Sales Gamification: 5 Leaderboard Mistakes To Avoid
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Leaderboard Mistakes To Avoid In Sales Gamification 

It's popular to say that leaderboards are the best solution to any sales problem. The underlying assumption is that salespeople are competitive, and that you can put them against each other, kick back, and wait for the jump in revenues. Well, as anyone who has had to deal with a real sales situation knows this doesn't really work, and can even create unwanted outcomes in the long run. It's not that leaderboards aren't effective; they are actually a great game mechanic to reflect achievement as it compares to a group of individuals. But this happens only if leaderboards are used in a correct way, and only if sales gamification is used in a holistic way that does not alienate employees or focuses only on top performers. Gamification, when done right, moves the middle; it makes middle performers work better, so their achievement approaches what top performers do. This is why I thought it could be beneficial to go through a few common mistakes I see when it comes to leaderboards in sales gamification.

  1. Not measuring the right metric. 
    Measuring revenue alone as a KPI in a leaderboard is problematic. Different products or geographies have different sales capacities, and comparing dollars may be discouraging, especially for novices. In addition, sales gamification isn’t about driving sales, it is about driving the activities that bring sales. The smarter and more efficient thing to do is to design gamification mechanics that encourage behaviors that will create sales opportunities, both in the short and the long run. These behaviors can vary from making more calls, improving the qualification process, or measuring customer satisfaction levels. When you only track actual sales numbers, you're missing the point. Not only may you be reinforcing unwanted behaviors in your organization, but you're also creating an unfair playing field. Leaderboards that only track sales favor experienced employees who have bigger accounts, or those who have better geographies. Instead of your leaderboard motivating employees, there's a good chance that it will have the opposite effect, making employees feel that they will never be able to lead the company.
  2. Cater to the majority, not to the extremes.
    There's an intuitive tendency to cater to the "extremes" at the workplace. Organizations usually invest in further training for their top performers, or in trying to improve their worst performers. By doing that, organizations are ignoring about 60% of the workforce that is the middle, which is the population that has the biggest impact on the state of the organization. That’s why I commonly refer to gamification as a way to “move the middle”. According to the Harvard Business Review, the middle 60% are the ones who achieved the highest gains when they underwent training. This drives home the obvious point that this population should receive coaching. We see the same logic time and again in leaderboards. There will always be top performers and bottom performers. Highlighting the achievements of the top performers only adds to their already existing competitiveness and sense of worth, while noting the worst performers only goes to lower their motivation even more and discourage them. Worst of all, the middle 60%, who are the productive powerhouse of the organization, feel completely invisible. A good leaderboard is one where the middle 60% have an opportunity to shine. That's why at GamEffective we recommend creating sales gamification scenarios where the employee can be the "hero" of their own story and game. This could mean showing the employee's progress over time, or how he has performed in compared to his own prediction. We'll always make sure that the employee is aware of how the top performers are doing, but we'll make sure to emphasize his own journey as well. In addition, good leaderboards are those that correlate to the employee's real work environment. This means that the employee will see people he works with on a daily basis, or those who joined the company at a similar time to them. Leaderboards can also show how an employee is doing in comparison to their team, the team leader, or how the team together is doing in comparison to their team goal.
  3. Avoid disengagement. 
    The problem is that once "weaker" employees get in the vicious cycle of feeling that they're performing worse than their more experienced colleagues (even though in reality, the only thing separating between them is the amount of time spent on job), lethargy and a decrease in motivation are sure to appear very soon. This kickstarts another spiral in the cycle, as the less motivated employees perform even worse, appear even lower on the leaderboards, and on and on. It’s important to remember that gamification is about more than points, badges, and leaderboards. When done the right way, gamification can be a source for recognition, collaboration, motivation, and a way to mark the completion of milestones.
  4. Expect the unexpected. 
    At GamEffective, we're in the gamification business. As such, we've become pretty familiar with users' reactions to different game mechanics. If there's one thing we see time and time again, it's that if there are rules which can be bent, they will be. Leaderboards, like all forms of games, are a system with rules. When these systems, or games, are constructed the wrong way, you can count on users to find a way to take advantage. For example, if your leaderboard rewards sales reps for delivering according to forecasts, you can bet yourself you'll start seeing reps making efforts to bring their forecasts down, so that they can successfully score higher for fulfilling their quotas. The same thing can happen if your leaderboard encourages some form of technical indicator of a job well done, like tasks fulfilled or new action items. If you suddenly have an abundance of new action items in the system, you may want to check what the incentive behind this sudden surge is. In short, when setting out a new leaderboard, think about the endgame from day one, and especially how the rules may be bent.
  5. There's no "I" in team. 
    We all love the narrative of the individual superstar outworking everyone else and coming through to save the day. In reality, this is almost never the case. Michael Jordan didn't start winning championships until he started passing the ball, and John Lennon and Paul Mccartney's music was so much better when they worked together. This rings true especially in the world of sales, where the business development and account management teams need to work together in order for the organization to thrive. It would be smart for leaderboards to reflect this. Measuring teams instead of individuals is a great way to foster collaboration, and promote the goals that the organization is trying to achieve.

Sales gamification leaderboards are a powerful tool, and as a smart man once said, "with great power, comes great responsibility". When utilized correctly, leaderboards can create a major positive impact on your organization. Be sure to compare oranges to oranges (beginners to beginners, small account managers to small account managers, etc…), make sure everyone has the same opportunities to succeed, and use individual and team leaderboards in the correct way. Maybe most importantly, make sure to design your mechanics so that they involve everyone in the company (including the middle 60%!), in a way that allows them to have a chance at winning at least some of the time.