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Playing to Win: How Gamification Helped Boost This Company's Sales

The term may get a bad rap, but stoking employees' competitive fire helped this company dramatically increase its sales.
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Conductor, a New York City-based SEO technology company, had a track record that spoke for itself: a 6,700 percent revenue increase from just over $100,000 in 2009 to more than $7 million in 2012.

The challenge for CEO Seth Besmertnik and his sales team was to sustain that incredible momentum. "They have to do it from quarter to quarter, from year to year, to grow the top line of the business," he says of his salespeople. "It's a tough job."

So Besmertnik set out to find the ever-elusive source of "continuous inspiration" to drive his team and their flagship Searchlight SEO platform to new heights.

The Fix
He took a chance on Compete, gamification software from Detroit-based developer LevelEleven. Entry was cheap, at $20 per user per month for a 12-month contract, and the platform was built for quick, turnkey implementation via the CRM platform, which Conductor was already using.

Gamification relies on gaming design and mechanics to coax a target audience--in this case, Conductor's sales team--to alter behaviors, learn skills or engage more frequently. LevelEleven CEO Bob Marsh says Compete is among a new wave of software systems that add nuance to the top motivational forces for salespeople (after money, of course): competition and recognition.

For Conductor, the goal wasn't to reward its top performers but to spur behaviors that internal CRM analytics had linked directly to sales. Compete did this by stoking people's competitive fires around these specific metrics.

For example, Conductor took Compete's leaderboard and displayed it on 50-inch TV screens placed prominently throughout the company's offices to drive its market development team to produce leads that would result in product demos. Those who generated five such opportunities in one day got "The Hand," a companywide e-mail recognizing their achievement, plus a perk like a bottle of liquor or dinner for two.

The Results
Thanks in part to implementation of Compete late last spring, Conductor reported record revenue for the first half of 2013 and a 126 percent annualized increase in sales. While he can't peg a specific ROI to Compete, Besmertnik says team members are "more inspired, more motivated, having more fun and performing more consistently.

"The return for us," he adds, "is that we have a simpler, more functional way to recognize people more consistently. [Compete] does what our managers had been doing, only faster and more eloquently."

A Second Opinion
Instead of merely rewarding its top salespeople, Conductor took a smart approach by integrating gamification into its sales processes, notes Brian Burke, a gamification expert at research firm Gartner. It's a tactic that is proving effective at motivating the hard-to-reach middle performers, not just the top tier.

"The aim with gamification," Burke says, "is to find the sweet spot where organizational goals are achieved as a consequence of people achieving their personal goals, then to gamify around it."