Should You Hire Jerks For Your Sales Team?

Top salespeople are empathetic and customer-focused. So when you’re hiring for your sales team, you should be careful not to hire jerks. Right? Some intriguing new research reveals why being a jerk can sometimes be an advantage in the workplace.

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Are jerks more creative?

Thomas Edison. Steve Jobs. Elon Musk. All considered innovators. All considered jerks (allegedly). These qualities are thought to go hand-in-hand based on the belief that creating something truly original requires a strong ego and an iron will. This tension is reflected in the term “disruptive innovation” itself.

The disruptive nature of sales

Research has shown that we seem to have an inherent tendency to resist new ideas, even when we claim to value creativity, because they’re considered too risky.

When it comes to sales, originality and disruption are central to insight selling. On a more basic level, Andreessen Horowitz’s Mark Cranney argues that your biggest competitor in sales isn’t other vendors – it’s the status quo. Successful salespeople need to be able to disrupt customers from the status quo while still remaining likeable.

The research

In two experiments, Professors Hunter and Cushenbery tested the idea that being a jerk was an advantage for generating and getting buy-in for original ideas within a team. These researchers defined a “jerk” as someone low in agreeableness, that is, someone who is confident, dominant, argumentative, and egotistical.

The results

In the first experiment, being a jerk (i.e., disagreeable) was not correlated with the originality of ideas generated but it was correlated with the adoption of these original ideas by team members.

Importantly, the social context mattered: in more disagreeable (jerk-y) teams, being a jerk yourself made it more likely that your original ideas were adopted by your team members.

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In the second experiment, in highly creative teams, being a jerk was correlated with originality when the person received criticism for their original ideas from their colleagues whereas being a jerk was negatively correlated with originality when the person received support for their original ideas.

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Should you hire jerks for your sales team?

Research suggests that being a jerk can be an advantage when it comes to generating and getting buy-in for creative solutions, especially when others are reluctant to adopt new ideas. This may help explain why using threats with some customers can be an effective sales tactic. However, when others are supportive of innovation, being a jerk is counterproductive.

So should you hire jerks for your sales team?

Well, probably not. The smarter thing to do is hire salespeople who are adaptable enough to navigate the balance between being likeable enough to create rapport and disruptive enough to overcome objections and push prospective customers out of their status quo.

Do you agree that a little jerkiness on your sales team can be nice? Or am I just being a jerk? Let me know in the comments.

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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 recruitment. She writes about trends and research in talent acquisition, HR tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min

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