issues surrounding student satisfaction on campus. Students took turns acting as a facilitator on a topic. After each item, the groups rated the arguments and the importance of the issue that they had been asked to discuss.

Group one was given a series of neat worksheets to aid in the task. Group two was assigned a colourful game board and large glossy playing cards to lead them through the exercise.

Each round’s facilitator got to move their game piece on the board based on the ratings they had received from their group members. Group three also got the game board, the glossy cards and the game pieces. But each player simply moved one square after taking their turn as a facilitator.

There was no performance-based difference in their gameplay.

What the researchers found was that both of the groups who were seated around game materials found the activity more exciting and engaging than the poor fools with the worksheets. Their tasks were the same, but as soon as it felt like a game, the participants enjoyed it more.

The Aarhus study concluded that humans become more intrinsically motivated merely by presenting an activity as a game.

What of all those points, badges and other ephemera that we’ve been told must be a part of gamification? They’re nice, but in this study at least they didn’t prove necessary. Instead, Aarhus found that merely presenting an activity as a game flipped the “play switch” on.

Fancy some American football at work?

If a university study isn’t enough to get you on board the gamification-as-sales-team-motivation train, buckle in for the story of David Schwall.

Schwall heads up inside sales for Berkshire Hathaway’s home building division, Clayton Homes, and decided to apply what he had learned from playing American fantasy football to the management of his team.

Looking for a way to boost his unit’s performance, Schwall created leaderboards using the data that was already available to him in Salesforce. The leaderboards displayed the top-performing reps in real time, and Schwall designed performance rewards for those who stayed on top of the board for a set period of time. He also added bonuses for other employee achievements that were tracked by the boards.

None of the performance indicators was new to Schwall’s team, but the game environment was. What he found was that the gamification of the sales tracking bumped up the unit’s productivity in a lasting way.

Schwall’s team increased its outbound calls by 18 per cent and doubled the rate at which it converted calls into appointments. In-person visits attributed to Schwall’s team went up over 200 per cent.

According to the Harvard Business Review, what Schwall’s employees liked was that the system seemed fair, and it kept their interest. Part of that’s likely due to the real-time nature of those leaderboards. Participants checked the leaderboards as often as every 5-10 minutes, HBR reports, and many stayed late or came in on the weekend to work on upping their rankings. HBR quotes one employee as saying “When I saw one of my colleagues leaving, I thought — ‘Yes, now I can catch up and climb above him in the ranks!’”

HBR also notes that the fantasy sports connection seemed to smooth out some of the common pain points of hyper-transparency in sales teams. Sometimes the level of detail that Schwall’s team knew about their fellow sales agents can feel dehumanising to employees. But in the context of a game, it felt familiar.

As one employee said to HBR, “I’m used to seeing scores in sports, so I guess I didn’t really mind being publicly scored…”

Score another point for fantasy sports training when it comes to sportsmanship. HBR reports that Schwall’s team engaged in an expected level of trash talk, but that is was self-policed both in volume and content.

Get a game board and go!

As the Aarhus researchers learned, game boards, flip the play time switch inside the brains of most humans. Gem, an outsourced service provider in Belfast, had similar findings when it placed its employees’ statistics on a real-life game board.

The Gem crew created a series of creative, visually appealing wallboards to motivate their employees. The boards displayed real-time data and were designed in concert with the employees whose statistics would populate the board. One board example, the snakes and ladders board, turned each agent into a mini character. This particular board was used to motivate appointment setting amongst agents. As such, each time an agent scored a new lead as an appointment, they were able to roll a pair of electronic dice and move around the board. When they made it to the finish line, a prize awaited them.


Learn to play the game

German automobile manufacturer Audi decided that to get employees in its partner companies engaged in training, they may have to learn to play the game. Audi Virtual Training is built like a video game and includes an avatar who users navigate through a typical day. That includes working with customers and trying to close sales.

The conversations that take place within the game come from real conversations and genuine customer feedback provided to Audi dealerships. The training that the game delivers are all optional, so the goal of gamification was to make the learning fun and desirable–something the sales agents would want to do since they weren’t required to do it.

Audi also developed the games to work well outside of the dealership environment. They don’t need to be played on work time or at the office. Instead, sales agents can play on their smartphones or tablets, and they can play from home or on the road. That flexibility, Audi hopes, will motivate better participation in the voluntary training program. And it looks like that may happen.

The training game’ has been a success thus far. Almost 600 dealerships have booked training sessions, and the feedback that’s come in has been good with participants sharing that they liked being able to feel like they were playing as they learned.

Boom goes the gong!

The story of how ON24 used gamification to motivate its sales team could be heard across the company. Literally.

On24 is a company that offers cloud-based webcasting to hundreds of organisations across the globe. Their sales teams are spread across eight offices internationally in North America, Europe and Asia. ON24 set was looking for ways to increase performance within its sales teams, without making a change to its sales headcount. They chose to try infusing their sales-team motivation efforts with a touch of gamification to boost engagement and output.

To get started, ON24 gave each of its sales reps individual goals surrounding the booking of meetings and calls. Reps were also tasked with promoting a particular product in addition to their other goals. Next, ON24 created interactive leaderboards that tracked the performance of 75 sales reps across several sales teams.

Whenever any one of those sales reps set a meeting or completed a call, a gong sounded in every ON24 sales office across the globe. That means that with every little step of progress toward an individual employee’s personal sales goal a gong went off in an office in Charlotte, North Carolina, in one in New York City, in one in San Francisco and in each of ON24’s European offices.

The sound was followed by an instant update to the boards tracking employee progress. And the gong was music to ON24’s ears; the experiment resulted in a 525 per cent increase in meetings set, a 250 per cent increase in the number of sales leads in the pipeline and a 100 per cent increase in bookings.

There’s verifiable evidence Gamification works and can boost sales performance. Though you may not need to go full bright with all the gamification elements such as avatars, points, badges, and leader boards, the simple notion of a game-setting can do wonders in skyrocketing sales. Oh, and don’t forget, celebrate those achievements when your team exceeds their targets.


Happy gamifying!

Tarmo Tamm

Tarmo has sold at least 12 different products and services and worked as a Sales Manager on at least 14 projects. The efficient practices described in this book have been successfully implemented for B2B and B2C. These principles have been tested over the phone, in conference rooms, implemented in retail business, at shopping malls as well as in door-to-door sales.