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 AlbumIn the business of selling stuff, there’s a lot of managing. Sales reps usually have a boss they check in with on the status of deals in the pipeline, maybe to get some advice on how to close a deal when there’s stiff competition from another company, or to go over how an important customer was reeled in, so that others can learn from it.

These check-ins are sometimes referred to as coaching, and there is data to show that coaching can boost sales performance. A study by the Sales Executive Council suggests that reps who received three or more hours of coaching per month outsold those who received two hours or less of coaching per month, by as much as 17 percent.

Getting that coaching done can be kind of a hassle. But it’s the sort of hassle that Salesforce.com has often sought to understand intimately, and then create products within its suite of cloud software tools.

Today is one of those days. The company is announcing a trial of a new feature that closely ties its traditional Sales Cloud with its Work.com product. The point is to do a few things: Speed up the review portion that has always tended to be a big consumer of time and attention in pretty much any organization, and also to make it easier for sales managers to find ways to motivate their teams to, you know, sell more stuff, which is basically the point of sales in the first place.

Through a combination of Salesforce services including the Sales Cloud, its social enterprise platform Chatter and Work.com, an HR software outfit that includes the Rypple acquisition it made last year, sales teams will see each other’s goals, will learn about big deals coming in, and know about each other’s expertise.

The new tools will also give managers a way to provide instant feedback and public recognition to those sales people who are doing well. Remember “gamification”? It’s not my favorite word, but apparently it works to some extent, especially with sales people who have monthly, quarterly and annual targets to make.

There is research to back up the assertion that when people leave sales jobs they do so in part because they don’t think they’re getting enough recognition from above. Now, on those occasions when a rep lands a big customer in a competitive deal, the manager can publicly pat them on the back with a “thanks in Chatter” feature, and give them a “sales Ninja” badge, or something like it, that everyone can see in their Chatter feeds.

Think it all sounds hokey? Maybe it is, but there’s a lot of evidence that these things have a way to making sales people happier on the job. And happy sales reps are sales reps who close deals, or least that’s the theory. We’ve come a long way since Alec Baldwin’s memorable (and profanity-laced) monologue in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

The new features are coming in early 2013, and are available for certain Salesforce customers on a pilot basis starting today.

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Robert sez, "The gamified EyeWire project, now in open beta, is about using human computation to help trace the neurons in a retina. Tracing the neurons will help nail down the computation that goes on inside the retina leading up to the optic nerve, and lead to better methods of brain mapping. Come and help explore the eye's jungle!"

Game 1: Reconstructing Neurons
The first step of the challenge is to reconstruct the tree-like shapes of retinal neurons by tracing their branches through the images. You will accomplish this by playing a simple game: helping the computer color a neuron as if the images were a three-dimensional coloring book. The collective efforts of you and other players will result in three-dimensional reconstructions of neurons like this. Playing the game does not require any specialized knowledge of neuroscience — just sharp eyes and practice. If you like, you can stop reading this page, and proceed to detailed instructions for the game here or simply start playing. On the other hand, if you’d like to know more about the scientific plan, read on.

Game 2: Identifying Synapses
Reconstructing neurons involves tracing their branches, which are like the “wires” of the retina. This by itself is not enough for finding connectomes; we also need to identify synapses. This kind of image analysis will be accomplished through another game that will be introduced on this website in the near future. The identification of synapses will involve subtleties, due to limitations of the dataset, as will be discussed in detail later on.

Rules of Connection
Playing either of the above games will produce information that will be valuable for understanding how the retina functions. How exactly will the information be used? To answer this question, we should confront the issue of variability. We expect that every retina will be wired somewhat differently. In that case, would mapping the connections in one retina tell us anything that is applicable to other retinas? We expect that retinal connectomes will obey invariant rules of connection, and it is these rules that really interest researchers. Many of the rules are expected to depend on neuronal cell types, i.e., of the form “Cell type A receives synapses from cell type B.” Some such rules are already known, but the vast majority remain undiscovered.

EyeWire – Help Map the Retinal Connectome

(Thanks, Robert!)

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