Bert Lui
Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at SetSail
Table of contents:

Five years ago, sales gamification looked like an exciting, innovative platform for motivating rep productivity.

What better way to supercharge your people than through provocative fun and games?

By 2015 more than 70% of the Global 2000 had at least one gamified application in place. But the truth is, only about 20% of those had any success with the approach.*

Today less than 4% of 225 companies surveyed are happy with gamification’s performance and maturity.**

Why? Most gamification solutions fall short in four areas:

  • They lack intelligence, so they’re easily gamed
  • They fall victim to typical competition dynamics
  • Their motivational properties don’t scale
  • They don’t deliver consistent ROI.

But before we dive into the shortcomings, let’s establish some context.

What is sales gamification?

Sales gamification turns ordinary tasks into game-like adventures, through the use of elements like points, badges, leaderboards, and levels.

Their intent: Improve rep productivity through competition, motivation, and engagement.

Since these things are already a big part of any sales play, you’d think adding a “strategic entertainment” layer would be a great approach for amping sales teams.***

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Design is key

Put simply, game design needs to align with your org’s goals.

According to the analyst firm Gartner, most sales gamification setups fail because of poor design—not being able to identify and measure against key business problems your organization is looking to solve.

In sales, the ultimate goal is about driving business results through changes in not only rep behavior but customer behavior, as well.*

But rep behavior change requires a specific environment to thrive: definitive objectives and clear, immediate rewards that tie directly to actions taken.

The aim of most gamification programs has been to drive a spike in rep activity. But that activity usually doesn’t have a strong correlation to business results.

Sales gamification lacks intelligence, so it’s easily gamed

Most gamification is a quantity play, in terms of measuring rep actions. The higher the action volume, the greater the rewards.  

Unfortunately what you often see is a rep simply going through the motions just to score prizes.

For example, if you reward reps who spend the highest number of hours on the phone during the week, you may find your winners have stuffed their call slots with long conversations involving low-level customer contacts that generate zero outcome.

The converse: If you reward reps who make the largest bucket of calls, you may end up with very short conversations that hold no substance … and again, no outcome.

Neither type of call focuses on relevant, action-producing content. It’s often a case of rewarding reps to talk just for the sake of talking.

Sales gamification falls victim to typical competition dynamics  

As with other kinds of contests or SPIFF setups, you can encounter competition-fueled glitches when you try to gamify sales teams.

The same reps will win every time—and they’re not the reps you necessarily need to motivate. Your winning reps will typically always perform, no matter what.

Also, reps stop caring when they fall behind. The day you announce a game, everyone is psyched. But then the same reps will always drop out of contention.

Worse: Seeing themselves at the bottom of a flashy leaderboard, they’ll usually become demotivated.

To combat this, it’s important to track and reward measures that drive deal progress and that target your average reps, not your top performers.

Sales gamification’s motivational properties don’t scale

Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing a sales activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward.

Some examples in a sales gamification context:

  • Playing a video-game contest because you enjoy the challenge.
  • Participating in a sport-themed challenge because you find the activity rewarding.

But is intrinsic motivation truly what will get a rep to “up” his or her game, just because tasks are presented in an entertaining way?

That would be a no.

When a company uses sales gamification to build energy and loyalty by simply theming tasks, reps may be into it for a while, but their hustle won’t last in the absence of significant rewards.****

Sales gamification doesn’t deliver consistent ROI

As with most company initiatives, you need to measure return on a sales gamification program. If you’re not incrementally shifting your reps up a performance level, it’s probably not worth your money.*

In fact, in a survey of 225 firms, gamification was the one solution category that correlated with a drop in performance confidence.


AI is the answer  

Right now, sales gamification basically lacks the AI required to reward reps on an individual basis for high-quality sales actions.  

But AI-enabled incentivization does reward reps for calling and emailing the right customer contacts with the right content to create the right outcomes.

And that’s where SetSail comes in. The platform is all about rewarding rep action quality, not quantity.

This is done through analysis of language and data found in reps’ emails, calendars, and CRM entries. Then creation of a set of micro incentives, tied to small and large actions—quality actions— on the deal spectrum.

So for instance, if you can incentivize a rep to do what it takes to set up a call with a VP-level contact, the length of the call itself really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is what’s talked about in terms of pushing a deal forward—such as persuading that VP to nominate one of their directors to be your champion.  

The data sets parsed by SetSail during these conversations determine if your rep is meeting the action parameters for the task—which can lead to immediate rewards for the rep.

And in this context, immediacy is key.  

Creativity is king

The secret to establishing continuous momentum in a campaign?  Creatively determine what kinds of incentives will influence your people in this moment.  And the next moment. And the next.

Consistent, ongoing incentives. They can create the biggest productivity lever you’ll have the good fortune to pull.  

Ready to experience a more productive alternative to sales gamification? Request a SetSail demo here.

* Fast Company: Why the Gamification Trend Fails at Most Companies

** SetSail and Modern Sales Pros Data Survey Report, April 2020

*** Can Gamification Boost Small Business Sales Team Productivity?

**** The Truth About Gamification