Getting channel partners to plow through hundreds of pages of content -- sales programs, education, certification, etc. -- is no small feat. That's why at least one IT vendor, VMware Inc., has teamed up with gamification company Bunchball Inc. to tackle content overload and boost engagement, motivation and loyalty. And that's just for starters.
With about 85% of the company's business being channel-driven, VMware Senior Manager of Partner Portal Operations Naeem Randhawa knows partners are the lifeblood of the company's business. "Partners don't have to engage with us. We're just one vendor among many they can work with," he said.
That's why at the VMware Partner Exchange 2014, taking place next week in San Francisco, the company will announce to 20,000 expected attendees that it's rolling out Phase I of its new approach to transforming partner sales through education gamification. The rollout includes all of VMware's 60,000 global partners, or 450,000 users.
Eager to push VMware knowledge out to its partner base, Phase I of VMware's gamification effort targets the education portion of its partner portal and involves building a reward system for VMware technical and sales certifications. What this means, for example, is that when a partner finishes a course, they get a badge. When they finish another course, they get another badge. When they get a certification, they move up a level.
Yeah, so? What's the game?
Gamification uses game mechanics to motivate participation, engagement and loyalty of players by applying data-driven techniques that game designers have successfully used to engage players for decades, such as giving fast feedback that helps with strategy; providing transparency as to where the player stands in the game -- now, over time, or compared to a group, for example -- with the help of statistics; allowing goals to be established and progress to be tracked; awarding badges as a way of indicating reputation; and progressing through levels that indicate status earned.
According to Bunchball founder and Chief Product Officer Rajat Paharia, gamification is about motivating people through data. "It's about taking all the data we're generating as we're interacting with all these systems and using it to give people goals around it, fast feedback, or to let people work together as teams to accomplish goals, for example," said Paharia, who is also the author of Loyalty 3.0, a book about how to revolutionize customer and employee engagement with big data and gamification.
Companies are using gamification techniques to motivate employees, customers or, in VMware's case, partners, in numerous areas, such as training, collaboration, sales or service. Gamification goes way beyond badges and earning points, however. True gamification, according to Bunchball, marries interaction design, psychology and big data to enable personalized challenges, social competition, group collaboration, and meaningful rewards to motivate and engage employees, customers and online communities.
In 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2014 more than 70% of global 2000 organizations would have at least one "gamified" application using three key gamification techniques: motivation, momentum and meaning.
In the second half of 2014, Phase II of VMware's education gamification effort will expand on Phase I with the addition of more activities within the education portal.
"We also expect that in 2014 we'll expand gamification to sales activity; that's our roadmap," Randhawa said, adding that expansion will be slow based on usage evaluation and partner feedback. The vendor is also using gamification industry best practices to understand what has worked or has not worked in other enterprise implementations.
"Ultimately, our goal is to make gamification an integral part of our partner business," he said.
At last year's VMware PEX 2013, the company announced deployment of Socialcast, its social networking platform, to its global partner community in another innovative effort to better engage partners. Socialcast allows partners to talk directly -- in a secure, behind-the-firewall fashion -- with VMware support employees for timely communication, whether that's private conversations, team collaboration, document sharing, or organization groups around a project, team or topic.
One year later, the beta Socialcast project is maturing, and at the upcoming VMware partner conference the company will drop "beta" from the name and expand functionality.
"Partner uptake was good based on the segment we targeted. Like any new technology, some partners love this stuff and others have no use for it," Randhawa said.
VMware developed Socialcast with its Partner Central Portal, so when users sign in, they can click on the global Partner Link Social Platform and sign up for a variety of groups or whatever else they find relevant on the site.