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4 Ways SMBs Can Score With Gamification

Small and midsize businesses are well-positioned to take advantage of gamification. Here's some expert advice on how to use the growing trend to get closer to your customers.

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Ready to join the gamification trend? There's good news for SMBs: You don't need a big budget or IT staff.

One reason why: Gamification connects with the same elements of human nature that get people hooked on Angry Birds or other games where there's some goal or reward, no matter how simple, to be achieved. Another, notes Badgeville SVP of field operations Kevin Akeroyd, is that all of the major gamification platforms--Badgeville included--are cloud-based. As a result, a 10-person company can cash in on the same benefits as a Fortune 10 firm. Indeed, Badgeville's current client base spans that giant gamut.

Gamification doesn't mean you're suddenly competing with Electronic Arts. Rather, Akeroyd said, "it takes what makes games so addictive" and repurposes those elements in other contexts. That might involve issuing a virtual currency like points or credits. It could also mean some kind of visualization (think levels, belts, or badges), rankings, or reputation system. No matter the form it takes, gamification's overarching goal is always the same: Driving some type of user behavior.

Sound like child's play rather than real business? Consider this: "When you take that psychology and game dynamics and apply them to your business, that's what makes [customers] come back and do what you want them to do--every bit as much as what makes them come back to a Facebook game every single day," Akeroyd said.

[ There are a lot of tools available for SMBs. Read 3 Ways To Get More From Google Docs. ]

SMBs new to the game should start to consider some of the ways in which they could tap into the trend--the potential business cases involve both external customer and internal employee scenarios. In an interview, Akeroyd shared some of his winners.

1. Generating traffic.

SMBs that depend on their website for revenue typically struggle with a common challenge: Getting people to their site without going broke doing so. "They don't have the money to waste on customer acquisition and traffic acquisition like larger companies," Akeroyd said.

Gamification programs can help encourage return visits, too, functioning as a sort of loyalty program for the modern era. "A lot of loyalty programs are actually based on gamification now rather than money, because those points and reputation mean more than that tenth cup of coffee for free," Akeroyd said.

2. Encouraging social sharing.

Like plenty of other elements of social business, gamification begins delivering compounding returns when users start sharing their recent activity with their networks.

"The people that do this want to share it out with their social networks and communities, which has another halo effect," Akeroyd said. "It turns into an unbelievable way in which [SMBs] can get their existing customers to go out and bring in new customers without having to pay for them."

3. Sales productivity.

Motivating a sales force is a no-brainer internal use case in Akeroyd's book, adding incentives above and beyond the core commissions. In effect, gamification can modernize the old dry-erase leaderboard that tracks which reps are closing in on the paid weekend in Key West.

4. Employee training/certification/onboarding.

Small businesses that operate without a formal human resources department--let alone dedicated staff for things like employee training or new-hire onboarding--sometimes leave these matters up to blind faith. As in: "Let's just hope this gets done." Gamification can help motivate employees to complete important training, certification, and related tasks, without HR or a manager having to waste time standing over their shoulders. Akeroyd said the results can be even more tangible in roles that often come with laborious training, such as customer support.

Yet when it comes to internal uses, Akeroyd see almost no limits: "[It can] drive pretty much any employee behavior that you want," he said. "It drives it very effectively, because I'm doing it out of my own motivation to achieve that recognition or reward that you're going to give me for going through the activity."

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