The “money-hungry salesperson” stereotype conflicts with the popular belief that the best salespeople are those who have a genuine interest in helping their customers.

So in a showdown between givers and takers, who are the best salespeople? 

What the research reveals about givers, takers, and sales performance

According to Wharton Professor Adam Grant, takers act out of self-interest in order to to get as much out of others as possible whereas givers are genuinely motivated to help others with no strings attached (there are also matchers who aim for quid pro quo, reciprocal relationships).

When Grant examined givers and takers among salespeople, he found the worst sales performers were givers. But before you conclude that, “nice guys finish last,” he found the best sales performers were also givers: “These successful givers produced 50% more annual revenue, on average, than colleagues who focused less on helping others.

So what’s going on?

How giving leads to sales success

Grant’s research found that, compared to their less successful peers, successful sales givers allocated their generosity more productively.

In his Google Zeitgeist talk, Grant explains the strategies givers use to do it:

  1. Identify takers. Takers share some common narcissistic tendencies: they “kiss up and kick down” in the workplace, there’s a bigger discrepancy between how attractive they are in their social profile pictures and what they really look like, and they think other people are also primarily motivated by self-interest. Successful sales givers know to either avoid takers or shift into matcher mode when dealing with them.
  2. Re-define what giving is. Givers find ways to add high value with less personal cost. For example, the best salespeople use their time more efficiently by doing more short (5-minute) favors such as making personal introductions. They also specialize by picking one or two domains they excel in to bestow their help.
  3. Ask for help. Grant found the ability to ask for help was the biggest difference between the worst and best performers.

The takeaway giver-best-salesperson-ideal-candidate

We already know from the research that being genuinely helpful is the best way to get people to like and trust you. Research has found that salespeople who are genuinely motivated to help others also generate the most sales revenue, but only if that generosity is being used wisely.

What do you do to help your customers in a more productive way? Let me know in the comments or tweet @ideal.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices and data-based HR. She writes about trends and research in talent acquisition, people analytics, and workplace diversity.
Ji-A Min