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Battleship for Breakfast Burritos with Leon Dame

Sales-scaling expert Leon Dame teaches us to play Battleship at work with only a spreadsheet and the promise of pico de gallo. We examine the importance of whimsy but explore the balance and nuance of playing games at work.

You can find Leon on LinkedIn.

Episode Transcript

Andrew Phelps: My guest today is Leon Dame. He has led the sales charge, of not one but two different hyper-growth SAS companies, Zenefits and ZipRecruiter. He's experienced the challenges and triumphs of navigating from early adoption to selling its scale building teams over 250 people. Today, he consults to help businesses build strong high performing sales cultures that drive revenue and foster a great work environment. Leon, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Leon Dame: Yeah, thanks Andrew for having me.

Andrew Phelps: That's really insane. You've grown, you've went from small team, I think 14 people and took that team all the way up to 250. Is that true?

Leon Dame: Yeah, actually at Zenefits, we started with four and then went up to 250 and it was a wild ride but we learned a lot along the way.

Andrew Phelps: That's amazing. So, can you tell our listeners, someone who might be somewhere in the middle of that growth path, you know, what they should be aware of? Did you notice any particular challenges that making a jump you know, at certain scales of the team?

Leon Dame: Yeah. So I think a lot of that has to do with, you know, the speed at which you do that, you know, some of the things that we learned is, you know, the things that you do for training and engagement in the teams when it's a small team break, when you try to bring in a training class of say 40, right. You have to start doing things a little bit differently. So, you know, as you grow, you still have to continue to iterate and the things that may have worked before may not be working as well. So, you have to look for different ways to engage your employees right and keep them on the right path.

Andrew Phelps: Do you have an example of one of those kinds of leaps where around that 40 person Mark, how you adjusted things? So, it worked for the larger scale?

Leon Dame: Sure. Yeah. So, I would say that, you know, some of it was really sitting down in our training path and figuring out, okay, you know how do we go about taking this from something that's maybe a little more generalized to specific examples and breaking those things down from there and really getting folks to focus on that. Another way that we went about doing it is really getting, you know, games involved and gamifying kind of the experience that people had. So, we found that really getting again, to the specifics of what to do on a daily basis and then also finding ways to gamify the experience were both incredibly helpful.

Andrew Phelps: So, it sounds like you were introducing games as part of the thing that helped you scale.

Leon Dame: Yeah, that's absolutely true. Especially when you go through those periods of time, I'm sure everyone can relate to this when, you know, you might be behind your number or you have an insane stretch goal that you need to get to, and you just need that extra, you know, inch from the team or lots of inches than giving them some reason or some way to gamify that experience rather than it just be, let's keep our noses to the grindstone helps to move that around and also to get some extra productivity out of each individual team member.

Andrew Phelps: So, can you remember the first time that you played a game in the office maybe as a salesperson rather than a manager?

Leon Dame: Yeah. It was as a salesperson and it was a pretty formative experience in something that made me think about, you know, how impactful these things can be. And we played a sticky note game and you know, the rules behind the game where everyone had a sticky note and the person with the most sticky notes at the end would win the game. Right? And there was an experience that someone would win, you know, maybe it was a dinner or, you know, a trip or something along those lines. And it focused both on KPIs and also on results, right? So, if you closed the deal, you'd be able to take a sticky note if you got to a certain number of dials or other activity metrics that were being tracked, you get to take a sticky note. And if you got to a certain number of say, 50 dials for the day, you'd put an X on your sticky notes so that someone else couldn't come and steal it from you. So, it just made all of the things that were being tracked during the day, that much more fun and gave you a reason to go out there and try and really up your level of activity.

Andrew Phelps: Cool. Well, I love when you use the word fun and obviously, we're here to talk about the best sales game you've ever played. So, thank you again for coming on the show. You know, what's the best game of all time? Why are you here to share with our audience?

Leon Dame: Yeah. So, when I think of sales games, you know I think a lot of it depends on what you're trying to get from the team and how you go about having that fun. But one of the best games that I've ever introduced to my team is we called it battleship for breakfast burritos and it's kind of like, it sounds right. So as the manager, I would put together a battleship board on an Excel spreadsheet and then draw it out on a big whiteboard and I'd have different kind of missions or metrics for the day that the team was going after. And as each team member hit that, you know, they'd huddle around for a moment and take their guests. And it was either a hit or a miss and then get back on the phones, right? And continue on working throughout the day. And so, it was these kinds of micro moments that were really impactful to the team. And so, you know, what I was looking for as the manager was to engage them throughout the entire day, if possible. So, you didn't want to make the game too easy because if it finishes at 11:00 AM, right? You've still got quite a bit of the day where the team is no longer engaged in this game but you also don't want to make it too hard because if the team didn't win, right, that was kind of a bummer there towards the end but she wanted to make sure that the teams did that together. And so, it was this real kind of team focus where people would encourage, right? And they'd live and die by each guest. And then of course, you know, if the team won, then I was bringing in breakfast burritos the next day and we all got to enjoy those together.

Andrew Phelps: That sounds awesome. So how many people were you playing this with? How big were the teams, or I guess the total team divided into two?

Leon Dame: Sure. Yeah. So, it varied in size, but I would say that the average team was about 10 people.

Andrew Phelps: 10 people. And you said you ran it all day. So, did you find that a day-long contest was better than stretching it out to a few days or a week?

Leon Dame: For this particular game? It was right. I think that there are others that I've seen that can go for a lot longer. Right? But I find that, you know, people are looking for that instant gratification. And so, if you're going to do something that's a longer type of game than having those moments where folks can maybe win something along the way. You know, I don't know if we necessarily have time to go into anything else, but we've done March madness as organizations. Right. And done that over a month-long period of time with kind of micro moments there. But yeah, this one in particular was an individual day.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah. We've, you know, we understand that different games take different time periods and you can use different, games to accomplish different things, but this is a good fit for a day long, which sounds like a lot of fun. So, you used a spreadsheet and a whiteboard to keep all this coordinated. That's not too difficult. Is this something that a team could play remote if they happen to be you know, avoiding the physical office due to COVID?

Leon Dame: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I think that the biggest difference you would have to make there is having some sort of way for the team to visualize which parts of the board have you know, been either hit or miss and which ones are available for them to choose, but it's pretty easy. Right? You pick a letter and a number and that's your square that you're firing on. And definitely something you could use during the COVID situation.

Andrew Phelps: And about how long would you say it took you to set it up?

Leon Dame: Not very long at all. Right. I think probably the longest part is just figuring out where I wanted to put each of the ships. Right? And you tell the team ahead of time, how many ships are out there and what numbers they are. Right? So, five, four, three, two, I guess, would be an example. And so, as they're out there searching for each of those, you know, they'll know if they fit the five for the four so on and so forth.

Andrew Phelps: Awesome. And how often would you implement this game? I mean, it sounds like a fun, and it can obviously change each time. So, you know, I'm sure that it doesn't get too old, too fast, but we also know that you want to use games carefully to an in balance with, with other normal work days. So how often did you, or would you implement something like this?

Leon Dame: Yeah, you're spot on. If you do it too much, then it starts to lose its efficacy. So, you know, this was something that might be used you know weekly or a couple of times a month bring this specific game out and use it as part of rotation of a few different ones that the team enjoyed.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah. I love that. And any game based on KPIs can be layered with other games. So, if you have a month-long game that's targeted at, let's say 10 different KPIs, then you could place something like this a day long game targeted, just three of those 10 or something like that.

Leon Dame: That's right. Yeah, exactly. We you know, we tried to focus on things that were going to build pipelines in these particular games that were kind of on the shorter end so that they could then roll into something that was a longer term if we had a contest. And even if it wasn't a contest of course, right. That the end result of all of these things is you want to help folks make the work fun, right. So that they can go out there and build pipelines hit their numbers and be successful enroll.

Andrew Phelps: And we got to ask why breakfast burritos? Is there a reason you chose that as the prize for this game?

Leon Dame: Yeah. It’s kind of happened organically. And sometimes we would change up, you know, what folks would have in the morning, but that just seemed to be something that resonated with the vast majority or all of the people on the team. Right? And if we had folks who had specific dietary restrictions and all of those things, of course, I'd check in with them to find some sort of alternative. But I think most people can, can enjoy a breakfast burrito.

Andrew Phelps: I think so too. And I'm not sure why, but there's something kind of whimsical about it. And, you know, that's an important factor we see in these games sometimes being silly or weird for weird sake just adds to the fun and helps remove it, you know, one more step from another day grinded on the sales floor.

Leon Dame: Yep. And I imagine that's probably part of it as well. Now that you say it, I don't know that I've thought about that before, but you know, we didn't just call it battleship anymore. Right. It was battleship for breakfast burritos. So, I think that there was some whimsical nature to it.

Andrew Phelps: One of the takeaways I got from hearing you talk about this was you don't want to make it too easy. You don't want to make it too hard. That's one of those things that sounds easy, you know, easy to describe, hard to do. What are your tips for kind of, you know, balancing the right amount of challenge, let's say within the context of a game, but also just in challenging and growing your reps?

Leon Dame: Yeah. That's a good question. And it is something where you're not going to get it right every single time. Right? And, you know, as I mentioned, you know, it's better if the team wins but every once in a while, it's not a bad thing if you don't complete the board. Right? Because then it creates a fire right. For the next time. So, when you think about any of these types of games that you might implement, it's really thinking through what it is that you're trying to measure and getting that defined and knowing your sales process. Right? There are some organizations where it's going to be highly transactional with a lot of activities, right? Dials, emails, those types of things and you know, they're going to be others that are on the longer side, but, you know, you need to be really impactful with the type of messaging that you're doing. And so, you know, if I was in that type of organization, as opposed to a transactional one, then you know, I'd probably look for other types of KPIs or measurements, right, that I could use for the game. And I might make the board smaller as opposed to you know, maybe a larger board for a transactional organization where, you know, you might have a bunch of folks firing each hour as opposed to, you know, just a few of them for the day.

Andrew Phelps: I really love that. You said, you know, you don't have to fill the board and you don't always have to succeed because if you are always meeting your goals, then you know, you never really know what the limit is or you never know where, you know a stretch goal should be because if you're always hitting them, you're probably aiming to low.

Leon Dame: Yup. Yeah. You want to challenge yourself, I think we, as salespeople, that's something that we need to strive for. Right? And those sales leaders help encourage our reps to really find that extra gear and find out where they top out and challenge them to try and go further.

Andrew Phelps: The word fun has come up a couple of times in this conversation and, you know, one of the things you take pride in is building you know, building a culture that that's pleasant to work in. And you know, can you talk a little bit about how you build a culture that, you know, keep sales people happy and why that's not just the right thing to do, but it's good for the bottom line?

Leon Dame: Yeah. So, you know, we've talked about games and games are a nice kind of external thing that you can do, but I find that, you know, what's really important in culture is understanding your people, right? What's their, why? What makes them tick? What are they hoping for in their lives? And how can you facilitate some of those things you know, in the work environment and also, you know, just providing folks with an environment where they feel supported, encouraged, challenged, right? They get some level of autonomy and they're able to grow in their careers and that they know specifically that you are engaged in their success and that you, you know, care about that. Right? So that's really hard to fake. So, if you don't actually believe any of those things, right? It's going to be hard for you to do that but if you genuinely do believe in those things and are engaged in trying to help your folks grow and become better all-around people, I think that that's something that I've seen a lot of success with.

Leon Dame: And those are really hard things to fake but great advice and thank you for sharing. I would love to have you back on to talk about your longer March madness game or anything else that you've been trying that's working well. If someone wants to find you online, Leon, where's the best way to find you?

Leon Dame: Yeah. I think the best way is through LinkedIn. I don't have a specific URL to throw off here, but I don't think there are very many Leon Dames out there.

Andrew Phelps: Awesome. So, find Leon on LinkedIn. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Is there anything else you'd like to share today?

Leon Dame: This was great. I hope that folks found some value, right? And that we can make all of our environments just a bit more fun for the folks that we work with.

Andrew Phelps: I love it. Well, thanks for joining us and have a great Friday.

Leon Dame: Thanks, you too, Andrew.