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Yelpardy with Kristine "Sully" Sullivan

Sully, Director of Local Sales at Yelp, walks us through the infamous quiz game at Yelp. We also learn about keeping things light when things get heavy working remote.

You can find Sully on LinkedIn.

Episode Transcript

Andrew Phelps: Today, my guest is the Director of Local Sales at Yelp Kristine Sullivan, but you should call her Sully. She just celebrated her 10th anniversary at the infamous sales org, where she started as an Elite Account Executive. Today, she leads a team of 65 people doing $12 million of business annually. Sully, thanks for coming on the show.

Kristine Sullivan: Thank you for having me.

Andrew Phelps: So Yelp is an organization known for a lot of employee engagement and tons of fun at work. Everybody's had to adapt to going remote, but I'm sure it was extra hard where the expectations are really high. What have you guys done to keep things fun, light and engaging while everybody's working at home?

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. It was so funny when we first went work from home. The response was like devastating, employees were so pissed, they were so sad and I think in most organizations, it's the opposite people are like, yes, I get to work from home and I think it's a testament to what Yelp does to drive energy and fun and culture and so, we've had to be super creative and adapt. I think as simple as like greeting each other every morning, I think we forget to do that when we're online, but a lot of incentives and games keep people engaged. We have teams that play catchphrase at lunch If they're pacing for a certain amount of revenue that day, we'll have teams play virtual code names, we even have one team on my floor, they played battleship. So if you close a deal, you get to guess a ship from the other team, and they win like lunch and all that stuff. So I think that's the thing that Yelp is really known for is constantly weaving those types of games into the fold and trying to keep things as light as possible for a job that can be pretty tough, cold calling from home.

Andrew Phelps: Absolutely and on episode three of the podcasts, we talked about battleship for breakfast burritos with Leon Dame; so that's a popular one at a number of places. I think there's all these little things. Obviously, the whole point of this podcast is giving yourself permission to do something creative that takes people out of the everyday grind and keeps things light and fun where you're adding to the experience of coming to work. But one of the hardest things about going remote is not just the work part, but feeling isolated at home and you have to think about keeping things light, fun, and interesting, after the zoom calls over, after you shut your laptop, what do you do in your personal life to keep things fun and light when you're not at work with the team of excited folks?

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. I spend a lot of time with my dog. I've had my dog, Billy Jean, since I was 22, I was in college and, so she's like my child and she's getting old but that's kind of the best part of working from home is like, it just spends so much more time with her. And I think that she will die of a broken heart if I go back to the office because she's not going know what to do with herself. The other thing that's exciting, that has been although a headache, is the first few months of work from home. It was really hot here in Arizona, as you know, and I realized that I had nothing to do in my backyard outside. I had no pool, I had no sitting area. And working from home forced me to realize that I wasn't really getting fresh air, I wasn't getting outside because, who wants to go stand outside in a blank backyard in 115-degree heat? So it was actually the work from home transition that caused me to reach out to a landscaper and start to design my backyard because I realized, I don't know how long this work from home thing is going to last. I don't know if I'm going to be here forever and I can't just sit inside on my couch, all the time. So it has been my yearlong project and it is finally finished and there is a grill and there's seating area and there's a fire pit that my boyfriend built me and then I also installed a pool, so I have a lot more things to do now. Thanks to the massive investment I made with the landscaper due to the work from home transition.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah. That's a lot, that's more than just getting some patio furniture.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. It's been, and as you know, with these types of projects, when something can go wrong, it will. And, it was probably, four months longer than it had to be, but it has finished in time for summer and it has been the best thing for my mental health is I shut the laptop and I can go sit in the pool or wake up in the morning and do my morning prep when it's still not too hot out. And I'll sit on the lounge chair and do it in the fresh air, which is just so much better than sitting and staring at your computer at a wall for the whole morning.

Andrew Phelps: Absolutely. So I think you and I are pretty aligned here. You got the keys to remote work, but I think they're pretty much keys to life. Get a dog games and do creative projects.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. Well, let's be clear. I wasn't doing any creative projects living. I was telling the landscapers what to do, but it was still something to work on, which I think is what everybody needs to; like make sure you're just always on something or else you get kind of bored and that's how you get disengaged and burnt out.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah, it can dark.

Kristine Sullivan: Yes. There are many dark times the last year and a half.

Andrew Phelps: Well, not about dark times. You're here to talk about Yelpardy Yelp's version of jeopardy. Can you tell us what that game is all about?

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. So before I was a Sales Director, I was actually a Training Manager. So what that means is I oversaw the new managers in the company, as well as the new AEs in their first two months on the job. So just teaching them the fundamentals; the basics, just keeping the train on the tracks and all that fun stuff. But at the end of their first week of training, we would do what we called Yelpardy and it was like, everybody knows what Yelpardy is. That's been through Yelp training. It gets really hyped, really intense, people get really into it, but it is exactly how it sounds it is jeopardy, but it is all Yelp related questions. So you have the different dollar amounts, a hundred, 200, 300, 400, 500, for how tough the questions are and there's different categories. So, there will be script for 400 will be a question that is a little bit on the tougher side, that is about our sales script or employees for 100 will be probably something pretty easy, like what is the CEO's name? And people get really into it obviously because it's really competitive and you're, racking up points for your team and you get negative points if you get it wrong and all that fun stuff. But I think it's also really fun because people learn more about the company and the sales process while they're playing the game, which is the really important part. You kind of get like the best of both worlds.

Andrew Phelps: Absolutely. So I forget, and in the TV show, jeopardy, there's like three or four contestants. So it sounds like you guys play with teams.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. So we'll do teams, so for example, I have five teams that report to me right now and so they'll play as a team, which I think actually makes it better because no one wants to get a question wrong for their team's sake. and I think that kind of puts a lot more on the line, and when they get it right, the team goes wild and they're like celebrating and then they start smack talk and the other teams, innocently of course and friendly competition of course, but it's one of the games that I've seen people just go all in my decade at Yelp.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah. So one of the questions we get a lot in [inaudible] about designing productive and set of programs and contest is it more effective to make a competitive game or a collaborative game, right? Where people are fighting against one another or working together and the answer is both, and you use teams to do that because you're collaborating with teammates, but you also have the added dynamic of competing with others. So I think teams work great with a lot of games and, and this is a fun one too, because people are repeating the questions to themselves in their head and like trying to psychically send them to their teammates, I’m sure and so the more you're getting that knowledge transfer with I think the team aspect really amps that up. I think you're spot on there. So, are you giving away cash prizes for these questions? Are there different prizes? How do you reward people or teams when they went?

Kristine Sullivan:
Yeah. That's actually something; it's always evolving and we're always trying different things. I think Yelpardy and for the trainees, it's just like pride. It's like, you've made it through your first week of training and more about what you've learned than the other teams, but if you're doing this with more veteran and tenured teams and reps, we've tried all sorts of stuff. We'll offer, leave early incentives where they get to leave early this upcoming Friday, or I guess not leave early the term now would just be sign off early, but we'll send them, we'll Postmates them Starbucks in the morning or grub hub them lunch the next day , we've even done Venmo cash prizes. We kind of toyed around with a lot of different things, but I think our AEs, what we found their two favorite prizes are cash and time off.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah. Time off is a big one. And when you run the numbers for most companies, giving someone the afternoon off and what that costs you is such a better prize for the person getting it. Then if they got the equal cash value of what that costs the company. So, you get that feeling of freedom, you get that wonderful feeling that you're doing something that no one else can do. And, on top of that, you get your time back and what's more valuable than time.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. They love the time off thing. And I think ironically, they love it more since going remote just because you're staring at a screen and a laptop with no real human interaction all day long, similar to what we had in the office. So in the office, people liked being there, they were hanging out with their friends and their coworkers, they were laughing and goofing around all day. And so the whole leave early incentive thing was fine, but they kind of didn't want to leave, as much as they do now, want to sign off. And I get it there, they're sitting alone. So, people are super incentivized by that.

Andrew Phelps: Absolutely. So getting more into the technical aspect of things, do you guys just put together a PowerPoint? How are you displaying the questions? We can talk about how you did it in person and then maybe how you do it remote now.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. There's actually, if you Google, make your own jeopardy or jeopardy template or create jeopardy game, like there's so many options on the internet where you can just take a template of it and you punch in your own questions or answers. So we just use one of those to make the game, and then you can add or subtract however many teams that you need on there. And then in the office, it was really easy, you would just put it up on the big projector screen. But remote is a little more tough, so we will video call the person who's doing the guests and they get to make their guests. And sometimes their team will join if they're not on a phone call and that's how they get their guesses and their answers. And then it's on me to send the scores or to have the scores living on a dock that reps can look at. So they know where teams stand and what the scores are, but there's really no way to do it now where it just lives on something, because no one has that up all day.

Andrew Phelps: So, you talk about how Yelpardy has become infamous and it's almost like a brand that your team is bought into, besides being a Rite of passage or maybe just a tradition. Do you think there's anything that you did, or you've seen this special thing that make it a little bit a living, breathing thing at Yelp?

Kristine Sullivan: I think it's because it started in training. So the first time that any of these people have played was in their first week of training and because that's the reason it's the Rite of passage, is that everyone has had to participate in it at some point or another, and we've had it built into our curriculum for years. And so I think that's where the buy-in comes from is that everybody's done it and the stories you hear. I have videos of it on my phone. If I dig deep enough, but I remember when we were in the office and we had one training class, it was one of our biggest training classes. There was like 80 people and so trying to corral everybody to play Yelp when there's 80 of them, I mean, that was like tiring in itself, but so fun. But there's videos of people. We used to have these little bells that they would have to hit similar to jeopardy how they have to hit the little, button or whatever. And I remember these people would get so amped that there were times when they would hit the bell so hard that it would go flying off the desk and onto the ground. And then people, lose it laughing, and it's like this whole thing. So I think it's just because it started in training and people remember how rowdy it got that people are like, still excited about it to this day. Yeah.

Andrew Phelps: So that I get it. I could feel the energy of you talking about it. I think we've been in situations where people are that engaged, but it's interesting. They had little bells or little buzzers, some stupid little prop, like that can make all the difference for the experience, because if they just had to raise their hand real quick, that'd be funny too. But to introduce, an object to the design object into the game for the sole purpose of the game is really powerful. And, it's really interesting that these little things that make a big difference, but I loved that they had buzzers. Do you have anything fun like that? You can do remote. It's much harder over a call on you.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah, it is. It's a lot harder. There’s, of course the little raise your hand feature and then it's easy for the host to see who raised their hand first but that gets tricky too, because people are going to raise their hand like before I even finished reading the question or like before they even actually know the answer, we get this all the time. People will hit the bell and then it's their turn to respond and they're like he just gets so excited that they want a shot. It's harder remote, but the way we do it remotely is a little bit different in order to earn the opportunity to answer a question, you have to do something like complete a pitch or close a deal or something and so it's really only one person at a time. So if you're doing a team versus team you want your people to pitch as much as possible because that gives them more chances to answer a question.
And they're just getting the question directed to them and they're not competing against anyone else to answer it first. So that's kind of the adjustment we've had to make from remote work.

Andrew Phelps: It's interesting. So you're layering it with other games and objectives, so you have to do this before you can play kind of thing?

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah because, the last thing we want is a game that takes all day that is a distraction to anyone, or like isn't driving the types of results that we want, and it's amazing. I'll get pings or G-chats whatever you want to call them from reps on my floor and they'll say things like I'm hunting for a pitch right now, so that I can my yelp Yelpardy guess, so I can get my team to pull ahead. And it's like they want to go and find a pitch or a transaction so that they can participate.

Andrew Phelps: And no, I think it's wonderful. And that is the whole point of games. It's a whole point of incentive programs. It's not to get people to do things they're not doing; it's getting them to do them better or enjoy them more. So your net outcome of their work experience is better. And just like you told the story of people going for the buzzers and the bells, like it's an image that sticks in your head and it's going to stick in your head as you play. And I guarantee you that most of those folks don't remember what people want and whether it was a grub hub thing that time or time off that time. But they do remember, Greg going for the bell and totally smashed the table. So, there's a lot of power in the experience and that's what this is all about. So I'm going to kind of go back and give you my three takeaways and you can correct me if I'm wrong. I think the first big takeaway we get from Yelpardy is that there's tons of free tools online to play fun games. So you said there's a ton of free, jeopardy systems online. And then you use something like a Google doc to track the scores when remote, so use free software. There's so much stuff out there that can help you out, when you're trying to introduce a new game. Two is the use of props, sometimes something silly like a bell or a buzzer just for the sake of the game, it adds so much to that experience. We take it for granted. We don't think about it, but it's those little things that add to your experience that people will remember, and that creates some of those memories that you shared with us. And finally, the use of teams. So, many games are amongst people in a team or against entire departments, but there is so much kind of incentivization and motivation that can be gained from playing with different size teams, different number of teams, different personalities among teams. You can create these really powerful dynamics between people that once again, add to the experience, add to the energy, add to the excitement, which always leads to better results. So is there anything else that you'd say is unique to yelp pretty that I left out or you think is what makes it a winner?

Kristine Sullivan: I think what also you have to take into consideration or keep in mind, which I have learned the hard way when playing similar trivia based games is that you have people from all generations, all walks of life, all experiences, all different backgrounds. And so the great thing and why Yelpardy works is that it's all Yelp specific. And so no matter how old you are, no matter where you're from, no matter what your upbringing is, everybody has an even playing field in terms of their understanding or opportunity to understand, Yelp facts. Because I've learned the hard way you do like something pop culture related. I had a question on there once about Frank Sinatra, it's like my dad's favorite, singer of all time and I had a 23-year-old, get this question and have no idea who that was, and I could not believe it. But it was a reminder that like, not everybody has the same life experiences and knowledge. And so the cool thing about Yelpardy and why it works is that it's all a Yelp specific and they are all Yelp employees. So therefore everybody has the opportunity to know the answers.

Andrew Phelps: I think that's really interesting on other podcasts episodes, we've talked about how it can be beneficial to bring in outside things. So people who maybe aren't the best salespeople or aren't the highest performers can demonstrate their value or their talents, or what makes them special inside of the company, even if they're not a top performer, but it is a subtle art and keeping the focus on Yelp only in terms of the competitive game, I think is probably a good idea. And you need to layer in those other personalization aspects in a way where it doesn't contribute to the competition.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah. Yelp is also just really good about the diversity and in our workforce and the inclusion that we create for our people to all feel included and have equal opportunity. And so you do have to be, if you are going to make a trivia game that is not Yelp related or company related, you just have to be really mindful about what types of questions you're going to use, that everybody would have a chance to guess. So pop culture stuff is like, sometimes you just got to steer away from that and maybe stick to like, I don't know, I've used food questions or animal facts, and everybody has a chance to know those are not equally.

Andrew Phelps: Well, these are great ideas, really appreciate you coming on the show and sharing them with us. If people want to follow up or reach you online, what's the best place to find you?

Kristine Sullivan: Probably LinkedIn. I've been trying to be a lot more active there. I know you said you tried to find a bio and you didn't find one on my page because that's I'm still working on it, but I've been trying to be a lot more responsive to messages too. Especially I had just posted something for my 10 year. We call it our Yelp-aversary and I got a ton of messages of people asking for job opportunities and stuff. And of course I want to refer them to Yelp because it's such a great place to work. And so I've been trying to be a lot more responsive there.

Andrew Phelps: Cool. Well then, they can reach you on LinkedIn. And if it's called a Yelp=-aversary, I'm seeing a theme here with the naming convention.

Kristine Sullivan: Yeah, we are really big on naming things after Yelp and we're really big on like a Yelpy acronyms and stuff. So it's funny when people first get to Yelp, one of their first comments is always like, you guys have these weird names for everything and that's just part of the culture.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah. That's part of the experience and the experience matters. So I know you got more games in the back pocket, so I hope you'll come on the show again, but thank you so much for joining us today.

Kristine Sullivan: Thank you for having me.

Andrew Phelps: Talk to you later.

Kristine Sullivan: Bye.