Of the most critical business areas specific to the contemporary direct sales business model, the areas of e-communication and e-marketing have experienced the greatest transformation.
The first phase of change began with the introduction of social media, which incorporated sharing, posting and forwarding functionality to promote engagement and social community development. The secondary phase is leveraging this engagement and community to ultimately drive some form of conversion (e.g., friend to prospect; prospect to customer; prospect/customer to new recruit, hostess or repeat purchase). All of this is a strenuous attempt to make good on the promise that direct sales companies will soon be able to realize a return on investment from social-marketing-related initiatives.
In order to motivate and incentivize individuals to convert by taking a specific action we often use promotions, special offers and even forms of recognition to reward those who respond to CTAs (calls to action). Creating a call-to-action “reaction” is the first critical step for moving an individual through the lead generation/capture funnel to a point of conversion.
Regardless of the type, mode or value of an offer (e.g., content, promise, reward), identifying behaviors that motivate individuals to act and incorporating those “motivational behavior triggers” in CTAs are key to promoting program success, increasing reactions, and most important, gaining a higher probability of conversion events. Although the process of incorporating “motivational behavior triggers” is relatively familiar to any company or executive focused on driving growth through sales and marketing campaigns, it is actually a powerful element of game design mechanics and it represents the basis of “gamification.”
What is gamification?
Simply put, gamification is the process of applying game design thinking to non-game applications to motivate behaviors and make certain activities more enjoyable. Consequently, they also make the steps that need to be followed easier to understand and accomplish. This is done by providing users with frequent feedback and reinforcement by earning rewards or symbols of achievement as they move toward loftier goals.
For example, the design mechanics are meant to keep game players (gamers) deeply engaged and motivated to play video games for hours on end to win a match, receive a badge, gain special achievements or to “unlock” new features as rewards for playing with increasing proficiency and reaching next stages (leveling-up) of skill, status and accomplishment.
Non-game applications of gamification, however, go far beyond the familiar example we described earlier regarding its use to entice or prompt people to respond to CTAs. Game design mechanics can be applied to independent sales and marketing campaigns, implemented in programs relevant to training, leadership and career development, and importantly, applied to the available technologies or systems individuals use to manage and grow their business.
Gamification is potentially relevant in almost any industry to create increased engagement, retention and higher levels of performance. By implementing game mechanic principles in key business areas (sales, marketing, training, leadership and field development, and others) and creating alignment between motivational behavior drivers in programs and systems with corporate goals and objectives, gamification can help companies differentiate through innovation and “level-up” to their next stage of evolution.
How important is it?
Last year, former vice president Al Gore gave the keynote address at the 2011 Games for Change Festival in New York, where he said, “Games are the new normal.” He spoke emphatically on the power of gamification and how adoption of game design thinking can effectively bring about social change, improve learning and increase engagement through technology.
In a recent study completed by Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Inc., Gartner advised that “by 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.” That same study further projects that by 2015 more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will “gamify” them.
Changing the Game in Direct Sales
The goals of gamification in non-game applications (e.g., education, sales and training, and others) are to achieve higher levels of user engagement, modify behaviors, create retention and stimulate innovation. Gamification has more potential and greater opportunity for application in the direct selling market when compared to any other industry, due to the structure and business nature of the direct sales model.
The reason is that game mechanics may be more effective in applications when achievements of reward and recognition have real value, not perceived. In games, players are motivated by conquering objectives that give them a sense of accomplishment. In the non-game world, conquering an objective results in accomplishment that yields real tangible rewards.
As a result, the power and value of gamification may be more capable of delivering unprecedented impact on conversion and network velocity for direct sales than any other traditional approach today.
Gamification concepts can be applied to anything from having more engaged reps, prospects and customers to improving salesforce and sales leader performance, increasing retention and driving higher levels of productivity. Consequently, due to the natural alignment with direct selling’s business structure, the benefits of gamification can be leveraged without the need to integrate overly complex game mechanics. Incorporating basic elements may be enough, depending on a company’s stage of growth, to develop a gamified system designed to motivate a salesforce to “outperform.”
Direct selling systems that incorporate innovative game design mechanics have the ability to provide enhanced reward/recognition triggers that fuel anticipation and motivation of users (consultants or distributors) to stay the course to achieve performance overdrive and “elite” status recognition among peers.
Aligning Game Mechanics with Direct Selling Model Attributes
Although there are almost 50 game design variables, 19 have relative potential for direct selling market application, and of those, five have the greatest potential for fueling performance and conversion results as well as accelerating growth for direct selling companies. The following game design elements can be applied independently or combined to drive your company’s next levels of engagement, loyalty, influence, revenue and network velocity:
a) Behavioral Momentum is the tendency of users to keep doing what they have been doing. The key here is to integrate Behavioral Momentum mechanics to ensure adoption of best practices and to reinforce a user’s tendency to keep “playing” while getting better at specific activities.
• Behavioral Momentum is a key design variable that supports the four principles of effective system/development to promote higher levels of user performance to achieve company objectives: Adoption, Utilization, Dependency and Replicable Behavior (see section: Motivating Behaviors to Drive Performance)
DS Example: As independent representatives use the system more, the better they get. The better they get, the more they use the system. The longer they use, the greater their rewards. If they keep earning rewards, they keep using the system. And if they can progress to higher levels by continuing to use the system, others can do the same.
b) Status is associated with rank or standing and users are often motivated to increase proficiency and effort to reach a more “elite” status level of recognition.
• This design element correlates to the need for recognizing accomplishments and motivating independent representatives to achieve higher levels in rank by rewarding them at various instances of achievement with awards of increasing value as performance results increase.
DS Example: By aligning system notifications and activities with rank advancement criteria, independent representatives would receive system-based badges of recognition that are socially shareable and visible on their profiles. These badges publicly acknowledge their achievements and proficiency for following prompts on their road to career path rank promotions.
Levels are part of a “system” or ramp—much like direct selling compensation plans—in which users are rewarded with points, rewards or capabilities of increasing value.
c) Levels are part of a “system” or ramp—much like direct selling compensation plans—in which users are rewarded with points, rewards or capabilities of increasing value. “Leveling-up” is one of the highest motivational components for gamers, where features or functionalities are unlocked as they progress to higher levels.
• Leveling-up is a component of progression dynamics (conquering challenges along a set path by achieving multiple objectives to reach a defined goal) that is in direct alignment to how independent representatives transition through compensation/rewards programs on the path to career development.
DS Example: An independent representative who makes consistent use of the system and follows the prompts to achieve career path objectives (e.g., using all key system attributes effectively to achieve positive results in recruiting, sales and next level rank advancement) would “level-up” to an elite “Power User” status.
d) Achievements are virtual or physical representations of accomplishments that are often considered “locked” until users have met a series of tasks that are required to “unlock” the achievement/reward.
• Achievements can be applied to any recruitment, retention or sales program to motivate progression toward personal and downline accomplishments.
DS Example: Upon achieving Power User status (leveling-up), the system would “unlock” a new feature, capability or tool as a valuable reward that is otherwise not available, providing users with advanced capabilities to further enhance performance and accelerate growth.
e) Virality is a gamification element that requires collaboration among multiple users and has a strong social component for getting others in on the action to accomplish a given task.
• This game design element has the capability of raising peer performance levels and motivating social networks comprised of customers and prospects to drive recruitment and sales activity.
DS Example: Companies use a system that motivates the field to share product or opportunity promotions with customers who are incentivized to promote the same to others in their personal networks. The value of the promotion increases up to a set amount as the number of shares and redemptions increase. The more people participate, the greater the benefit everyone receives.
Motivating Behaviors to Drive Performance
To validate the exciting similarities between gamification and direct selling system application, it is easy to illustrate the evident relationship the five game design elements above have with industry-specific compensation, reward and recognition programs.
Direct selling compensation plans incorporate behaviors to motivate performance and reward achievements and are comprised of two main components: a) Requirements for Qualification and b) Types of Compensation. Behaviors (achievements/accomplishments) of qualified representatives are rewarded with various types of compensation and recognition to motivate performance, sales, recruiting and leadership development on multiple levels for personal and team success. By definition, this is the concept of “Program Gamification.”
Gamification can be further leveraged by integrating game elements in direct selling technology systems that are aligned to behavior motivators in comp plan design. This is an important evolution in system development that, if incorporated properly, can deliver a huge impact for companies by motivating and enforcing consultant/distributor behaviors along the four most critical aspects of direct selling and subscription-based system design: Adoption, Utilization, Dependency and Replication.
Creating reward, recognition and motivational drivers to increase Adoption of a direct selling system is the primary step for getting powerful tools and business management solutions in the hands of more independent representatives. Two ways to accomplish this is to embrace simplification and improve intuitive design to minimize learning curves and reduce barriers to adoption by eliminating unnecessary complexities. This can be achieved by focusing only on key attributes and giving the salesforce ready access to applications they need most to drive success. In this case, behavior is focused on what they “should” do rather than on what they “can” do.
As adoption is realized, the focus turns to Utilization. Game mechanics can be used to drive increased utilization of direct selling systems by introducing frequent prompts and notifications that advise independent representatives on what to do to achieve personal and team successes. Once they act on that prompt, they are rewarded for taking action through an award of points or recognized with a symbol of achievement. As independent representatives continue to use core system attributes and act on behavior-driven prompts, they continue to be incrementally rewarded and recognized (privately, publicly or socially) as their level of system use and productivity increase. If motivational drivers of system utilization are appropriately aligned to behaviors that drive success, then increased utilization will deliver increased performance and accelerated results.
As independent representatives continue to receive recognition for using core system attributes on their path of progression (e.g., beginner to power user), their behaviors are tangibly rewarded by the results of their efforts (commissions, downline growth, sales leader promotions, rank advancements, and so forth). While frequent recognition provides instant gratification and validation that continued system use can make them successful, compensation provides the ultimate reward.
As independent representatives continue to experience incremental recognition and larger rewards, they become dependent on using the system and are motivated to embrace new challenges to achieve higher levels of accomplishment. A very interesting game element with a lot of potential at this stage is to introduce one or several “unlocks” to reward consistency and uber-performance achievements. In this scenario, a new system feature would be “unlocked” (at no additional cost), providing independent representatives with enhanced system capabilities that can help increase earnings or accelerate their career path as a reward for accomplishing utilization-based system challenges.
Additionally, these high achievers may also be recognized publicly with “elite” badges of achievement that are visible on profiles and socially shared among peers to motivate others to accomplish the same. By socially broadcasting accomplishments at the moment of achievement throughout their peer network, the achiever receives instant gratification and recognition, and notice of their accomplishment drives excitement, motivation and ambition in others.
This pushes the peer network to work toward progressive achievements by motivating them to look forward to aspirations of “what’s next?” “I can do that” and “I want that too!”
The effect of achieving high-levels of success and system dependency is implied retention and increased results multiplied by the number of dependent users. As more independent representatives achieve results by responding to the comp-plan-aligned motivational behavior triggers in the system, greater success will be achieved by increasing numbers of the salesforce.
Additionally, gamification of sales leader development principles can help motivate high-achievers to replicate their success in others by recognizing and rewarding mentorship and top-down leadership-led training initiatives.
As with most aspects of the direct sales model, increased results are achieved when all variables are aligned to drive goals and objectives by nurturing and perpetuating the right behaviors. By integrating already gamified programs with game mechanics in system design, reward and recognition triggers work in concert with all motivational drivers to fuel higher levels of performance.
Gamification and other exciting developments in innovation such as Social Marketing Automation (SMA), social network foot-printing, mobile and social fusion and geo-fencing hold different keys for direct sales companies that, if leveraged properly, can reinvigorate a salesforce, supercharge performance, jump-start growth, and open new possibilities and opportunities for achieving and sustaining accelerated growth.
Sebastian Leonardi is President and Chief Business Strategist at DSXgroup LLC, a DSA Supplier Member consultancy focused on driving sales, conversion and accelerated growth for direct sales, private equity and technology companies. He can be reached through the company website at http://dsxgroup.com or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.