Free Enterprise Staff  | April 3, 2014

March Madness on the Sales Desk? Workplace Gamification at Play

Gary Milwit may have moved on from a career as an athletic director, coach, and teacher to run a financial firm, but his roots run deep — he’s turned his office into a “sports bar.”

The senior vice president at Stone Street Capital in Bethesda, MD, deployed a cloud-based gamification platform called Hoopla last year to incentivize sales people to record all activities leading up to a deal.

Stone Street Capital is joining a rapidly expanding group of companies using competitive games and rewards to motivate employees. The gamification market is expected to surge more than tenfold over the next five years, research firm Gartner estimates, to top $5.5 billion by 2018.

Milwit wanted to create a high-energy, Wall Street trading floor type of atmosphere at the firm, which buys structured settlements in the secondary market — such as lawsuits, contests, and lottery jackpots that are paid out over time.

Inside sales people feed off each other, he said. “Even when it’s really busy and phones are going and people are having great conversations … Hoopla is a way to keep them perked up.”

Stone Street’s sales force of 65 is currently engrossed in a three-week “March Madness” competition that tracks three activities over the course of three-day rounds: how many calls they make, how many quotes they get, and how many contracts they send out. They’re awarded points for each activity, with the winner getting $500.

The competition isn’t impacted by what’s happening on the court in the NCAA basketball tournament, but Milwit said beyond that, “The only difference between the real one and ours was I didn’t think it was fair to seed people, so we had a random blind draw.”

One employee had never heard of March Madness before, said Milwit, adding, “She knows now because she won the first round.”

The office has six 60-inch monitors, and sounds are driven by the activity on the floor. When someone gets a contract back, his or her picture pops up on the screen along with a 10-second sound bite. The platform is integrated with Stone Street’s customer-relationship management system and has video graphics and metrics to track daily sales activities.

Milwit has a 42-inch screen in his own office. “This is a data-driven business for me, and the audio keeps me going.”

He acknowledges it can be a distraction and that not everyone loves seeing their name in lights. But Milwit defends the decision to use the platform, saying, “work in and of itself is a distraction.”

Meanwhile, there’s a lot behind the scenes that Milwit is learning about people’s behavior that can be used to “coach” them. For example, the software incentivizes salespeople to report data that some don’t take the time to do. “Some people choose not to because all they care about is closing deals, but I need to know it all,” he said.

Analyzing the data is important because “there’s a lead up to every single transaction that closes deals,” he said. “If you’re my number one person, I want to see how many activities it took to get a deal done — how many licks to the center of the Tootsie Pop.”

The system also provides insights into why a deal doesn’t close. “My job is trying to figure out the personality of the person I’m bringing in and teaching and training them (on) all the characteristics that make up a good sales person,” he said.

Hoopla isn’t the only game in town. Prior to selecting them, Milwit looked at other sales incentive platforms, including Bunchball and LevelEleven who had been successful for companies like T-Mobile and Comcast.

Even before Milwat gamified Stone Street, sales managers would typically come up with some kind of contest, such as who closes deals or sends out the most contracts in a given week.

“Everyone gets fired up and then it dies if a manager doesn’t put out a spreadsheet,” Milwit said. “What Hoopla did was take smaller bits of activities and things you love to measure that build up to close the deal and you can have little contests that are changing behaviors.”