Now that social networking has thoroughly inhabited customer Relevant Products/Services relationship management systems, a related innovation is beginning to take hold -- gamification. This month, Microsoft Partner Cole Systems became the latest to join that bandwagon, with the launch of an employee incentive add-on to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Relevant Products/Services 2011.

Called Spark, the add-on offers a new way to distribute internal rewards among employees by allowing users to earn badges, acquire points, and receive their rewards on the basis of what they've earned. Cole is a New York City-based business Relevant Products/Services consulting and technology solutions firm, specializing in the implementation and enhancement of Microsoft Dynamics.

'A No Brainer'

CEO Dave Weiner said in a statement that "the gamification of CRM seemed like a no brainer." Since CRM tracks the results of employees in sales, marketing and customer service, he said, linking those results to rewards "was an obvious combination."

With Spark, badges are rewarded for meeting certain goals, such as closing a given number of sales opportunities, obtaining a certain number of leads, or successfully resolving a customer issue. Employers set the types of rewards that can be obtained by earning badges. Badges are worth points, which can used to get gift certificates.

Badges help users to track their own progress, as well as provide competitive motivation by allowing employees to compare themselves to others. Cole said it can configure Spark to offer an incentive program that is specific to a company's needs or goals, or is aligned to existing incentive programs.

Cole's senior CRM consultant, Jen Mroczek, told news media that employees enjoy Spark "because it's fun and exciting to earn badges and watch points rack-up." This provides an incentive, Mroczek said, not only because of the rewards but because "their hard work will be on display for all to see."

Coles' gamification addition to Dynamics CRM is only the latest in a growing trend of game-like reinforcements for CRM and other software Relevant Products/Services. In May, for instance, open source CRM Zurmo announced that the Beta release of its CRM application would be its first to include gamification components.

'A Major Failure'

Zurmo co-founder Ray Stoeckicht said in a statement at the time of the announcement that "the lack of intrinsic motivation to use CRM systems is a major failure in our industry."

Game-like elements added to Zurmo included points awarded to CRM users for every action performed, badges obtained for accomplishing specific milestones such as winning more sales opportunities or for login frequency, and point-based levels. There can also be Challenges to users from managers that focus on the accomplishment of specific tasks, with bonus points or higher levels awarded for success.

Gamification is also extending to other systems where participation might be boosted by adding fun to the mix. In early summer, gamification solutions provider Bunchball announced new product lines to motivate both employees and customers. One product line is a series of plug-and-play apps, coincidentally called Sparks, that promote software adoption, site engagement, and sales productivity. The other line, called Fuse, provides codeless connections between the gamification programs and enterprise apps, including ones from such major vendors as SAP, IBM, Oracle PeopleSoft, SharePoint, SugarCRM, Taleo, and NetSuite.

In June, Badgeville announced the launch of its gamification and behavior management platform for that open source content, social and commerce management system Relevant Products/Services.

The "engagement mechanics" used in Badgeville are available to Web sites built and managed with Drupal, and are intended to increase customer loyalty, satisfaction and retention. Badgeville rewards specific behaviors, such as writing and replying to blog posts, and the platform includes points, achievement, levels, tracks, and missions, which are incentivized through contests, leaderboards, and notifications.