ATD Blog

Appealing to Your Sales Team’s Competitive Nature

Friday, May 17, 2013

Chad Udell is the managing director at Float Learning. Float guides industry-leading companies to understand and leverage the power of mobile learning.

Chad is the author of Learning Everywhere: How Mobile Content Strategies Are Transforming Training on Rockbench and ASTD Press. You can see the book here.

Chad facilitates ASTD’s Mobile Learning Certificate Program course along with others from the Float team. He will be blogging here this month, focusing on mobile learning as a tool for sales enablement training. You can catch up with Chad and the Float team over on their blog at

Join Chad as he explores topics this month on mobile learning strategy and how to get started on the road to mobile learning with your sales organization.

Using Gaming and Tools You May Already Have Available is Within Your Grasp

Mobile Learning as a Sales Training Tool – post 3 of 4 --Click here for Post One and Two

Most of us would agree that salespeople are competitive by nature. This is obvious and necessary. After all, these are the people we put on the front lines to win the day and bring back revenue-producing opportunities for the company. They are assessed on their sales performance via metrics and measurements, and they’re incentivized with compensation and perks. Many organizations even have annual sales drives or competitions to quantify the level of performance and measure who is the best.

This driving force is often left out of the learning and development world, and we see the effects of this all the time. In my experience, sales people have often been some of the most disinterested in training in the entire organization. They want to be out there on the road performing, not in a classroom or behind a desk taking some coursework.

Some of the most effective sales training materials I have been part of creating have been gaming experiences. A competitive approach to testing on product knowledge and even soft skills can liven up interest among your sales audience and bring them back to the fold in order to make sure they are equipped with the most up-to-date info on company products, policies and best practices.

Surveying conferences and the bookshelves, it’s clear that gaming and gamification are emerging as powerful learning tools. Gaming may be a bit over-hyped in some circles, but you can tell just by how successful public sites, products and services like Fitocracy, Foursquare, Nike Fuelband and others are in appealing to people’s competitive nature that there is something worth looking into in your learning practice areas.

We live in a world of badges, mayorships, awards and mobile social networks that reward contributors for doing everything from checking into a coffee shop, to trying a new beer. When applying gaming and gamification to your learning, it is important to know that simply adding badges to course completions and high assessment scores is not enough and is really counterproductive, in many cases.

Well-designed game experiences are a careful blend of dynamics (emergent gameplay styles and progression) and mechanics (the construct for the game and reward/penalty cycle). The successful game is bounded by rules and constraints where a player achieves some amount of progression or success by leveraging these to their benefit. Adding badges to a training curriculum does nothing of this sort and will not be noticed by the competitive sales team.


A balanced approach is needed, and this must be done via a careful design process. For a great overview on the game design process and how to apply it to your learning experiences, I recommend you read A Theory of Fun by Raph Koster and The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl Kapp. After delving into these titles, you’ll have a solid grounding in game design principles, and if you so choose, a base to get started on designing your own experiences. Raph’s book is a great survey of what makes games good, and Karl's book is a study of the elements of games that can be applied to instruction.

After you have the principles in your quiver, it may be time to look around to see what tools you have available to help you. If your sales team uses Salesforce as their CRM, you may be able to turn the use of the system they spend a lot of time in into a game itself. A few companies have created gamification layers to add to Salesforce. Compete, Bunchball and a few others are the bigger players there. You should keep in mind that the technology is only a part of the equation. It’s up to you to craft the experience that works for your team and the content you are delivering.

Prefab frameworks are good place to start, but I think that custom-designed experiences offer the best chance for success when implemented correctly. Some key tips to help you in this process:

  • Keep the desired outcomes in mind through the design process.
  • Excess ornamentation or needless hoops to jump through impede the learning process. Don’t build lengthy tutorials or instructions into your experiences, your learners will “get it.”
  • Make the game easy enough to offer some level of success, but not too easy that people lose interest – You want them to keep plunking their quarters in!
  • Use the gaming mechanics and dynamics to reinforce the behavior you want to shape and enhance the knowledge transfer. The game isn’t fluff added to the learning; the game is the learning.
  • The gamification methods and tools you use must lend themselves to the content you are delivering.

Sticking with these these tips is harder than it may sound. The most successful projects I have been involved in that used gaming had a few things in common:

  • Using a public scoreboard can be an effective motivator.
  • Using true mobile design conventions puts your experience on equal footing with other gaming experiences on their devices.
  • Don't neglect proper time for QC and testing. Games can be easy to break and have notoriously tricky bugs to locate and fix.
  • Hire a proper game designer if you are not confident you can deliver - designing a proper game for learning is not like designing straight-forward learning content you may be used to. It’s okay to ask for help.

Jack Welch is credited as saying, “An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” It’s up to you to take that competitive nature and use it to feed that flywheel.
Be sure to check out the Sales Enablement track at ASTD 2013. The Sales Enablement CoP has a lot of great events planned. Join me Tuesday, May 21,  11:30 a.m. as I participate in a panel discussion, “Leveraging Technology to Deliver Highly Effective Sales Training Solutions.” I’m sure gaming, mobile learning, social and informal learning will be some of the heavily discussed topics there.

Come back next week as I wrap this series on using Mobile Learning for Sales Enablement. We’ll be taking on measurement with a post centered around “Equating Real World Performance with Mobile Learning.”

About the Author

As managing director of Float Mobile Learning, Chad Udell strategizes with Fortune 500 companies and their learning departments to help deliver mobile learning to employees. Chad also works with universities and other learning organizations to develop their unique visions of where and how to use mobile learning. Chad's focus is on understanding an organization's business drivers and goals and then creating the strategy that can best deliver solutions. Chad is recognized as an expert in design and development, and he speaks regularly at national conferences on design, development and mobile learning. He has been a faculty member of Bradley University for more than five years.

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