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Mobile gamification apps can drive business value

A medical devices maker sought to improve sales reps' knowledge to boost sales performance. So, it tapped into their innate sense of competition.

American Medical Systems was struggling to get sales reps to remember crucial company and industry information when they were in the field. So, the medical device maker tried mobile gamification apps that tapped into salespeople's most innate instincts.

They turned the chore of learning into a competition.

"The competitive nature of it -- that's one of the things that drives 99% of sales reps," said Ryan Casey, manager of global curriculum design and development at American Medical Systems (AMS). "They don't want to be at the bottom of the list."

Gamification is a growing trend. In late 2012, Gartner predicted that 40% of Global 1000 businesses will use gamification in their business operations by 2015 and that it will be a $2.8 billion market by 2016. However, the research firm reports that 80% of gamified applications fail to meet business objectives. So, there is a disconnect -- companies are deploying gamification, but few are tying it to business value.

AMS bucked the trend with its implementation of mobile gamification apps. Like any company trying to sell goods, the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company wanted salespeople to remember information better that would be valuable in selling its medical devices, which focus on what it calls pelvic health issues, such as incontinence. Prior to adopting gamification, AMS had tried methods such as new-hire training and regional meetings. It quizzed sales reps after training events or tried to reinforce knowledge through emails and conference calls. It tried to force reps to take quizzes every couple of weeks, held WebEx conferences and even made CDs that reps could listen to while driving.

Through it all, only about 68% of reps remembered the information AMS wanted them to. The number was too low for the company's liking.

"You could see that it wasn't working," Casey said. "We would have a new-hire sales training, but then they would go into advanced training, and we could see that they weren't retaining information at the level we wanted."

The business value of mobile gamification apps

Some of that information, if used correctly in the field, could be the ultimate factor in whether AMS sells medical devices to a particular doctor. For example, Casey said there was recently a large clinical study comparing AMS devices to a competitor's. Key points from that "goliath data," according to Casey, could help an AMS sales rep convince a physician to make a purchase.

AMS knew it had to restructure its training methods, but it didn't have enough IT resources to develop something itself. The company knew that interval training -- quizzing reps regularly on important information -- would work best, but it didn't have the means to build something like that internally. In addition, AMS wanted a mobile app that sales reps could use no matter where they were or what device they were running -- mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

"Everybody is still trying to find that magic wand to get information to a rep and get them to A, pay attention, and B, actually get the information driven home," Casey said.

Finding mobile gamification apps

Two years earlier, Casey had had a conversation with a company called Qstream. Based in Burlington, Massachusetts, Qstream sells a mobile gamification app to help reps improve their long-term knowledge and sales performance. The technology, based on research by Harvard Medical School associate professor B. Price Kerfoot, employs a methodology that Kerfoot called spaced education. The basic idea? Quiz sales reps a little bit every so often, record what they get right and what they get wrong, and adjust the quizzes accordingly.

Sales reps get a notification of their account with Qstream, and can install the app on a variety of devices. Casey said that some reps like it on their iPads because that's where much of their sales information resides. Other reps prefer using laptops.

Each quiz only takes a few minutes, Casey said, and the app sends push notifications to reps' mobile devices when new questions are ready. The app also has algorithms that keep track of which questions reps have answered correctly and incorrectly. "It's not just a one-time quiz," he said. "If you get a question right today, the question doesn't go away. You'll get that question again in two weeks. If you get it right two weeks later, then that question gets retired. If you get it wrong, you'll see that question again. That's what helps drive that retention."

AMS customized the app to have a top-10 all-time leaderboard so that reps can see where they rank in their sales region. Then each region has an average score, a feature that Casey said has "driven a lot of competition among regional managers as well." "It keeps it fun and it keeps it light," he added.

Implementation details and challenges

AMS started with a pilot in November in its women's health division that included about 75 sales reps. AMS marketing and education divisions, as well as Qstream, collaborated to craft the questions for the quizzes. The pilot went so well that the company launched it across its other two business divisions -- men's health and prostate health -- at the end of January. In May it had another launch, for its international sales reps.

Not everything went smoothly, however. Particularly when it came to convincing sales reps to accept the application.

"When we launched this in November, you could see it on their faces," Casey said. "They're very skeptical of anything new and anything that is a test. They feel like it's another way for Big Brother to monitor them."

Once the app was in place, though, Casey said that reps quickly took to it. There certainly is a way that AMS can use it to track how sales reps are doing, but the tool is more for sales reps to improve their knowledge so that they can sell more product, which leads to higher commissions. And that's something the reps could easily get on board with.

Casey said he'd like Qstream to have better dashboards and more data specific to individual reps so that regional managers can provide coaching to their reps. Qstream is working on these features.

As for tying a gamification app to business objectives, AMS is there. Before the mobile gamification app was implemented, AMS reps were retaining 68% of the information that the company wanted them to. Today, that number has increased to 92%.

"I had a rep call me up about two months after we launched," Casey said. "He told me that he hated the tool at the start, but now he loves it. He had gotten a question wrong five times in a row, but [when] he finally he got it right, he was able to use that information in a sales call that day. It's not always about getting it right. It's also about learning when you get the question wrong."

News director Mark Fontecchio may be reached at or on Twitter @markfontecchio.

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