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vSphere training uses gamification to reach more channel partners

VMware said the use of gamification has increased the number of channel partners who pursue the company's vSphere and non-core product training each month.

More than 18 months ago, VMware teamed up with gamification vendor Bunchball Inc. to help drive partner education around newer product categories, such as storage virtualization, networking virtualization and the management of vSphere. With a double-digit uptake in both core vSphere training and non-core product training, VMware considers gamification a success.

More to the point, Colleen Kapase, vice president of Partner Go-to-Market Experience at VMware, said, "Gamification has been a resounding success without question."

While VMware had a solid base of partners who understood the company's core vSphere products, it had a strong need to get partners up to speed on and invest in what the vendor called its non-core technology -- or seven different product categories all together.

"We know that there's a correlation between the more a salesperson knows, the more they sell," she said. That premise was what fueled the company's gamification effort.

Gamification boosts vSphere training, non-core efforts

The results of implementing gamification principles in partner training -- found in VMware's partner university within the partner portal -- were exceptional uptake in training across the board.

Prior to gamification, VMware trained 2,000 individuals per quarter on its core vSphere products. That sales and system engineer (SE) vSphere training consists of about seven modules. What the company recorded after putting gamification in place was a 50% quarter after quarter increase for sales in its core training.

"That wasn't in our initial mission statement but it was a nice surprise for us to see as well," Kapase said.

In addition, the goal of using gamification to get partners to understand the company's non-core technologies skyrocketed. The vendor typically trained about 2,000 to 4,000 individual partners -- sales and SEs -- per quarter. "Once we implemented gamification we saw that grow [to] 8,000 to 10,000 individuals per quarter," Kapase said.

So, needless to say, when the company reflected on its investment in gamification and whether it got the results it hoped for, the numbers far exceeded VMware's expectation.

"We learned that the principles of gamification and implementing it from a web strategy standpoint worked for our needs," Kapase said.

VMware measured partner education uptake two months prior to implementing gamification and to all quarters afterwards. Most growth occurred in the first year of implementation. Ongoing participation has been consistent at between 2,000 to 10,000 individual partners who complete training per quarter, according to the vendor.

Gamification is the process of taking something that already exists -- a website, an enterprise application, an online community -- and integrating game mechanics into it to motivate participation, engagement and loyalty, according to Bunchball. The vendor further explains that gamification is built on 10 primary game mechanics, proven to motivate users, and may use any combination of these techniques to accomplish business goals.

One partner had mixed feelings about gamification.

Brad Christian, enterprise architect at Sigma Solutions Inc., a VMware partner based in San Antonio, Texas, said that partners don't really care about badges. "Badges are not a partner activity -- meaning they don't drive margin. Partners aren't paid on it," he said.

That said, Christian noted that where gamification rocks is with the Dallas-Fort Worth VMware user group (VMUG) that he runs, where 150 to 200 people show up.

"[Where] I see the gamification working is at the VMUGs. That's more customer facing. When VMUG Engage first came out a bunch of the guys in the VMUG got on the app, went out and starting doing stuff and earning points and getting competitive with the other VMUGs," he said.

We learned that the principles of gamification and implementing it from a web strategy standpoint worked for our needs.
Colleen KapaseVP, Partner Go-to-Market Experience, VMware

The way VMUG Engage works is users perform various activities and earn points that in turn translate into badges of recognition profiled for other VMUG users. On top of that, users can earn cash prizes.

At this year's VMUG annual conference, UserCon, which drew more than 600 attendees from many states, the mobile app they used was gamified. The way the app worked was that attendees earned prizes -- this year, $10,000 worth of items -- by earning points for such activities as attending conference events and checking into booths.

"It was like an egg hunt. So, for example, I gave away eight RC drones to people who [used] the gamified app," Christian said.

Strategy and what's next

To bolster partner engagement around the company's non-core technologies, VMware uses a two-pronged strategy: gamification and a partner collaboration environment called Socialcast.

VMware continues its partnership with Bunchball for badging, a motivational technique used for education. "We found that it [badging] is incredibly motivational for individuals, especially the technical SE, so that they can see where they are on their journey," Kapase said.

Another piece the company put in place with Bunchball that goes beyond badging: leader boards that let individuals compare their achievements against the achievements of the broader partner community. "A partner can see where they are: Do they need to go further or are they the leader of the pack?" she explained.

Once partners are trained on the seven vSphere modules, they engage in Partner Link -- how VMware brands Socialcast for partners -- for continued dialog with peers and VMware experts. There are 20 moderated groups in Partner Link.

VMware has 19,600 partners participating in Partner Link and 75,000 partners globally.

The vendor has moved beyond its initial gamification effort, i.e., badging for sales and presales training modules to include a practical hands on lab to explore and play with the technology. The hands on lab went live in Q3 2014 and, according to Kapase, has seen triple digit growth.

What VMware is currently looking at is making the leader boards more relevant for individual partner companies so that a sales rep, for example, can measure their progress against others at their company.

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