Microsoft is integrating the sales gamification platform of its recent acquisition, Incent Games, into its customer relationship management (CRM) software. In other words, it’s turning its sales process into one big game, with the goal that making the work more fun will improve outcomes. But how well does this actually work?

Gamification is the idea of applying game theory and mechanics in non-game settings.  It plays on the psychology of games — the drive to compete and win, the behavior associated with certain small rewards like power ups — to make work tasks more enjoyable.

Microsoft’s latest acquisition and integration applies game theory to the sales department.

Lots of companies use contests to try to boost sales and revenues, but they’re often designed poorly, focusing on results rather than the behaviors that lead to those results.

Microsoft’s new program, FantasySalesTeam, chooses a different approach, incentivising many different parts of the sales process so that people have many opportunities to win and stay in the game. Using activity and results-based metrics keeps more people in the game, rather than just rewarding the top performers over and over again.

One criticism of the system is that it might take reps’ attention away from their work and focus it on the game, instead. Critics say that salespeople are already incentivised with salary, commissions, and bonuses, and that perhaps the problem is more one of big data than gamification: if data can be applied to a more comprehensive compensation management program, it could solve any incentivising problems.

But the results of FantasySalesTeam seem to speak for themselves. During a pilot testing program, reps who used the program closed 88 percent more sales at more than 200 percent higher average contract value.

Will gamification work for your business?

An increasing number of corporations in a variety of fields are incorporating gamification into their employees’ work day.

One reason this works is because, while work and play have many characteristics in common, the way people perceive them is very different. For example, in work when you are asked to perform repetitive tasks, you find them dull. But when asked to perform repetitive tasks in a game, you find them fun or engaging — just think of Candy Crush or Angry Birds as an example.

Some other areas where gamification changes the employees perception include:

  1. Feedback. Instead of a dreaded and loathed annual review the game provides constant, near real-time feedback that the employee wants to improve.
  2. Goals. Within a game, goals are generally extremely clear and easy to follow. The user knows what to do to move to the next level, earn points, or earn their next badge. Outside a game, work goals are often amorphous and ill defined.
  3. Compelling narrative. How often have you performed a job with no real connection to the reasons you were doing it? Within a game, there is a clear narrative that helps connect actions to results.
  4. Challenges and obstacles. Many times in a work environment, employees do their best to avoid obstacles and challenging situations; they want to maintain the status quo. In a game, however, new challenges and obstacles are relished and tackled on purpose.

Gamification is especially useful in areas including HR, education and training, team building, marketing, research and innovation, and now sales. In addition, it has the potential to change a great deal about how companies are run and performance is managed. With the aggregated data from an employee’s performance in the game, promotions, bonuses and layoffs have the potential to be much more transparent and fair.

In other words, say goodbye to the antiquated annual review, and hello to leaderboards and badges.

Bernard Marr Aug 25, 2015

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