Build a High-Performance Culture Through Game Mechanics

Sales can be a lucrative and exciting profession, offering a great deal of freedom and the exhilaration of directly contributing to a company's success. But it's not for everyone. It requires a great deal of social interaction and the ability to communicate well. But more than that, it requires resiliency. Much like a batter in baseball, salespeople tend to lose more than they win. They face rejection on a daily basis. Prospects don't return calls and emails and often choose a competitor's solution without letting the salesperson know.

If a sales manager doesn't actively work to keep employees excited about their jobs, such rejection and failure can trigger problems like high absenteeism, high turnover, and decreased productivity. The truth is that the salespeople who receive the most rejections also typically sell the most. If a manager can keep a sales team engaged and prepared to weather the rejections, that team can ultimately see more success. How can sales managers get their employees excited to come to work? More and more managers are using game elements to achieve this goal, and to increase sales as well.

Game mechanics are increasingly taking hold as businesses look for new and better ways to keep sales teams engaged and promote desired behaviors. By adding rewards and recognition to the natural competitiveness of salespeople, managers can tamp down the turnover, absenteeism, and decreased productivity that can plague disengaged sales teams. As shown below, the consequences of each of these issues can be costly.

Turnover. Rates of turnover vary from company to company, but more important than the number of people leaving the company is who those people are. If the turnovers include your most productive workers, it's time to re-evaluate your commission plan, your engagement efforts, or both.

Absenteeism. American employers rack up an estimated $26 billion annually in lost production because of absenteeism. According to Gallup, disengaged employees in the U.K. are absent an average of 6.19 days per year, while engaged employees take only 2.69 days off. Employee engagement can therefore have a significant impact on a company's bottom line.

Decreased productivity. U.S. companies lose more than $300 billion annually to lost productivity due to employee disengagement. Research by Alan Dubinsky and William L. Cron of Southern Methodist University and Ronald E. Michaels of the University of Kansas has shown that productivity typically declines for salespeople approaching retirement or those who are burned out and don't believe they'll be rewarded for performance.

To resolve these challenges, managers need to build a culture of winning. Once a sales team grows used to winning, they bring a whole new attitude to their jobs. Each salesperson will expect to continue to win, and the confidence comes through. Often the best prospecting call is the one following a recent victory. But how do you create a high-performance winning culture? Game mechanics can play a huge role. Following are three ways to implement that.

1. Create an environment of immediate rewards and recognition. The time from the actual sale to the arrival of the next commission check can be weeks or months, long after the thrill of victory has worn off. Some organizations won't see complete data about employee wins until long after the fact, beyond the ideal recognition time frame. Software that monitors milestones can automatically reward employee accomplishments, whether it's rising to the top of a sales leaderboard or earning an incentive. This can enhance your team's winning attitude with every new sale.

2. Create an enthusiastic environment. At Dreamforce 2012 in San Francisco, JP Rangaswami asked a poignant question: If a game was modeled after your job, would anyone play it? If the answer for your sales team is no, you have some work to do. Game mechanics can tap innate competitiveness, make job practices more engaging, and create a sense of fun that drives enthusiasm. Leaderboards, contests, spiffs, and goals can all keep your salespeople eager for their next win. This is especially helpful for managers who aren't naturally spirited sales leaders.

3. Create a culture of success. Salespeople are drawn to the profession because they like to be on the front line making things happen. They thrive on the thrill of the hunt and aren't looking to do that behind the scenes. Recognition energizes them and keeps them going, but the whole team should share in a win. The social incentive (and pressure) of public recognition is likely to motivate each person to succeed. Of course, this needs to be done in a way that creates friendly competition, not resentment. When someone is recognized, it energizes everyone because they feel they will have a shot if they perform. Everyone is fine with competition if they feel everyone has an equal chance to succeed. Quotas, for example, are one equalizer, much like a golf handicap.

Game mechanics help sales managers change behaviors and keep employees engaged. In a profession characterized largely by rejection, game mechanics can help retain your best salespeople and keep them productive through friendly competition. With this in mind, here are six ways sales managers can keep their employees excited to come to work:

1. Make sure the playing field is level.

2. Provide clear guidelines and expectations (i.e., rules).

3. Reward and recognize in real time.

4. Post results for all to see (on a scoreboard, for example).

5. Celebrate success.

6. Ensure that everyone acts team first, individual second.

Take some time to evaluate your sales team and their level of engagement. By instituting game mechanics, you can save money by reducing turnover of your best salespeople, decreasing absenteeism, and improving productivity, but you can also increase sales by building a winning culture. So let the games begin.

Mike Smalls is the chief executive officer and founder of Hoopla.net. Hoopla's platform leverages enterprise data, advanced game mechanics, and sophisticated communication tools to cultivate a high-performance culture and drive results.

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