Are You Game, for a Game?

A well-designed game is often one of the best ways to help people learn new concepts, tools, and approaches. In the past I’ve used hands-on board games such as the Manufacturing Game to help teach the principles of proper maintenance and its systemic impact on operations ( or games such as the Beer Game that also illustrates the consequences of time-lagged decisions and effects in a system.

A recent article by Jodi Lai focuses on a sales training game called Quota (

The old belief that when fun becomes work, it ceases to be fun is an untruth for one Canadian company. With games being used as training tools in every profession from pilots to surgeons, Quota aims to use gamification to make sales training so much fun that participants forget it’s work. The importance of fun, says Earl Robertson, founder and president of Mississauga, Ont.-based Quota, is that when training is fun, it is memorable.

“When you look at the learning experience, the higher the degree of interactivity, the higher the degree of retention,” he says. “It’s really a slam dunk in a business context because gamification is competitive and I’ve yet to meet a salesperson who isn’t competitive.”

Quota’s system is based on interactive seminars that use game mechanics and game thinking to enhance the non-game context of sales, Mr. Robertson explains.

The idea for Quota came from a game Mr. Robertson came across that taught people financial skills. In the eight years since it launched, Quota has expanded internationally.

Mr. Robertson says he is proud he has been able to achieve what so many small businesses struggle to do: Take a local success and turn it into an international leader, with sessions being held in the United States, Brazil, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Egypt and everywhere in between.

The secret, he says, is twofold: It involves cultural sensitivity and finding the right people. “You’ve got to be sensitive to local customs. How and why people do business is not that much different than what we do, but there are trends you have to be aware of.”

Mr. Robertson says it helped he was able to travel a lot for his earlier jobs in sales training with two multinational corporations (Xerox and Procter & Gamble), which put a huge focus on developing their people.

“Those companies instilled in me an appreciation of investing in your people: The result is that they perform at a higher level. If you invest in good people, you get great results,” he says, noting that to attract the best team, his salespeople make a 50% to 60% commission on what they sell.

Right out of the gate in 2008, Mr. Robertson began with a pretty impressive list of clients that included Heinz, Toshiba, Waste Management, Sharp and Samsung. Eight years later, Quota’s client list has grown to include Hermes, the National Film Board, TeamBuy, Mosaic, Loblaws and ClearTech Industries, among others.

Mr. Robertson says in the past eight years, Quota has been through nearly 30 revisions, a necessity to stay relevant. “We’re constantly changing and upgrading the product. We have to stay current with what’s going on in the marketplace. And we have to stay current with how people learn,” he says. “Training a 25-year-old is very different from training a 55-year-old.”

Before the flagship Quota sessions happen, participants are emailed some homework that quickly acquaints them with the game and how it works. Salespeople are separated into groups of three or four, rookies mixed with veterans, so nobody gets singled out. The rest involves Jeopardy-style games, buzzers, quick-decision action and rolling dice that determine chance events and who wins or loses “Quota dollars.”

“It takes a minute for a player to realize that the easiest way to win the game to is pay attention to the material,” Mr. Robertson says.

“They get so involved, and that’s the power of gamification.”