Winning the Sales Game | with Bob Marsh [Transcript]


Link to podcast episode:  Winning the Sales Game | with Bob Marsh of LevelEleven

Jesse Lahey:  Welcome to the show, game changers.  This is the show for CEOs, HR executives, and other business leaders to learn about internal gamification.  Over the course of this series, you’ll hear examples and pitfalls, discover how to access, when it’s an appropriate strategy, and learn to evaluate gamification partners, and game design ideas.

One of the earliest areas to adopt employee gamification has been sales teams.  That’s not surprising since some game inspired elements like competition and rewards have long been used in sales departments where many sales people are naturally competitive and love to win.  But the gamification trend is bringing changes to the world of sales and here to talk to us about that is Bob Marsh of LevelEleven.

LevelEleven develops software tools for sales managers and their teams.  Their flagship product Compete is an app that brings gamification elements to sales force, which is the world’s bestselling customer relationship management system or CRM.  Bob, welcome to Game Changer.

Bob Marsh:  Hey, thanks Jesse.

Jesse:  Can you tell us the history behind LevelEleven?

Bob:  I had spent the majority of my career, about 20 years, in direct selling and in sales management, the last 12 years in particular where at a company called e-Prize.  At e-Prize, we’re in the business of motivating consumer behavior using things like competition, contest, loyalty, et cetera.  So, as a manager, when I was a sales manager, I learned the whole concept and some of the challenges with how do you motivate sales people to stay focused on the right things.

So, as a manager you try to get your team focused on, of course, you want them to sell stuff and you have compensation plans to support that.  But as a manager, you spend a lot of your time saying, “How do I make sure that my folks are focused on the behaviors that will drive the highest level of performance like making calls or following up on these leads, or meeting with clients face to face, or whatever?”  So, I kind of saw that kind of challenge.

I then implemented the for our hundred plus person sales organization.  The whole vision we’re buying into is that I’ll be able to measure and monitor everything happening within the sales organization with the inspiration that if I can measure it, I can motivate it and it can help people perform more efficiently, et cetera.

I looked at that and I started thinking about that part of it, like this growth and the serum market and  Then I started thinking about, well, as a sales person, these are people that are comfortable with accountability, that’s why they’re in this profession, right?

So, I looked at that, I mean they’re very competitive by nature and so I kind of put all that together and said, geez, what if we could create a way to allow a sales manager, to like on demand at any moment, say, “I’m going to whip out this little competition and try to like just turn up the dial, and just turn things up on some behavior that I need people focused on but at any time like I need that stuff here and there.”

So, that was kind of a nugget of the idea.  So, we built kind of a beta version of it about 18 months ago.  I mean we launched it and we quickly started getting some tremendous response.  It was a bit of a side project of mine when I was inside of e-Prize.

E-Prize helped me kind of get the beta version of the ground and then based on its success we said, “You know what?  This shouldn’t be a little side project, anymore.  Let’s go raise venture capital and give this a real go on our own.”  So, that’s when we launched LevelEleven back in the fall of 2012.

Jesse:  Wow.  I think I just read an article on the internet that it’s already the number one app inside the Salesforce platform?

Bob:  Yes. That’s pretty cool.  We actually got that within about six months of going live.  It was kind of funny, when I launched this product I was simply thinking like as I mentioned about, as a manager, how do I motivate my team?  I honestly will admit I did not have this word gamification on my mind at all.  It was more like, “Hey, but I think this is a good way to motivate people.”

So, we put it out there and then around the same time some other players in the market where kind of getting into them like, “Wow, this is interesting.  There is really something going on here.”  Very rapidly, we just kind of got a lot of people using it.  We got people to post some great reviews.  So, yes, in terms of reviews and popularity, it’s the number one by a pretty nice margin in the app exchange.

Jesse:  Now, you weren’t purposely trying to take advantage of the gamification trend, was it completely coincidental or do you feel like you were inspired at all or in part by some of the big things that were going on in that area?

Bob:  Honestly, I wasn’t aware of it.  The thing is with the company that I spent most of my career with — so in e-Prize, I was working with the largest brands in the world, I mean General Mills, Ford, Target, big, big companies like that and how can they motivate consumers using the concept of contest, points, really gamification, although we didn’t really call it that.  It was the same kind of concept.

So, I don’t know that I call it trend I mean that was something that I had been doing and we’d been doing for a decade and kind of dominating the technology space with that, I just kind of look at it as the serum, the sales serum.  Market was expanding, I’m like, “Why don’t we just take those same exact concepts and inject them and move them inside of a sales organization?”

I think what’s coincidental is that there were other companies that were thinking the same thing at the same time.  Therefore, we started coming out in the market with this.  So, it’s been great because actually it kind of validates that I wasn’t insane, like there’s other people thinking the same thing.  All of us, I think collectively are raising awareness around the category.

Jesse:  How does that feel for a user of the program?  What’s different if they’re using Salesforce?  What’s different now if the Compete application is a part of it?

Bob:  Is inside of it?

Jesse:  Right.

Bob: There are a couple of things that are most critical.  If you’re a sales manager, what’s different is that you now are enabled or empowered with a tool that in a matter of minutes you can say, “All right, I need my team or this group of people, or whatever, I need them to put some extra focus and attention around like this activity.”

One example is we run something here on a daily basis called Power Hour.  As a manager, I mean, it’s a perfect example of where I need to kind of get my team focused in some way and so prospecting is a very common challenge.  Sales people they get busy day to day and prospecting, it moves to the bottom of the list like just cold calling.

So, we just said let’s create something called the Power Hour where we use our own application to say, “All right, for one hour a day everyone is going to carve out some time and they’re just going to get at it.”

They’re just going to get out in front of the customers.  They basically prepare themselves for it.  So, as a manager, to go back to your question, it’s the ability for me to pull stuff like that out at any moment in time and say, “All right team I want you extra focused on this for like this week, or this day, or this hour.”

The terms of a sales person, it’s kind of the flipside of that.  It’s like I can say, “All right, now I know that my job is to sell as much as possible.  I mean, obviously, that’s how I make my money as a sales person but my manager, my team, we’re going to get a little bit extra of a nudge like the point of this activity, whether it’s like to get more face to face meetings or again, make more calls or take a new product to market.”

So, it kind of creates that actual element of focus for me as a sales person.  Then I also get some amazing looking visuals.  We have this really high impact leaderboard that looks nothing like what you would see in a normal Salesforce reporter dashboard.  It’s really kind of cool looking.  It’s got some sizzle to it if you will.  It kind of really taps like the competitive nature by stack ranking people and the new nice kind of creative element to it.

It’s always in front of me, so wherever I go on Salesforce I can see it, the little mini version of the leaderboard.  I get e-mails in the morning that reminds me of where I stand.  I can use Salesforce chatter to kind of trash talk with my peers and kind of learn from each other.  It kind of surrounds you in that way.  So, the experience is a little bit different for people but the main thing is that just help people focus correctly.

Jesse:  What gamification elements are included in that, you’ve mentioned the leaderboard?  What other types of things gamifies the experience?

Bob:  So, that’s like one of the main things.  The other one is the ability to be so — when a company is injecting the idea of gamification within the sales organization or really in any business behavior, you’re identifying what’s the action that I’m trying to wrap motivation around.  I mean, that’s the other element, so by identifying what is the specific item that I am trying to wrap some energy around, so being able to very easily identify that as one of them.

The other part is kind of the general recognition which partially comes from the leaderboard.  Leaderboard ranks people so it kind of motivates them to want to climb the leaderboard but also it encourages people to collaborate with each other.  We’ve heard a number of stories where someone is maybe in the middle of that leaderboard and it just makes them start collaborating with their peers and say, “What are you doing different that I’m not?”

“You’re not better at dialing that phone than I am but you’re doing something different that’s allowing you to be higher on the leaderboard.  How can I learn from you?”  So, it ends up that collaborative element is another big part of it.  So, those are the main gamification elements.

Jesse:  You raised an interesting issue, because when you think of games and sales, you tend to think of it all in terms of short term competition.  Who’s going to be at the top this month?  But it would seem like making games out of that would actually go against collaboration and put maybe too much focus on short term competition instead of what’s best for our team?  What’s really best in the long run for customers?   How do you respond to those kinds of concerns?

Bob:  We don’t really hear that concern.  I think it’s a conceptual concern but like if you talk to any manager, they’ll tell you — they’re struggling in one way or the other around like, “How do I get my people focused on this thing that’s most important to the business and that’s going to ultimately help them be more successful?”

So, I think a couple classic examples are — a company invests heavily in like “I have a new product I plan to take to market.”  So, you think of all the energy that comes around that.  See, you’ve got sales collateral comes out, you’ve got training meetings, and you go on to your meetings and you talk to people about it.   How are people taking it to market?  What objections are you hearing, all these effort and energy around it?

Then at the end of the day, the sales person doesn’t pick up the phone and talk about it because they’re afraid of the brand new idea.  They’re like, “I don’t want to be the first to sell it.  I’m going to wait for someone else to sell it then now that I know it’s salable then I’ll do it or I need some results first.”  That’s kind of just a bad habit.  You’ve got to break people off of that.

So, managers will spend all kinds of time and energy trying to break that.  So, what we see is that the idea is you say, “All right, let’s just create a competition around — just go take it to market.  Just pitch it to your customers or get them to upgrade to this product or whatever it might be.”  When you put that in a context of a short term competition, it just creates energy and then drives some excitement around it.  It actually gets the behavior to happen.

So, I guess my point is that managers are facing the struggle of how do I drive different short term behaviors all the time.  There’s always something different.  This is just empowering them with the tool to help make that happen.

Jesse:  That’s interesting.  Now, Bob, you’ve recently written a white paper called, “Crank up your Sales Team.”  You talked about this fact that games and game-inspired elements have long been a part of sales but there’s some new things that gamification brings to that.

Bob:  So, when you look inside of a sales organization, particularly, a service organization or whatever it might be and they start using serum system like a Salesforce.  There are different phases of it.  In the very beginning you’re just trying to get people on board.  You’re just trying to say, just use the thing because you’re trying to change people’s day to day habits.

You’re saying, instead of taking notes on your notebook or writing e-mails to yourself or putting posted notes all over the place, just start putting all your information inside the serum system and that sort of keep your contacts in there, get things updated.  So, what we see there is you say you can apply gamification to say, just reward people for starting to use it.

It’s like taking that baby step.  Maybe it’s just, “Hey, put in your customer contacts into Salesforce.”  Maybe it’s, “Fill-out these fields that we can use it to help in re-marketing purposes.”  It’s just one of the main basic behaviors you want people to do just to start getting familiar with the system and you can wrap gamification around that.

The phase is what I call building insight, whereas people are starting to use it day to day, now you can get good insight into how many calls are people logging, how many meetings are they having, how many cases are they responding to from customer calls, how quickly are they turning them back?  So, you begin to look at some of these data to determine, “All right, what kind of KPI’s, keep performance indicators, do we need to drive the business.”

Then what you do is you say, “All right, I’m going to create a competition or gamification around those main behaviors I need to motivate.”  Then you build the gamification to that.

Then lastly, we call it maintain and grow, which is where you kind of always whip these things out because you know that every morning you need people prospecting or once a month you need people out face to face or maybe as you bring new hires on and you’re trying to take them through these four phases so they can begin to learn about it, you can reward people by just using and learning the system correctly.

Jesse:  Just a quick pause from this interview with Bob Marsh from LevelEleven, to tell listeners about a game we’re playing to have some fun throughout this series.  First Bob is giving away a gift box in honor of LevelEleven’s home based in Detroit, Michigan.  It’s filled with a T-shirt, cookies, chips, and other fun items from the motor city.

To enter to win, send me a tweet at Jesse Lahey mentioning this episode number which is nine and your favorite childhood game such as a video or board game.  We’ll pick a winner at random from the first 50 tweeters.  Also, this episodes’ clue for the game changers series price is the letter A, as in Adam.  There will be other clues in each of the first 14 episodes in the game changers series, as well as, an engagingly leader podcast episode 38 featuring Kevin Orbach.

From those 15 clues, if you can be the first person to guess the secret phrase you win $100 gift card from Amazon.   As soon as you think you know the secret phrase e-mail it to me at  So, the four phases for CRM adoption:  one, just use it.  Get people using it.  Two, build insight from the data.  Three, now that you have that data, drive the key performance indicators.  Four, maintain and grow.

Bob: That’s right.

Jesse:  If you could go back 10 years ago you may have been having competitions and other game inspired elements but you wouldn’t have had the data that you could benefit from and that you could drive people with.

Bob: That’s exactly the idea.  So, I’ve got all these data now, how do I make use of it in a way that is relevant to the person day to day?  You’re sitting there at your desk and you’re a sales person or a call center agent, what am I supposed to do next?  What should I do right now?  Where should I put my focus and energy that’s going to yield me the most result so that I can be successful in my job?

Jesse: Yes, for example your earlier illustration where you can see that, okay we’ve come out with this product.  Now, we can see from the data that nobody is actually making calls and selling the product, they’re apparently afraid of it.  So, from that data we can then go on to the third step and drive some KPIs around getting our product pushed out there into the market place.

Bob: Right, exactly.  So, to be more illustrated with that, so that’s a common scenario with a new product.  The classic way to motivate that would be just basic sales pitch.  It’s just, “Okay, whoever sells this product is going to get, whatever, double commission or you’re going to get a dinner out or whatever might be when you sell that product.”

That’s the idea but if you look at that, as we just talked about, the issue in getting it to market is not just closing the deal.  It’s like there’s so many steps before that.  So, what we see is that the issue is like get the sales people to break their habit and say just start talking about it.  If you just start talking about it then you’ll get the feedback and you’ll be able to respond to it.  You’ll learn the objection. You’ll learn which — how you need to say it, et cetera.

That’s the behavior that you need to change, if you change that behavior that will end up resulting in more sales.  So, the goal is always like more sales, more efficiency et cetera but you have to pinpoint what’s the behavior that I really need to change that’s going to end up yielding that sales result that I need.

Jesse: Yes, so you need to define your business objectives and then take a step back and say what are the actual behaviors that would lead to that business objective and let’s motivate people toward those.

Bob: Right.  A lot of it, it comes down, this isn’t about gamification or serum, it’s just that it’s good management.  It’s just going out and talking to your team and talking to customers and understanding like what makes you uncomfortable and what’s not working and what’s going on with this and then eventually you’ll just start pinpointing what the blocker is and then that’s kind of where you say, “Okay, that’s the thing, that’s the root cause that I need to go address.”

Jesse: Your fourth phase that you talked about maintain and grow has me a little concerned because game designers talk about making a great video game and they’ll talk about three phases that game players go through. There’s an onboarding phase when they’re brand new, just getting introduced to a video game.  There’s a sort of a habit building form where they’re getting familiar with it, they’re getting pretty comfortable. They like using it. They come back again and again.

Then finally they move on to mastery and depending on where they are in that player journey, there’s different aspects of the game that are going to keep them motivated, keep them having fun and want to keep them using it.  Here, you are with LevelEleven.  You’re a little over six months into introduction to the market place.  You’re getting really good feedback from the market place.  Sales managers are excited.  Sales people are excited about it.

But, what happens after they’ve been using the product for a year or so, what’s going to keep it interesting to them instead as opposed to just, “Boy, here’s this month’s challenge, I got to get to the top of the leaderboard.”  What’s going to keep that on-going motivation?

Bob: It’s a great point. I never thought of it in that context but I know exactly what you’re saying.  So, in account to the video game that makes sense.  I think it’s a little bit different but in terms of I can pull out a different competition like over time, so there is essentially no end to the behaviors or whatever a manager needs to rally their team around.  If you look at sales people in particular and this works, the same concept works for any kind of employee.

I mean, they’re just naturally competitive.  People just love to compete and love to kind of see how they’re doing compared to their peers, et cetera.  I just don’t see that getting old, that’s just a natural human instinct.  So, when somebody has it, there’s always some different behavior that you’re trying to drive.  The idea of pulling out competition to make that create more attention and energy around it, just kind of doesn’t go away.

The business is about six months old, the product is about 18 months old so it’s still in this early stages but if anything, what we’re seeing is that the more people use it, they keep coming up with more and more ideas and more ways in which they want to use it.   We’re seeing that it’s not always the same, it’s not the same competition over and over and over again.

It’s not even the same people that are involved over and over and over again, so that’s what keeps things fresh.   It’s also an excellent point about the importance for us to innovate as a company.  So, I know that wasn’t like the crux to your question but you know if we just kind of left the product alone, it’d get pretty stale, right?

So, we need to constantly be looking at like what’s in the market, what are the people trying to drive and that’s surely helps keep things fresh as well because it will get pretty boring and old for everybody.

Jesse: Yes, that’s a good point.  What kind of data have you been getting back, so far, about the results that Compete is making?

Bob: We’re seeing some pretty remarkable results.  Sometimes I almost find it comical because it kind of just shows its natural human instinct to want to be competitive.  So, we’re seeing double, triple digit growth in these behaviors of people [inaudible 00:22:00] to drive.  So, like I mentioned earlier like any moment, on demand for a manager to kind of pull this out and kind of turn the dial, like turn that knob on the behavior over some period of time.

A client of ours, they were struggling to get their sales people to go kind of hunt for new sales opportunities at the beginning of a new fiscal year and so they just said, “Let’s create a competition around it.”  So, they did exactly that and that client saw a 20% spike in qualified sales opportunities that were generated which ended up yielding an increase in sales.

We have another client, the Detroit Pistons.  They had a new product they’re trying to take to market which is kind of similar to the example we talked about earlier. They had the same exact challenge that I mentioned, the sale people weren’t taken to market, been available for months.  It’s a natural product that you think anybody would want to buy, which is a single game suite so like a company could buy it or some could do a party or something.

In the course of six weeks they drove over a half of million dollars in sales and to set some context around that:  that’s the equivalent of their goal for six months.  So, in six weeks they hit their six months sales goal simply because they created competition and energy around that product specifically which ended up driving collaboration and people started seeing like, “Wow, other people are selling this.  This is a real product,” and that motivated them to do it, too.

So, we’ve got many, many examples like that.  The reason I mentioned its comical is that many times these contests or competitions that people are running, they don’t have big, fancy, sexy prizes like they’ll have thing — we had a client that ran a contest where the first prize was milk and cookies.

We have another client who say like you get a dinner out or we have our little competition, we run here each week, we have this little macho man doll, whoever wins gets to put it in front of their desk.  So, the idea is that people are getting motivated by competition more than the actual prize itself, like that’s not the thing that creates energy it’s the competitiveness.

Jesse: Yes, that’s interesting.  Your customers are companies that have already been using Salesforce for some time, so the results that you’re bringing are on top of whatever results Salesforce would have already brought.

Bob: Yes, that’s right. So, generally, they’re all companies that are using Salesforce.  Some are brand new to it and they’re looking for more ways to kind of make that new launch more interesting and exciting for people.  Other’s been using it for a while.  They’re just looking to kind of turn the dial on a little bit.  So yes, as I mentioned like when someone invests in the serum, they’re buying into that vision of measuring and motivating performance.

I kind of classify there’s two different categories of customers that we have.  Everyone’s investing heavily in Salesforce, they just want to get more out of it.  Some of them are saying, “Well, my adoption is terrible. My team isn’t using it.

We need a way to make it more interesting.”  So, that’s the one category, the other category of customers are saying, “No, I mean our adoption is fantastic like our company wouldn’t exist without Salesforce because we couldn’t measure all these stuff.”

They’re simply saying, “I just need to drive these KPIs.  I need to get more meetings happening.  I need to get — try to yield more results out of the existing team that we have.”  So, it’s all about helping them get more out of the investment they’ve already made.

Jesse: How much does that cost to add Compete on top of Salesforce?

Bob: We use a pricing model that’s really synonymous with Salesforce in terms of structure.  So, what a company does is they — let’s say, monthly licensing fee, so it’s $12 per user per month.  Then what a company does, they just identify who are the people that are going to participate in this competition which is generally like the sales team and the service team.

Then who are the managers that we want to enable to build competitions.  So, it’s a combination of both.  Generally, the sales people make up the bulk of it and then you’ll get a few managers on top of it that want to be enabled to build.

Jesse:  How long does it take to implement Compete?

Bob: This is one of the things that we’re really excited about.  We put a lot — we put almost as much engineering effort into the setup installation, setup process we have to the product itself.  So, a company can go to the Salesforce App Exchange, click the “get it now” button and then we walk them through a very simple gumped down, if you will, version of a setup that goes through five steps.

So people are, even larger organization, they are literally, up and running within 20 minutes and they’re building their first little competition.  So, there’s no like outside engineering is needed, you just kind of go click, click, click and you’re up and running.

Jesse: Wow, just like that.

Bob: Yes, My background as a sales manager like really short term focus like I want it now, I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it. I just want to get going so.

Jesse: Yes.

Bob: Trying to make it easy.

Jesse: That’s seems like that would make a big difference.

Bob: Yes.

Jesse: Compete is the number one app within the Salesforce market place, so what has that brought you up to now?  Can you give us sense of how many clients you have and how many users all together?

Bob: So, we’ve got over 75 customers, that’s 75 different enterprises that are using it.  Those are organizations that reign from — we’ve got a tiny little insurance agency in Ohio, New York with about six sales people that are using it all the way up to Comcast with a couple thousand people that are using it.  So, it ranges from large enterprises like that down to tiny little small businesses.

Jesse: You’re doing all these from — you’re based in Detroit, Michigan which is surprising in terms of you think of most software companies being based out on the bay area, on the west coast, or perhaps in New York. What has that experience been like for you?

Bob: This is my home. I love Michigan.  I love Detroit and doing what we can to kind of come back, right?  So, what’s interesting about it is I love the coast. I mean, who doesn’t love to go out to the bay area?  But, it’s surprising in the sense that everyone assumes like all these innovations happening in the coast, and there surely is a lot of it, but it’s happening here too.

So, yes we’re headquartered right in downtown Detroit, like I’m looking out the window right now I can see Comerica Park, home of the Tigers and bunch of other stuff right downtown here.  What’s neat about it is couple of different things that I love about it.   So, when I was starting this up I thought about where should we be?  We could be out in the suburb, maybe close to my house or on the team’s kind of home, etcetera or we can get into Detroit.

So, we’ve seen about this.  We’ve got incredible support with the growth of Detroit and trying to re-vitalize the city.  Our VC firm, Detroit Venture partner is based here.  We got Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans; doing everything he can to grow the city.  What’s great about it is that we’re excited about building our own little business and that’s pretty fun to do.

But then you layer on top of it, we’re around some other startups that are kind of right on the same area and we’re all facing similar things.  But then you put on top of it, this one extra little nod which is we’re playing a little part in trying to re-vitalize the city of Detroit and there’s this element of opportunity.  This is like come back mentality that everybody gets pretty excited about that they’re in Detroit.

That’s either people that are here or when we get on the phone and talk to a prospective customer or an investor, whatever it might be and we tell them we’re in Detroit, like they love that.  It’s a little bit surprising because like, “I just expect people are going to be on the coast.  It’s so cool to hear about a company that’s doing something so exciting and is not on the coast.”

There’s nothing against the coast just like it’s a breath of fresh air.  Then you the layer on top of it and you’re on Detroit.  People are pulling for Detroit like it’s been rough for a little a while.  So, that extra element of like, “We’re pulling for you guys,” I think makes it kind of neat and exciting.

Jesse: Yes, it is really neat.  It’s a bit of an underdog city and it’s cool to see a company like LevelEleven come out of there with a product that’s really winning in its market and it’s not just because that maybe it’s in a sexy location like the bay area.

Bob:  Yes.

Jesse:  So, that’s really cool to see that kind of progress.  Now, how can folks find out more or take the next step with Compete?

Bob:  Yes, sure. Thanks for asking.  So, you can surely go to our website its  Its 11 all spelled out, so not the number.  So,  There we’ve got not only information about the product, but we’ve got a number of resources like white paper, e-books that you can download.

We’ve got a very active blog and we’ve got content going out every day with ideas on the market and what’s going on in the industry and how they motivate sales people and service organizations.

So, you can find out information that way.  Then you can also find us in the Salesforce App Exchange.  So, you can go to the app exchange and search for LevelEleven or search for gamification and you’re going to find Compete, front and center.  So, our twitter handle is @levelelev, my twitter handle is Bob Marsh5.

Jesse: Bob Marsh from LevelEleven thanks for joining us on game changer.

Bob: Thanks Jesse.

Link to podcast episode:  Winning the Sales Game | with Bob Marsh of LevelEleven

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