In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus devised what later came to be known as the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. The forgetting curve theorizes that, on average, we forget 40 percent of new information 24 hours after we learned it. The question, then, is how we can help learners retain new information. This issue is particularly important for sales training, where companies spend enormous sums of money – $2.54 billion globally in 2017. One recent trend is using gamification to reinforce sales training. While high-level, peer-reviewed research is ongoing, a 2014 literature review found that gamification yields positive results.

Forms of Gamification

Games can include short quizzes, skills-specific scenarios, flashcard-based presentations, or even more traditional types of games, such as visual novels or puzzles. Regardless of the form of the game, the critical part of gamification is tying it to achievements, whether in the form of points, level gains, achievement badges, leaderboards, etc. To ensure maximum engagement and reinforcement, there needs to be some form of incremental goal-setting and progress markers.

Gamification has taken off in a variety of areas, even including managing productivity, such as task management and behavioral change apps that gamify task completion and habit change. Another common gamification element is social collaboration, such as player-versus-player (PvP) components or player messaging. These tools can reinforce sales training by, for example, enabling players to message each other when they pass them on the leaderboard.

The Benefits of Gamification in Sales Training Reinforcement

The benefits of gamification in sales training reinforcement are numerous. The most obvious are increased engagement and motivation. Presented as a game rather than a chore, sales training reinforcement becomes more appealing.

In the 1970s, Oliver Hayward, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, assigned students in his European history class a semester-long game of diplomacy, culminating in a final term paper in which they detailed each turn’s moves, the rationale behind them, and the negotiations that went on behind the scenes and compared the overall scope and progress of the game to actual historical events. As one student from that semester noted, “It created a few historians among us, and we all learned a lot.”

Many gamification systems, especially online platforms, offer immediate feedback to users about what they did correctly and incorrectly – the latter often accompanied by a link to text and/or video that explains the correct answer or path and why it’s correct. It’s a form of multimedia reinforcement housed in the game that instantly coaches learners, supporting long-term memory encoding.

A related element is the ability to send reports directly to the trainer and/or sales leadership team so that managers can identify what areas need further reinforcement and coaching. This capability is similar to a high school course using repeated quizzes as a diagnostic tool to determine what areas need more repetition. The immediacy of feedback and metrics tracking also automates many elements of the training reinforcement process, which, when combined with the accessibility of mobile platforms, allow for faster learning, the identification of lingering issues and implementation of corrective measures.

Designing Gamification for Sales Training Reinforcement

There’s no one best form of gamification. What works for one company won’t work for another, and even within the same company, different training programs may call for wholly different types of gamification follow-up. Regardless of the program, however, you’ll probably need to ask and answer the following questions:

1. What outcomes and objectives do I want the gamification to achieve?

The answer to this question is the core of every educational endeavor. Yes, gamification should be fun, but you’re using the game as a teaching and coaching tool first and foremost. Therefore, you need to design it around your ultimate learning outcomes and objectives. If you want to reinforce sales conversation skills, for example, a scenario-based game that involves interacting with different types of buyer personas might be best. If you want to make sure a universal sales language used throughout the company is sticking, a quiz could be a good tool. If it’s team selling skills, a game that requires collaboration among players to achieve goals is worth considering.

2. How much time do I want the end users to spend, and what kind of timeline am I looking at for indications of mastery?

In general, there’s no specific answer; there’s simply too many variables at play, including the complexity of the information, the amount of information and the learners’ baselines of knowledge. The guiding principle is to plan for your reps to engage in reinforcement gamification activities in short time segments. These small slices of reinforcement will prevent information overload and fit more smoothly into sales reps’ schedules.

3. How do sales reps like to learn?

If you have a diverse range of learning preferences (the most likely scenario), then you’ll want to make sure your setup is able to accommodate them. If the majority of learners prefer one specific modality, you can focus on that one.

Gamification is a multi-faceted topic involving a lot of variables that you need to consider before you start using it in your sales training and reinforcement. Crafted and implemented properly, it can pay off with higher retention rates, faster learning and retention, and improved employee engagement and morale.