“Gamification” has been a rallying cry for the last year, perched at the top of the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” of Gartner’s Hype Cycle. New generation of sales reps have grown up with online games. They thrive on the sense of engagement, storytelling, character identification, immersion, problem solving, and feeling of accomplishment offered by games. But, that’s not to say that seasoned sales reps are any less receptive to gaming. In fact, 26 percent of gamers are over 50, which is an increase from just 9 percent in 1999 1.
While it’s hard to dispute the popularity of games, it’s becoming equally difficult to dispute their instructional value. A meta-analysis of 65 studies and 6,476 trainees found computer-based simulation games to be more effective than traditional approaches by any measure, including 20 percent more effective in ability to complete training-related tasks 2.
One company employing game mechanics to improve sales performance is Avaya, a Fortune 500 global leader in business communications. Its sales leadership was faced with the challenge of validating knowledge on critical skills in realistic simulated scenarios. The skills ranged from strategic account planning to sales call preparation, and from presentation skills to product knowledge. The responsibility to assess Level 1 sales skills fell to Rhonda Duesterberg, Global Sales Enablement Sr. Manager. “Our solution was a series of spy-themed learning and assessment games,” says Duesterberg. “Points, highscoring lists, badges, levels, cut-scenes, and storytelling are used to validate and reinforce sales skills."
Working in partnership with game and simulation leader Gronstedt Group, Avaya has developed an entire suite of the popular sales games. “These challenges reinforce previous training and provide our reps with an opportunity to apply and demonstrate those skills in realistic simulated scenarios with fun-filled game mechanics,” explains Michelle Bigham, Program Manager at Avaya, who manages the development of the programs.
Each game opens with a fast-paced video trailer. The “mission” is presented with a dramatic video by a “commander” who introduces the challenge and the main protagonist. In one of the challenges, Avaya reps journey through the story of how Cindy develops a value proposition for a global financial service client while she’s being pursued by an evil competitor. The story is told through live-action video with actors, produced by a professional video crew. Each decision point offers a teachable moment where the player has to make the call. The sales rep playing the game becomes part of the unfolding story line instead of just a passive audience member.
The learner is presented with several articles, company annual reports, and announcements about the client. They must identify the best person to meet with as well as essential data points about the company and the industry. For each successfully completed activity, the player earns the instant gratification of a badge, which is displayed in the learning environment. Correct decisions earn players experience points by the hundreds in unpredictable intervals. Brain research shows that uncertain rewards release more dopamine than predictive rewards. The ambiguity of getting random large bonus points makes learning more engaging and memorable. Top performers are featured on a display of high score for everyone at Avaya to see. After all, what’s the point of being a high-scorer if you can’t rub it into the face of your colleagues?
Cut-scenes drive the storyline forward; these live-action videos break up the game play to advance the plot and provide additional information. Some assignments feature a timer ticking down, raising the stress level and motivating action; players earn bonus points if they complete the assignment in time. The entire user interface has the look-and-feel of a game. Such game aesthetics are important in motivating the sales reps to engage in the experience.
Once the player has prepared for the client meeting, it’s time to help Cindy conduct the sales call. The player watches a “surveillance video” and feeds questions through an ear piece to Cindy. What’s a game without any techno toys? By selecting questions to ask and statements to make and watching the client respond in video, players get to prove their skills. As they advance through the game, they “level up.” Sales skills are built and reinforced as the player progresses through each level, providing a feeling of mastery and accomplishment. The capstone level of the “Customer Value” game introduces an ultimate challenge: Based on skills learned in previous levels, the player must put together a value proposition to win the game. Leveling up to increasingly more difficult levels keeps players in a state of “flow,” where they are completely focused and engaged. “Flow” is a gaming concept describing the delicate balance between difficulty and player skill levels where the player is neither frustrated nor bored.
Each game stays true to the spy theme, while employing different game mechanics. The “Communication Skills” game features a sales presentation by Cindy. Players are challenged to stop the video when they observe a problem with gesturing, pausing, eye contacts, etc. The “Mobile Collaboration” game features “machinima” video of avatars in the virtual world of AvayaLive EngageTM instead of live action video with actors. What this animated format lacks in realism, it makes up for in flexibility to update content; unlike live actors, avatars don’t age or change hairstyle, making it easier to modify the video sequences over time as products and content change. Some of the installments end with a real life assignment that reps need to submit to their sales managers for review, such as a video of a sales presentation or a completed account plan.
This new generation gamified sales simulations make learning fun AND effective, which is not as oxymoronic as it might sound. Professor Brian Sutton-Smith put it best: “The opposite of play isn't work. It's depression.” In the process of gamifying sales training and certification, Avaya is challenging traditional academic notions of “courses,” “classes,” “curriculums,” and “exams,” and replacing them with gaming vernacular of experience points, badges, levels, quests, goals, achievement rewards, time pressure, and cut scenes to make sales learning engaging and inspiring. Gamification promises to revolutionize sales learning and certification, which would be an epic win for the sales training industry.
Anders Gronstedt (
) is president of the Gronstedt Group and host of the popular weekly speaking series Train for Success (www.facebook.com/TrainForSuccess).
1 Karl Kapp, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, 2012, Pfiffer. San Fransisco, CA.
2“A Meta-Analytic Examination of the Instructional E