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The gamification platform: Cool toy or CRM partner opportunity?

Dynamics CRM partner companies can expect to see gamification features integrated in Microsoft's fall software release.

Maybe you're a partner who has had some experience with gamification, maybe not.

If you're a Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner, it's time to get on board. Microsoft plans on integrating gamification features directly into the release of Dynamics CRM that rolls out at the end of the company's calendar year. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced the purchase of Incent Games Inc., the developer and owner of FantasySalesTeam, a sales gamification platform, and quickly stated its intentions to add gamification capabilities to Dynamics CRM.

In short, gamification is about motivating people to do something by changing behavior (i.e., sell more or improve engagement, involvement and performance).

Integrated with CRM, gamification capabilities would help with product adoption and productivity and would ultimately increase revenue, according to Microsoft. For partners aware of customer adoption issues around CRM, the new integrated solution puts a new spin on a challenging problem.

And the vendor isn't stopping there. Microsoft will explore applying gamification features to other fields and areas within a business. That said, it's time for partners to learn more about gamification.

Batter up: Integrated gamification

Gamification for CRM isn't new. In fact, it's been around for a number of years but primarily as a standalone platform -- like FantasySalesTeam and CRMGamified. Systems integrators helped mostly enterprise customers integrate gamification features into their applications.

"I think you'll see that shift some as it becomes more available inside a product," said Michael Fauscette, group vice president for software business solutions at IDC, who also noted that as a standalone product gamification was a solution looking for a problem.

Integrated with Dynamics CRM, industry analysts expect gamification to find a broader audience. "As a standalone product, gamification wasn't easy. However, once it's integrated inside a product it will be easier to set up and we'll probably see it more in the midmarket," Fauscette said.

For partners, that means growth and opportunity.

Chuck Ingram, senior director of the CRM practice at Microsoft partner Tribridge, headquartered in Tampa, Fla., is excited about the FantasySalesTeam purchase.

"We think it's going to create more opportunity for us where we can think of more applications over the customer lifecycle and not just the project," he said.

Ingram added that he sees the Incent Games acquisition by Microsoft and plans to integrate it with Dynamics CRM as a solution to a problem -- namely adoption of CRM.

Citing recent Gartner research that found the worldwide CRM market $23.2 billion in 2014, up 13.3% from $20.4 billion in 2013, Ingram said companies spend that on CRM to get close to their customers.

"But unfortunately, they're spending a bunch of money on it and they're not getting their money back," he said. "About half the time, on average, these companies that invest in CRM aren't happy with it -- the main reason, low adoption," he added.

The problem?

Customers that use CRM focus too much on the technology and less time on the art of building their people (employees), processes and technology around the customer.

Gamification can tie into different areas of the company so it's possible to see it anywhere.
Michael Fauscettegroup VP for Software Business Solutions at IDC

That's why Tribridge's focus on CRM is the journey and not the process. To help its customers be successful with CRM, the partner developed a number of programs. One is Adoption Essentials, a program that focuses on the long-term CRM journey. As part of the program, Tribridge visits the customer on a quarterly basis post implementation to see if the customer's goals are being met.

The partner has a number of other programs: Tribridge Tutor for contextual help, a social collaboration platform kind of like a Facebook for CRM, and an adoption app called CRM Rewards. "It's a basic gamification app that works similar to how a credit card rewards program works with points. It's another way to incent users to get on board," said Ingram.

In other instances the partner works with other independent software vendors to drive adoption. "This is where we think that Microsoft with FantasySalesTeam will fit. We'll jump right in and start using it," he said.

Play ball: Adopting a gamification platform

Steve Mordue, CEO of Forceworks, a Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner, also located in Tampa, thinks gamification is a "cool tool" and has looked at several gamification platform offerings for Dynamics CRM but hasn't seen any traction with customers.

"I think the challenge that gamification has is the term 'gamification.' The CEO or the VP of sales who's interested in motivating his team or incenting his team to compete with one another … doesn't like the idea that we're introducing a game into the business," Mordue said. "It doesn't feel like a business tool to a lot of business people," he added.

Mordue is on board with the idea of adding a competitive element to CRM where people are compared with their peers and there are challenges to accomplish certain things such as sales goals.

"I think the term gamification has held it back, but I expect that Microsoft will change that. I'll bet they look at [FantasySalesTeam] and rename it into something more businesslike, like a motivation engine or incentive tracker or something other than game," he said.

IDC's Fauscette would like to see Microsoft offer templates that target the
salespeople or whomever within the company that's being targeted to help companies figure out what to do with the gamification features. "That was always the hard part: It's good, but what's it good for?" he said.

Gamification expands to applications other than CRM, such as finance or human resources. "Gamification can tie into different areas of the company so it's possible to see it anywhere," Fauscette said.

Ingram's advice to other partners about gamification: Take a long view of the customer. "It's about the lifecycle. If you start to do that and bring the customer, not just the technology, but the business folks who will actually be using the system, into the implementation process and get their feedback and understand their needs more -- they'll be able to advise on gamification," he said. "We as partners have to help the customers own that part of the solution and be the referee in the game," he added.

Partners can expect to hear more from Microsoft about gamification in the coming months and how best to take advantage of gamification features, according to the company.

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