Author Archive Darren B

ByDarren B

Your Hatred for Salespeople may be Misguided

It was Tuesday afternoon and my friend who happens to own a local tech business called me.  The first thing he said was, “I hate sales people.” Of course he knows that sales is my profession, so I’m not sure why he likes telling me this – it wasn’t the first time – but I’m glad he did (I didn’t take it personally).

His latest run in with this hideous breed of professional was in his office that morning. After a brief and completely off-guard cold call the previous week, the sales person was able to schedule a meeting with my friend after the slightest need was uncovered. My friend had expressed interest in a very specific offering that this sales person peddled.  However, everything went south when the sales person showed up for their meeting with three colleagues in tow. A little taken about aback by this full frontal assault, my friend still took the meeting even if he had to scramble to find enough chairs.

Why the sales person chose to bring an army (four and five-star generals no less) on a simple scouting mission we don’t know. But our speculation about this led me to this post. My friend believes it was because the sales person apparently knew very little about their own solution and clearly needed backup, but I offered a different opinion…

At one time, I was part of a struggling Silicon Valley company where I was told by a Board member, “It’s all about team selling now, Darren (referring to the “Silicon Valley Way”). You’re older so you may not be familiar with this new team and social approach to selling.” Yes, even though in my forties, I am apparently out of it.  All this time I thought I always practiced team selling, that is, collaboratively leveraging internal resources to close multi-million, multi-year commitments.  Hmmmm….

I immediately thought of my own experience when my friend told me his experience that morning.  In my case, the Board member went on to spearhead a company-wide “team-based selling strategy.”   His interpretation of this strategy is best illustrated by a specific customer situation from our now defunct team selling strategy (that led to a defunct company).  One time a colleague had a first-call exploratory “meet-and-greet” with a reasonably high-leveled Director at a major retailer. It was a great opportunity to open a dialog and potentially establish a long-term relationship.  Per our newly installed ‘team-selling strategy,” my colleague was instructed to bring three others – his sales manager, the VP of Services and our CEO.  While this was far from my colleague’s best judgment, he could only watch the ensuing train wreck…

Much like my friend, this Director was surprised but cordial as he scrambled to cram everyone into his office (I think my colleague described it as “sardines”). The prospect was grilled for over an hour, pushed for something – some morsel – the “team” could come back with. Interestingly, they declared victory and announced internally that this new team approach had uncovered a huge opportunity.  While the team’s perception was triumphal success, the Director never spoke with us again.  New dialog squashed; new relationship over before it began.

Never mind the five-figure expense report for this one meeting for a yet-to-be-qualified opportunity, my guess is that the Director at this large retailer felt similarly to my friend after his Tuesday morning meeting. My friend was entirely put off by the meeting. To him it looked desperate, unorganized and very inefficient. If that’s the way they managed their sales process, he couldn’t imagine how it would be as a customer.

Now in my friend’s case, maybe the sales person was new and needed the backup — in that case bring your manager (one additional person; two additional ears is rarely a bad thing).  The manager can even run the meeting and disclose the situation.  No big deal!  I’ve been both the sales person and the manager in those situations.  It’s better than an ignorant rep trying to put on airs; it doesn’t work!

The point is that sometimes sloppy sales techniques are not the fault of the sales person. As I explained to my friend, you can’t pin this on the rep and bang your “I hate sales people” drum. I know in my experience and I expect in my friend’s situation it is the fault of senior management. Whether it’s a trust issue or a legitimate belief that it’s actually an effective sales technique I can’t say.  In the former, I’m not sure why you would have sales if you can’t trust them to make a first call.  In the latter, I’m here to tell them it isn’t effective in the least!

ByDarren B

Business Process Gamification

Journey or Dead End?

It’s fortuitous that timing would be such for this particular installment – the fifth in a series (including an introduction) examining the four different gamification roads organizations are journeying down.  I have lived the good, the bad and the ugly regarding gamification in the workplace and my unique perspective is discussed in the first installment.

We categorized the first three roads as Learning Event Gamification, Native Application Gamification, and Destination Gamification.  As anything, they each have some pluses and minuses (and a complete buying guide summary is forthcoming!). It really began as the need to answer this question became abundantly clear to me:

What workplace gamification strategies exist today and which one(s) – if any – lead to the promised benefit of sustained and natural employee engagement?

Sustained and Natural

Did you catch those qualifiers?  Those two words really summarize this entire analysis of different workplace gamification approaches.  Both of these are required if a workplace gamification journey will be successful.  If not sustained, the effort is simply a short-lived campaign.  If not natural, your employees see nothing more than a gimmick.  Lacking both is truly a disaster!

Yet, we have documented how Learning Event, Native Application and Destination Gamification each fail to deliver on one or both of these essential qualities.  They are simply not “built” to accomplish these critical success factors due to various shortcomings, most of which have been addressed in each of the preceding posts.

This is where Business Process Gamification sets itself apart.  First and foremost, this road dissects the actual business process by taking into account both the technology and the personas involved.  The key difference with this road is that the “digital motivation layer” is shaped to the unique technologies and personas participating in the business process…not the other way around.

Technologies and Personas

Most likely, the core technologies supporting your business processes are already set.  It may be one platform, most likely several, and there might even be some non-digital aspects to throw into the mix.  The last thing employees (especially millennials) want to do is have more complexity added to their effective execution of any process.  In fact, the odds are that they are already not fully utilizing the platforms that already exist.  Sound familiar? Any CIOs out there concerned about platform adoption?

Business Process Gamification leverages what is already in place.  Whatever the mechanic – game, social, reputation, or any other type – these are integrated/embedded natively in the actual platform(s)/application(s) that currently support the business process.  Employees experience these much like they would in the Native Application approach, but with the objective of improving your business process (instead of improving the platform vendor’s adoption).

So which mechanics are embedded?  That’s dictated by the behavioral program design that was developed according to the various personas that participate in the process.  Who is the audience?  What makes them tick?  What makes them feel success, accomplishment and connection (to each other, and the company)?  And oh by the way, there’s not just one answer to these questions as one persona might have several derivatives…and there’s never just one persona.

Let’s consider just one, fairly popular use case for gamification – sales performance.  Within that application, the salesperson is obviously the primary audience to motivate and engage.  Assuming some stereotypical traits for that persona is fairly easy, right?  We all know what makes them tick.  They like competition and are motivated by money…easy.  Done!

Stop there and you have just sealed the fate for a failed gamification effort.  It’s just not that simple, even for one of the most straightforward use cases (a failure in both Native Application Gamification and Destination Gamification).  Everything after “assuming” and “stereotypical” will send the effort into the ditch quickly.  While there might be (probably are) two or three over-arching traits that can quickly be pinned on the target audience, they’ll usually only resonate with 80% of the audience.  You’ll have to dig deeper to capture the rest.

For sales performance, we might accurately target more than 80% with money and competition, but what about peer recognition, social collaboration, peer assistance, company/strategic contribution, etc.  These are all very real considerations for motivating a “stereotypical salesperson.”  Whatever your target audience, they are human beings (yes, even salespeople!) with nuanced feelings on what drives them.  Age, place in life, place in career, corporate culture, personal goals, group goals, job goals, company goals, etc. etc. all contribute to the nuance…and change over time.

And that’s just the salesperson – the primary target persona in our example.  Depending on your specific sales performance situation and its size and complexity, there are likely other personas that need to be profiled and incorporated.  Distinguishing inside verses outside sales as well as customer support and channel sales will all garner different digital motivation mechanics, thus evolving the “game” and rendering different manifestations to participants.

If we are really considering the business process and targeting it for improvement in speed and efficiency, multiple internal constituencies play a part and have a role.  In fact, you’ll likely be considering and incorporating external constituencies as well, such as agents or partners.

Another quick example: customer service.  The audience could easily consist of (1) customer service agents – whose job it is to resolve problems,  (2) customers – who just want a fast answer, (3) employees – whose job ISN’T to resolve problems but wouldn’t it be great it they were a vested part of the process, (4) partners – having particular brand or product expertise, (5) non-employees – power users completely external to your organization but potentially most credible in resolving problems (at no cost to you!).  One use case.  Five personas, each with potential derivatives.

Just as all of these personas play a part in the speed and efficiency of your business process, so will each persona require at least some components and/or mechanics to be included in the gamification design on their behalf.

And so we come full circle back to the technology.  As these other personas are incorporated, so will other platforms need to be integrated into the gamification program.  A sales performance program may start with one platform (CRM) and one persona with a few derivatives .  However, success will demand the eventual incorporation of other personas (internal and external) and the platforms that support them (e.g. Social Collaboration, LMS, “home-grown” system(s), etc.).


There are currently four manifestations of gamification in the workplace today.  With the cumulative data that’s been presented in this series, I have attempted to define each one while qualifying their ability to provide sustained and natural employee engagement.  As a result, my conclusion statement would be:

Business Process Gamification is the only approach to gamification that is capable of providing sustained and natural employee engagement.

It is my experiential testimony that the Business Process Gamification road is the only path to success for an organization pursuing some kind of digital motivation strategy.  With one caveat…

Notice the”capable” qualifier?  While the Business Process Gamification road can deliver incredible (and I do mean incredible) results, it is one that is paved with lots of disappointment and even failure.  It’s not simple.  Like anything delivering a strong ROI, it requires effort.

Some say it’s not worth it, and that might be true.  In the sense that the cost for entry (both dollars and resource) might be out of reach for the particular audience size and/or the criticality of the business process itself.  In other words, given the effort to “do gamification right,” there may be situations that simply don’t justify the up-front costs.

Then again, if sustained and natural digital motivation can significantly improve the execution of one critical business process while not only leveraging, but driving near-complete adoption on pre-existing platforms, isn’t it a strategy worth pursuing – whatever the initial cost?

[If this provoked some thought, please share and then like.]

ByDarren B

Why “Bring Your Own Rolodex” Raises Red Flags

Very interested in getting some community reaction to this…

Granted, some of you reading this may not know what a “rolodex” is or what it was used for…  So that everyone is on the same page let’s define it simply as your contact database.  This is about the names, numbers and emails of prospects and customers that you have interacted with in a sales capacity over your career.

I have a real beef with companies that stipulate this as part of a new sales candidate’s contribution.  In a list of job qualifications it might say something like, “Candidate must have rolodex replete with industry contacts” or “Extensive customer network”.

Specifically, here are my top three reasons why this is a turnoff:

  1. It’s lazy.  Does the company really not know who their buyers are or unable to buy a list?  Fundamentally, we’re talking data here.  While developing and maintaining good, clean data takes work and is part of any salesperson’s job, it’s not for the salesperson to provide walking in the door.
  2. It’s fleeting.  I’ve hired some sales reps through the years and I can remember a few instances where the individual “pitched” some of their relationships with would-be prospects.  While it wasn’t something I had explicitly asked them for (at that point I think I just intuitively knew better), they argued they could really “hit the ground running” and bring deals fast by leveraging these relationships.  Most of the time these were professional relationships, but in one case it was a brother-in-law and another an uncle.  In my experience, these NEVER panned out – but even if they had…what’s next?  So they bring in a deal – or two – based on a pre-existing relationship.  Now what?  Can they prospect? Can they forage, research and build the relationship(s) for this particular company and solution?  That’s what really matters!
  3. It’s [potentially] illegal.  If you are leaving one job to go to another, you likely will be bound by some type of confidentiality agreement.  I’m not a lawyer, but the “rolodex” that’s carried over is likely bound by the same agreement as a form of intellectual property of the former company.

Overall, this kind of new rep qualification and expectation is just unflattering for the company.  And it’s not because I don’t have my own so-called “rolodex” of people.  Quite the contrary, I have a trusted network of professionals that I would absolutely leverage if and when appropriate.  However, it would never come before I knew there was an appropriate fit and that the company (and product) were worthy of an introduction.  Neither of these qualifiers would exist for any salesperson walking in the door; in my experience, it takes three to four months to assess and target any network potential that may exist.

It usually takes that long to understand the solution nuances and know if a network contact has a need.  It also takes about that long to know if there is a “philosophical fit.”  In other words, is the company’s approach to business (and even their long-term viability) going to be a match and something that won’t tarnish a solid, trusting, often personal relationship?  Actually, this might be a fourth reason to add to the list – It’s risky (for the sales rep).  Why turn over my network only to find out that the fit’s not there or the company is a long-term risk?

If you have an opinion, I would value your feedback.  Do I have this all wrong?

If this provoked some thought, please like and share.