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The Gamification of Sales Force Training

by Karl Kapp

September 4, 2013

Research

by Karl Kapp

September 4, 2013

“The combination of various game elements and the documented business results shows that you can successfully use gamification to motivate and instruct a sales force on new products and features. As Scott Thomas said after the launch of the gamification solution, ‘I can’t tell you how many people are coming to me wanting another game solution.’”

One of the struggles many learning and development organizations have is keeping their sales forces up-to-date on new products and new product functionality. However, with the constant addition of new tools and new functionality, continually bombarding a sales force with online or stand-up courses can become burdensome. This was the problem faced by Scott Thomas, director of product enablement for ExactTarget.

Karl Kapp’s 3-part article on gamification

ExactTarget is a global marketing organization focused on digital marketing tools—email, mobile, social, and web—that was recently purchased by Salesforce.com. ExactTarget is a leading cloud-marketing platform used by more than 6,000 companies, including Coca-Cola, Gap, and Nike. For over a decade, ExactTarget has been working to serve and inspire marketers in all industries and all organization sizes by helping them better communicate with their customers. Marketers at their core, ExactTarget has always believed in the power of relevant and targeted marketing communications. 

Challenge

A few years ago, ExactTarget’s Scott Thomas was searching for a new tool for his product-training toolbox to help deliver instruction related to a new product. With a tight launch date for their MobileConnect product, Thomas found an interesting platform that he wanted to explore. He had played a free game—College Hoops Guru—on the platform and became intrigued by the possibility of using it to help train his sales force on the new MobileConnect product. The platform was a game-based interface called The Knowledge Guru.

Being able to show—rather than just tell—was critical to securing sponsorship of the game. Thomas’s own play of the College Hoops Guru demo game was a pivotal part of his success in convincing stakeholders that the game could have value. He saw how the game worked, and then communicated his experience to stakeholders. The other key was the game engine’s ability to track what learners were doing and how they were performing. The metrics sold the game.

Gamification solution

Users log into the game via the internet; the entire solution is hosted in the cloud. When players enter the game for the first time, they get a narrative that explains how the game works. The player must ascend a mountain for each topic. The game consists of three paths up the mountain to deliver a scroll of wisdom to the Guru: three paths, a different scroll each time (Figure 1). The game’s “mountains” are the instructional topics to cover. Each mountain has learning objectives associated with it.

Figure 1: The Knowledge Guru challenges you to bring forth the scrolls of wisdom

Players see their score as they answer each game question; there is also a leaderboard to document their progress (Figure 2). If players answer correctly, their score goes up. If they answer incorrectly, their score goes down. There are consequences, just like in real life. The Guru game engine used to create and house the MobileConnect Game has a detailed “backend,” allowing specific tracking of designated information. It enables a supervisor, learning professional, or other vested stakeholder to see how players are performing. If needed, the game can offer ad hoc support based on these results. An administrator can even drill down to see how a specific player is performing  and determine what they have accomplished, where they have struggled, and how much time they’ve spent playing in The Knowledge Guru platform.

Figure 2: The game-like interface clearly shows progress toward the final goal

ExactTarget deployed this solution as an optional activity that followed webinars on the product they were rolling out. They put together a marketing campaign that encouraged people to play, awarding prizes to daily high scores and to the overall winner. They also did a feature article on the overall winner, recognized as the MobileConnect Guru.

Business impact

The immediate benefit of a game over a traditional training tool is its allure. People wanted to play Knowledge Guru; they don’t always want to attend a training session. The result for the business was that, of all the launches done in the two years previous to the MobileConnect launch, the sales team built one of the quickest pipelines for this product. The gamification approach improved product knowledge and helped the team build the sales pipeline while simultaneously reducing call-response times.

Why it works

Repetition is the key to success within this platform as well as using the game elements of challenge and story. These are all key game aspects that motivate and instruct the learner. The learner is cast into a role that requires ascending a mountain by overcoming a series of challenges in the form of questions. The process is repeated several times and this repetition is what reinforces the learning that occurs as the learner receives feedback on his or her answer.

Conclusion

The combination of various game elements and the documented business results shows that you can successfully use gamification to motivate and instruct a sales force on new products and features. As Scott Thomas said after the launch of the gamification solution, “I can’t tell you how many people are coming to me wanting another game solution.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the impact gamification can have on organizations from a learning and development perspective. These case studies were gathered by Karl Kapp as he researched his latest book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice and the series is designed to illustrate real-world application of gamification and the resulting business impact.


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From a learner motivation standpoint gamification makes sense but it appears to create a compensation problem. If employees are completing the training on personal time they would be entitled to compensation. I don't want to put my organization at risk by employing a methodology that would have hidden costs.
There shouldn't be a compensation problem. Learning new product and improving selling skills is part of a sales person's job. In the case of this article, the sales people apparently are selling B2B or in some other situation where they are paid commission and bonus. They probably aren't punching a clock; they get compensated for time spent learning when they get their commission - if they aren't getting commission, they aren't selling, and they will soon be looking for another job. If they are selling in a brick-and-mortar retail situation, the company will need to arrange the appropriate time on the job, same as they would for a class. If the company won't do that, the sales people may either not do the training and not be effective (leading to their termination), or they will resent being told they must do the training on their own time and they will leave at the first opportunity if they do not see increased income as a result of the training or they may leave and take the training with them; either way, the company will lose sales, may have to pay the cost of high turnover, and generally will suffer for having an unfair policy. In my experience, companies always manage to get the workforce they deserve.
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