Should You Hire Competitive Salespeople? The Surprising Research Findings

Popular opinion argues – and research shows – that competitiveness is correlated with selling success. In fact, this is often the rationale behind hiring former athletes as salespeople.

So should you hire the most competitive job candidates as salespeople? An intriguing study suggests: Not alwayscompetitive-salespeople-ideal-candidate

The research

Research by Valenti (2006) examined the relationship between salespeople’s competitiveness and their performance in a sample of 30 insurance sales professionals.

Competitiveness was assessed using 3 domains:

  1. Personal victory: winning for victory’s sake or to be superior to others
  2. Enjoyment of competition: the positive emotions associated with competition
  3. Conflict: the willingness to take risks and enter into situations that involve conflict and could result in victory or defeat

The sales performance metric this research looked at was the average number of policies sold per month.

The results

Valenti found a curvilinear relationship between the salespeople’s competitiveness and their performance: salespeople who are highly competitive or not competitive at all tend to have higher average monthly sales compared to salespeople who are moderately competitive.

competitive-salesperson-ideal-candidateThis relationship predicted 26.7% – more than a quarter – of the differences in performance among sales reps. That’s pretty good!

Salespeople who are very competitive seem to fit the common stereotype: highly motivated to be the best and taking pleasure in winning.

Valenti speculates that salespeople low in competitiveness may also out-perform their colleagues because they’re better at staying focused and are able to ignore the distractions that sometimes come with competition.

Finally, salespeople who are moderately competitive may under-perform compared to others because they may allow themselves to get distracted by competition while not being as driven to win.

The takeaway

Hiring the most competitive salespeople you can find is a smart strategy. However, don’t ignore salespeople who appear to be low in competitiveness – they might just end up being your top performers.

How do you assess competitiveness when you hire salespeople? 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 in data-based recruitment. She writes about research and trends in talent acquisition, recruitment tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min