The Surprising History Of Sales Gamification & Its Influence On Today's Top Performers

Adam Steele

Mar 27, 2023

Have you ever wondered how the art of selling has evolved throughout history? What role has competition and motivation played in the development of sales techniques? In this article, we will explore the fascinating history of sales gamification and its influence on today's top performers. So, when did sales gamification start? Let's dive in and find out.

The concept of sales gamification may seem like a modern invention, but its roots can be traced back centuries. At its core, gamification is the application of game elements and principles to non-game contexts, such as sales. This approach seeks to tap into our innate desires for competition, achievement, and social interaction, ultimately driving motivation and improving performance.

Historically, merchants and traders have always sought ways to make their sales more engaging and rewarding. The ancient bazaars, bustling marketplaces, and lively trade fairs of the past all had one thing in common: they turned commerce into a competitive and social activity. These early forms of sales gamification laid the groundwork for the sophisticated techniques and strategies that we see today in the world of sales.

As we journey through the surprising history of sales gamification, we will uncover how the spirit of competition and motivation has shaped the industry. We will examine the pioneers who introduced game-like elements to sales, how sales gamification techniques evolved in the 20th century, and how technology has transformed sales gamification in the digital era. By understanding the origins of sales gamification, we can appreciate its powerful impact on today's top performers and learn valuable lessons for our own sales endeavors.

The Game of Sales: Early Forms of Gamification in Commerce

As we ponder the question "where did sales gamification come from?", it's important to consider the early examples of gamification in commerce. Throughout history, various forms of competition and rewards have been employed to motivate sellers and engage buyers. Let's explore some of these early practices and their impact on the evolution of sales gamification.

Ancient Marketplaces and Trade Fairs

Long before the age of online shopping and digital marketing, the ancient world had vibrant marketplaces and trade fairs. These events were lively, competitive spaces where merchants displayed their wares and negotiated prices with potential customers. The social and competitive nature of these gatherings laid the foundation for the gamification of sales.

One example is the ancient Roman Macellum, a market where sellers would compete to attract customers by offering deals, discounts, or showcasing their unique products. The more engaging and creative the merchants were, the more successful they were at attracting buyers. This early form of sales gamification encouraged innovation, competition, and customer engagement, fostering the growth of commerce in the ancient world.

The Art of Auctions

Auctions, which date back to ancient civilizations, such as Babylon and ancient Rome, are another example of early sales gamification. Auctions turn the act of selling into a competitive game, with participants vying to outbid one another for the desired item. This competitive bidding process not only drives up the price of the item but also creates a sense of excitement and urgency among the bidders.

Auctions also introduced the concept of rewards for sellers. Auctioneers would often receive a percentage of the final selling price as their commission, motivating them to encourage higher bids and create a more exciting auction experience. This early form of performance-based rewards set the stage for modern sales gamification techniques that utilize incentives to drive performance.

Early Sales Contests and Incentives

As trade and commerce continued to expand, businesses and salespeople began to devise more sophisticated methods of motivating their sales teams. Early sales contests and incentives emerged as a way to capitalize on the competitive spirit and drive sales performance. These early sales gamification techniques provided a platform for sellers to compete against each other and earn rewards based on their performance.

One historical example is the door-to-door sales industry that thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Companies like the Fuller Brush Company and the Southwestern Company held sales contests to motivate their salespeople. These contests rewarded top sellers with prizes, such as cash bonuses, trips, or exclusive items, fostering a competitive environment that encouraged individuals to improve their sales skills and performance.

In these early forms of sales gamification, we see the foundations of modern gamification techniques. The use of competition, rewards, and social interaction in sales has a long and storied history, demonstrating the effectiveness of gamification in driving sales performance. As we move forward in our exploration of the history of sales gamification, we'll see how these early practices evolved and influenced the development of new techniques and strategies in the 20th century and beyond.

From ancient marketplaces and trade fairs to early sales contests, the seeds of sales gamification have been sown throughout the course of human history. The desire for competition, achievement, and social interaction has been a driving force in shaping the sales landscape. These early forms of gamification in commerce have had a lasting impact on how we approach sales today, laying the groundwork for the dynamic, engaging, and performance-driven techniques that continue to push the boundaries of salesmanship.

Pioneers in Gamification: Who Was the First to Gamify Sales?

In our quest to uncover the history of sales gamification, we must recognize the key figures and companies that played a crucial role in developing and implementing game-like elements in sales. Let's investigate the question "who was the first to gamify sales?" and appreciate the impact of these pioneers on the evolution of sales techniques.

Early Incentive Programs and Sales Contests

While it is difficult to pinpoint a single individual or company as the first to gamify sales, several early incentive programs and sales contests stand out as influential predecessors. One notable example is the National Cash Register Company (NCR), founded by John H. Patterson in the late 19th century. Patterson was a strong believer in motivating his sales force through innovative contests and incentive programs, which included cash prizes, medals, and trips to exotic destinations. These early sales contests laid the groundwork for modern sales gamification techniques.

Mary Kay Ash and the Power of Recognition

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, was another early pioneer in sales gamification. She built her company on the foundation of recognizing and rewarding the achievements of her sales force. Ash introduced various incentives and rewards, such as the iconic pink Cadillac, to motivate her sales consultants and foster a sense of camaraderie and healthy competition. By gamifying the sales experience and emphasizing the importance of recognition, Mary Kay Ash created a thriving and loyal sales force that continues to be successful today.

Dale Carnegie's Influence on Sales Motivation

Dale Carnegie, the renowned author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People," also played a significant role in shaping the history of sales gamification. While not directly associated with gamification techniques, Carnegie's teachings focused on the psychological aspects of sales, emphasizing the importance of understanding human motivations and behavior. His principles have had a lasting impact on sales techniques and have influenced the development of modern sales gamification by highlighting the power of motivation and personal achievement.

Xerox and the Birth of Sales Training Programs

Another milestone in the history of sales gamification was the introduction of formal sales training programs. In the 1960s, the Xerox Corporation launched its Professional Selling Skills (PSS) training program, designed to improve the skills and performance of its sales force. The PSS program incorporated various game-like elements, such as role-playing exercises, simulations, and performance tracking, to engage and motivate sales representatives. This comprehensive and immersive approach to sales training not only enhanced the skills of Xerox's sales force but also paved the way for the adoption of gamification techniques in sales training programs worldwide.

The pioneers of sales gamification, like John H. Patterson, Mary Kay Ash, Dale Carnegie, and the Xerox Corporation, have each contributed to the development and implementation of game-like elements in sales. Their innovative approaches to motivation, recognition, and training have had a lasting impact on the evolution of sales techniques and the modern sales landscape. These trailblazers recognized the power of competition, achievement, and social interaction in driving sales performance and were instrumental in shaping the history of sales gamification.

The 20th Century: Evolution of Sales Gamification Techniques

The 20th century was a time of rapid progress and innovation, paving the way for significant advancements in sales gamification techniques. As we explore the growth and development of sales gamification in the 20th century, we will uncover the influence of psychology, motivational theories, and technological advancements on this fascinating discipline.

The Growth and Development of Sales Gamification

During the 20th century, the world of sales continued to evolve, with new approaches and techniques emerging to motivate and engage sales teams. The rise of mass communication and the widespread availability of consumer goods created a competitive sales environment, prompting companies to explore innovative ways to encourage and reward their salespeople. Sales contests, incentive programs, and leaderboards became increasingly popular, and businesses began to recognize the value of gamification in driving sales performance.

Influence of Psychology and Motivational Theories on Sales Gamification

As the field of psychology progressed during the 20th century, motivational theories emerged that had a significant impact on sales gamification. The work of Abraham Maslow, Frederick Herzberg, and B.F. Skinner, among others, helped shape our understanding of human motivation and behavior. Their theories highlighted the importance of intrinsic motivation, the role of rewards and reinforcement, and the need for achievement and recognition in driving performance. These insights informed the development of sales gamification techniques, as businesses began to recognize the power of appealing to the psychological needs and motivations of their salespeople.

Specific Examples of Sales Gamification Techniques and Their Effectiveness

As businesses experimented with new techniques and strategies, several innovative examples of sales gamification emerged during the 20th century. Here are a few noteworthy instances:

1. Leaderboards and Scorecards: Companies began using leaderboards and scorecards to track and display sales performance, fostering a sense of competition and achievement among their sales teams. These visual representations of success not only motivated individual salespeople to strive for higher performance but also encouraged teamwork and collaboration, as colleagues worked together to reach shared goals.

2. Sales Contests and Incentive Programs: Building on the early examples set by pioneers like John H. Patterson and Mary Kay Ash, sales contests and incentive programs became increasingly popular during the 20th century. Companies offered attractive prizes, such as vacations, cash bonuses, and luxury items, to motivate their sales teams and reward top performers. These contests and incentives tapped into the competitive nature of salespeople, driving them to exceed their goals and push their limits.

3. Role-Playing and Simulation Exercises: As sales training and development evolved, role-playing and simulation exercises became integral components of sales gamification. These exercises allowed salespeople to practice their skills, refine their sales techniques, and receive feedback in a safe, controlled environment. The experiential nature of these exercises helped salespeople internalize the lessons and apply them more effectively in real-world situations.

4. Behavioral Economics and Nudging: As the field of behavioral economics gained prominence, the concept of "nudging" entered the realm of sales gamification. Companies began to experiment with subtle environmental and psychological cues to influence salespeople's behavior and decision-making processes. By leveraging insights from behavioral economics, businesses were able to create more effective sales gamification strategies that tapped into the unconscious motivations of their sales teams.

Throughout the 20th century, sales gamification techniques continued to evolve and adapt to the changing business landscape. The integration of psychological insights, motivational theories, and technological advancements created a rich environment for experimentation and innovation in sales gamification. As a result, many of the techniques and strategies developed during this period continue to shape the way businesses motivate and engage their sales teams in the 21st century.

From Boardrooms to Cyberspace: Sales Gamification in the Digital Era

As we moved into the digital era, sales gamification experienced a transformation that opened new doors for innovative techniques and strategies. The advent of the internet and the rapid growth of technology provided the perfect platform for sales gamification to expand its horizons and redefine the way businesses engage and motivate their sales teams.

The Transition of Sales Gamification to the Digital Realm

With the rise of the internet, sales teams became more geographically dispersed and increasingly reliant on digital tools for communication and collaboration. This shift to the digital realm created new opportunities and challenges for sales gamification. Companies needed to adapt their strategies to suit the online environment, and sales gamification techniques underwent a digital transformation. This evolution led to the creation of sophisticated software platforms, mobile apps, and digital tools designed to enhance sales performance through gamification elements such as points, badges, leaderboards, and challenges. Furthermore, the influence of sports and video games have begun to permeate the sales gamification landscape such as leveling up from basic leaderboards, themed contests, and more.

Influence of Technology on Sales Gamification Techniques and Strategies

Technology played a crucial role in shaping the sales gamification techniques and strategies of the digital era. Advanced analytics and data-driven insights allowed companies to create personalized and targeted gamification experiences for their sales teams. By leveraging data on individual salespeople's performance, preferences, and behaviors, businesses could develop tailored gamification strategies that maximized engagement and motivation.

Furthermore, technology facilitated real-time feedback and continuous improvement. Digital sales gamification platforms could instantly track and analyze sales performance, providing salespeople with immediate feedback on their progress and areas for improvement. This real-time feedback loop allowed sales teams to adapt and refine their strategies more quickly, leading to accelerated learning and performance growth.

Examples of Modern Digital Sales Gamification Tools and Platforms

As sales gamification transitioned to the digital realm, a wide variety of innovative tools and platforms emerged to support businesses in their quest to motivate and engage their sales teams. Here are some noteworthy examples:

1. Outfield: Outfield allows for multiple levels of competition variety. Weekly head-to-head matchups against colleagues (or yourself from last week), quarterly standings, KPI leaderboards, all-time bests, competing against an individual or team goal, & more all serve to create an environment of friendly competition that boosts engagement & performance. 

2. Salesforce: Salesforce, the first cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform, offers a range of gamification add-ons through its app exchange designed to drive sales performance. 

3. Ambition: Ambition is a sales performance management platform that uses gamification to motivate sales teams and drive results. 

4. LevelEleven: LevelEleven is a sales gamification platform that focuses on creating personalized and engaging experiences for sales teams. 

5. GamEffective (now Centrical): GamEffective, rebranded as Centrical, is an employee engagement platform that combines gamification, personalized microlearning, and performance management to drive sales team success.

6. Hoopla: Hoopla is a sales motivation platform that leverages gamification, data analytics, and a visually engaging interface to drive sales performance. 

These examples represent just a fraction of the numerous digital sales gamification tools and platforms available today. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more innovative solutions that help businesses motivate and engage their sales teams in the digital era.

Final Thoughts

The rich history of sales gamification reveals the enduring impact of this practice on motivating and engaging sales teams across time and cultures. From simple sales contests in the early 1800s to the complex digital platforms we see today, sales gamification has continually evolved to meet the needs of an ever-changing business landscape. Its lasting legacy can be seen in the modern sales strategies that many top performers employ, as they rely on the motivational power of competition, recognition, and rewards to drive success.

Today's top sales performers understand the importance of staying engaged and motivated in their work, and they leverage the principles of sales gamification to maintain their competitive edge. By embracing the challenge of sales contests, celebrating their achievements through recognition and rewards, and using digital tools to enhance their performance, these professionals exemplify the transformative potential of sales gamification.

As we look to the future, we can expect sales gamification to continue evolving alongside technological advancements and shifting business trends. The core principles of competition, recognition, and rewards will undoubtedly remain central to the practice, as they have proven to be powerful drivers of human motivation for centuries. As we continue to innovate and adapt our sales strategies, it is essential to remember the lessons of history and the enduring power of gamification to inspire and engage our teams.

Outfield is pioneering performance-based CRM with the industry's leading sales gamification software. Learn how our modern approach boosts output up to 3x.


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