The Key To Motivating Employees: Make Sales A Game

Gamification is the hottest buzzword of 2013–and with good reason. Done correctly, the new strategy is proving to be a powerful tool for inspiring the modern workforce.

The Key To Motivating Employees: Make Sales A Game

All right, we get it. Millennials are here to stay. And we know the stereotype: They’re competitive, impatient, unmotivated and, at times, lazy. But don’t judge too quickly, they are also quick-witted, smart, successful, and wildly driven. So how can we leverage the powerful traits of this growing millennial salesforce and put the negatives at bay?


Gamification. Wait, let’s rephrase. Meaningful gamification. Meaningful gamification is, in my opinion, the key to invigorating and controlling a wily salesforce, if done right. Unfortunately, more often than not, it’s just not working, with Gartner predicting that by 2014, 80% of current gamified apps will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design.

So what is that 20% doing right? First off, they realize that their purpose isn’t to “gamify.” It’s to help keep people focused on the right behaviors. Behaviors that will drive core business results, and motivate team members to collaborate, and maybe have some fun while they’re at it.

We’ve identified the three keys in creating effective gamification programs for millennial salespeople that will inevitably help to motivate teams and accelerate revenue: Use the game, change the game, win the game.

Use The Game

The first key to meaningful gamification, believe it or not, is to simply get salespeople to buy in. A sales team, especially the hard-to-please millennial salesforce, is fickle and will only participate in gamification that taps into their ambitious nature, yet also keeps them hooked.

Meaningful gamification tools must be simple. There are enough distractions in this world, so to keep employees focused, managers need to make straightforward goals. The last thing a manager wants is for their salespeople to pause and wonder, “Wait, what do you want me to do?” As soon as this happens, you’re doomed and your team will just fall back into past habits. Stick to 2-3 goals in the beginning and add variety throughout each team competition.


Competitions must also be entertaining. Millennials have short attention spans. They want a game that is actually fun; that will propel them to play–whether it entails updating contact information in, uncovering five more leads for the week, or taking a new product to market. Salespeople have a tendency of only adding the bare minimum data into a CRM system, and then never updating the info again. A simple gamification motivator could be to give one point for updating a sales opportunity with an accurate close date or adding a client email address. Every point is equivalent to an entry in a larger redemption prize, like a dinner for two or a new iPhone 5. You’ll be surprised with the quick results.

Change The Game

Great. So we’ve got these millennials committed to using gamification tools, given that the tools are easy to use, digestible, and fun enough. But we’re only partway there. Millennials are all-too-easily underwhelmed. They will quickly become bored with a tool asking them to do the same thing over and over, only to gain a few points here and there. To take things up a notch, we need to create a program that is a bit less expected; one that gets more granular to support key selling activities managers want tracked in a CRM.

Ditch the old-fashioned sales contests that only reward people for closing a sale–we’re already rewarding these through commissions and bonus plans. Instead, reward actions that actually facilitate the selling process–making more calls, having more face-to-face meetings, pitching a hot new product to clients. This can be especially powerful in promoting sales people to initially get out of their comfort zone, but end up locking down the largest sales.

Offer real-time results and feedback. This is key in keeping sales forces engaged. Leaderboards updated in real time are integral not only for those top sales people vying for the #1 spot, but also for the sellers in the middle, who simply want to one-up their friend sitting one spot above them on the chart. Millennials think in the present. If they have to wait until the end of the week to see where they stand on a leaderboard, will they be as likely to squeeze in those last few end-of-day pitches? Not so likely.

Drive collaboration. When we think of salespeople and millennials, we often see them as competitive and “in it for themselves.” Especially now with sales teams spread out nationwide and working from home, it is more important than ever for managers to dispel this competitive persona and infuse a sense of collaboration and teamwork. In creating competitions around one key initiative or one specific objective, managers are able to use the power of their entire force within one push. Offer sales people the opportunity to learn from their peers and to be motivated to help and educate others, so that the entire company wins, rather than simply the top sales person.


Win The Game

It’s no fun winning a game if there’s no pot ‘o gold at the end of the rainbow. If you follow the advice above–keep it simple and keep results top of mind–you don’t need outrageous prizes. People are more motivated by the competition and recognition than the prize itself. Trips to Cancun are great, but smaller, more regular motivational gifts can go a long way. Gift cards to clothing stores, dinner for two, half-day on a Friday, coffee and bagels for the team–these are all simple, lost-cost, but still enticing rewards. The key is in switching up the rewards and also sticking to the credit due. There is nothing worse than empty e-points that can never be redeemed for anything tangible.

It’s easy for anyone to get sucked into “shiny object syndrome,” and no group is more easily influenced by this than the millennial. They’ve grown up in a rapidly innovative world and absorb new ideas very easily. But as a business manager, you need to channel that energy appropriately to drive the results you need. So rather than fighting it, embrace their deep desire to be recognized, rewarded, and to collaborate with each other. Gamification tools have the opportunity to focus, motivate, and invigorate your millennials–but only if the content is engaging, the resources are effective, and the prizes are enticing. Meaningful gamification is the key, and once all these factors fall into place, managers will be seeing immediate results.

Bob Marsh is the CEO of LevelEleven, a sales gamification and CRM solutions company that has the #1 ranked gamification app on Salesforce’s AppExhange: Contest Builder. LevelEleven was incubated by ePrize, where Marsh managed sales teams for 13 years. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMarsh5.

[Image: Flickr user Tony Case]