This post tackles the issue of employee engagement and updates it for the 21st century. What tactics work best for engaging and motivating employees in 2014 and beyond? Let's begin by looking at a famous cultural moment for sales that occurred 30 years back.

The beleaguered sales team. The emphatic speech. “Always. Be. Closing.”  The opening scene in Glengarry Glen Ross is compelling drama, capturing the hyper-competitive and results-driven nature of the sales industry.

The speech was the old-school answer to the question: This sales team is not meeting quotas, how do we push them to go further? In many ways, the sales culture, motivational tactics, and characters in Glengarry have all gone the way of the dinosaur.

Today’s sales force is younger and more diverse. Managers that direct derogatory slurs at employees are now either fired or sued. The chalkboard has gone the way of the phone booth.

What hasn't changed: the continuing struggle for management to instill accountability and motivation in their sales force. Just look at the following Gallup numbers.

  1. 70% of American workers are disengaged in the workplace.
  2. Active disengagement costs the U.S. $450 - $550 billion per year.
  3. 29% in sales are engaged. 51% not engaged. 20% disengaged.

Gallup Poll, “State of the American Workplace.” May 2014.

Employee Disengagement Solutions

A new class of Gen-X and millenial salespeople are the ones now learning the ABCs of sales, drinking coffee, working the phones, and competing in sales competitions. And technology is demonstrating the potential to become the new enforcer of accountability and motivation.

CRMs are tracking employee productivity. Gamification softwares are adding new sales incentives and creating healthy competition. Both are driving to create a more accountable, motivated, and engaged sales force. Here's how. 

Part I. CRMs: The All-Seeing Eye

In the sales industry, few innovations have become as important or pervasive as the development of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. The CRM is a staple of most major companies, tracking marketing, sales, supply chain, and customer service departments’ employee activity and notes about customer interaction.

In the sales department context, a CRM’s primary function is to keep track of employee productivity and actual progress in generating revenue. Every sales call, e-mail, appointment, demo, and close can be documented in the CRM, along with notes and other features.

As a highly experienced, successful sales executive recently told me: "Numbers don't lie. Salespeople do." And CRMs provide a salesperson's numbers and holds him or her accountable for them.

 The result is an emerging, total transparency in sales force productivity that goes way beyond an employee's total revenue. Information is power, and CRMs offer companies a tremendous tool for acquiring and managing information on productivity while becoming increasingly pervasive.

A major 2012 survey found that nearly half (47%) of the North American and European enterprises questioned were utilizing CRM software. An additional 13 percent planned on implementing a CRM in the next fiscal year, with another 12 percent planning to use a CRM in the long-term.1


In terms of motivation, CRMs can hold sales reps accountable for their workplace productivity. For example, a supervisor can confirm if a seemingly apathetic employee has been underachieving by checking the number of cold calls he made that week.

What is important is that the employee knows that his superior can check his productivity. When used properly, the CRM’s productivity-tracking capabilities can help management sophisticate and tailor motivational tactics toward each employee. After all, not everyone in Glengarry responded well to that particular method of appeal.

Now, when a sales force is performing poorly, supervisors have the ability to review employee performance data and discern which employees need coaching, which employees need a better sense of urgency, and which need both.

Employee productivity-tracking is as sophisticated and pervasive as it has ever been. Consequently, sales managers now have access to individual performance data--from number of outbound sales calls made on a given day to multi-quarter trends in lead generation--that is increasingly comprehensive, metric adaptable, and immediately available.  

Part II. Gamification: Reimagining the Workplace

Enterprise gamification represents the emergent trend starting to re-shape sales force culture. In essence, gamification is a company's use of graphics and designs found in video and online games to foster an employee competition.

In a gamified sales force, on-the-job tasks, sales objectives, and employees all usually become part of the particular game taking place.

At its core, gamification is part of a greater trend that has been developing since the 1990s: an increasing emphasis on developing work environments that are more engaging and predicated on healthy competition.2 

It is no coincidence that the rise of gamification coincides with the Millenial generation’s increasingly pronounced presence in the workforce. Gamified workplaces appeal most naturally to Millenials, who are technologically inclined and grew up playing video games--the model for most gamification software. 

Example: A sales department holds a contest:

  1. The first person to complete 400 outbound calls wins.
  2. The department has eight employees. 
  3. The winner gets a $50 gift certificate.

The ultimate aim of gamification is to induce better productivity and data-tracking from the participating employees by taking more-or-less the polar opposite approach to the Glengarry model for motivating a work force.  Whereas the latter strategy is pure fire and brimstone, the gamification approach is an appeal to the employee’s fun-loving inner child. In turn, gamification also has the ancillary objective of creating a more engaging work environment. 

The rationale behind the practice is two-fold.

Number one: “The same incentives that inspire game players to strive for the next level in a computer game can also inspire employees to reach for a higher level of performance.”

Number two: Gamification “can help organizations make the workplace more engaging.”3

The result is more opportunities for recognition, additional forms of motivation, and a more lively work environment.

Notably, Sales force employees in the new millenium have also become more mercenary than ever, placing a premium on company ability to attract elite young talent. Gamification represents a new tactic for increasing employee productivity and improving company culture since the beginning of the decade.

Part III. A Better Set of Steak Knives?

So what does the future look like for the twenty-first century sales rep?

First, it goes without saying that the Glengarry Glen Ross sales management culture is not completely extinct, and never will be. There will always be sales managers, and even companies--with varying degrees of success--that will pride themselves on having a purely “tough love” management style.

That being said, the vast majority of sales workplaces scarcely resemble the Glenngary office setting for a reason: we live in a world where our culture, demographics, ideas, technology, and values are continuously changing. Most changes that occur on a broad scale across society eventually occur in company cultures too, out of necessity. Successful companies adapt appropriately to these important shifts.

In that respect, the proliferation and increasing sophistication of CRM and Gamification software looms large. These technologies portend future sales environments that are held accountable and motivated via an optimized transparency in their productivity and an engaging company culture.

No matter what technology brings, sales force leadership will always struggle to improve motivation and accountability. But they will have more tools at their disposal, and less inclination toward the Glengarry Glen Ross-style management. In other words, a better set of steak knives.

Part IV. Beyond Sales Gamification

As we enter 2015, the companies that get sustainable results from sales gamification must do more than rely on leaderboards and badges to engage their sales force.

Example: In March, the Harvard Business Review profiled a sixty-person inside sales team who used Ambition to score daily individual performance and run team sales contests.  According to the article, Ambition led to "dramatic increases in productivity for sustained periods of time."

One was public recognition for performance. Another: the "social aspects" of team contests, which encouraged collaboration and coaching. Most importantly, however, were the 4 layers of competition taking place. Each sales rep was competing against his or her own daily benchmarks, past performance (visualized on each Ambition profile page), the rest of the field (for a spot on the leaderboard) and in weekly team competitions.

By challenging its reps on four separate levels each day, Clayton Homes saw incredible results in ROI, even during breaks from the team competitions. As the sea change in sales force demographics and technology continues to trend towards Millennials and sales enablement, it will be interesting to see what the future holds.

Whatever the case, sales force engagement will be critical to achieve success.

Learn More About Ambition

Ambition’s acclaimed employee productivity platform gives 360° visibility into individual and team performance.

Create accountability and recognition with live performance data from any data source. Track and broadcast key metrics to personalized dashboards and office TVs. Put holistic goals right in front of your reps. Compare activity level and goal attainment across teams to see how hard and how smart your reps are working. Benchmark success for teams, roles and individuals, then drive results via automated scorecards, contests, recognition and reporting.

Perfect for front office teams that value performance-driven culture and transparent operations, Ambition is a Harvard Business Review and AA-ISP endorsed solution for driving frontline revenue. See how clients like PwC, Lyft, Wayfair, FiveStars, Total Quality Logistics, and Outreach use Ambition at

Market Numbers

  1. In 2012, the CRM market grew at three times the average of all enterprise software categories.4
  2. Between 2011 and 2012, CRM sales in China grew 27 percent.5
  3. By 2015, “40% of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations.”6
  4. In 2012, Deloitte Consulting annointed gamification one of the year’s top 10 technology trends.7 

Further Reading

1. Davey, Neil. (2013). “The Challenges and Opportunities of CRM in 2014.” Smart Insights.

2. Nelson, M. (2012) Soviet and American Precursors to the Gamification of Work. Center for Computer Games Research ITU Copenhagen.

3. Olding, E. (2012): "Engagification”of the Enterprise – Gamification and Employee Engagement. Gartner Research.

4. Columbus, Louis. (2013). “2013 CRM Market Share Update: 40% Of CRM  Systems Sold Are SaaS-Based.”

5. ^^

6. Olding, E. (2012): "Engagification”of the Enterprise – Gamification and Employee Engagement. Gartner Research.

7. Anderson, Janna and Lee Raine. (2012). “The Future of Gamification.” Pew Research Internet Project.

Ambition Creates Target-Driven Sales Culture

Ambition is a sales management platform that syncs every department, data source, and performance metric in your organization on one system.

Sales organizations use Ambition to enhance sales performance visibility. Ambition's drag-and-drop interface lets non-technical sales leaders create custom sales scorecards, contests, reports, and TVs with live data. 

Ambition is endorsed by Harvard Business Review, AA-ISP (the Global Inside Sales Organization), and USA Today as a proven solution for managing activity-driven sales teams. Visit our AppExchange page. Meet our clients below.

Watch Testimonials:

  1. FiveStars: Adam Wall. Sr. Manager of Sales Operations . 
  2. Filemaker: Brad Freitag. Vice-President of Worldwide Sales.
  3. Outreach: Mark Kosoglow. Vice-President of Sales.
  4. Cell Marque: Lauren Hopson. Director of Sales & Marketing.
  5. Access America Transport: Ted Alling. Chief Executive Officer.

Watch Product Walkthroughs:

  1. ChowNow. Led by Vice-President of Sales, Drew Woodcock.
  2. Outreach. Led by Sales Development Manager, Alex Lynn.
  3. AMX Logistics. Led by Executive Vice-President ,Jared Moore.

Read Case Studies:

  1. Clayton HomesHBR finds triple-digit growth in 3 sales efficiency metrics. 
  2. Coyote Logistics: Monthly revenue per broker grew $525 in 6 months.
  3. Peek: Monthly sales activity volume grew 142% in 6 months.
  4. Vorsight: Monthly sales conversations grew 300% in 6 months.

Contact us to learn how Ambition can impact your sales organization today.

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