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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Keep Your Competitive Salesperson in a Healthy Competition

competitive-salespersonWe were at a sales conference a few years back. I remember so vividly seeing Chuck ask three different people if they’d race him to the top of the hotel escalator. When none of them showed interest in taking him on, Chuck wilted. At that moment, he just had this enormous need to take someone on (and beat them to the top), but no one would bite.

You may know some Chucks in your life, some people who will invent a competition if there isn’t one already happening. In fact, most of the best salespeople are competitive. Is that a good thing?

Generally, yes. It sure is a lot better than a salesperson who doesn’t care if he wins or not! But as with all positive traits, smart sales managers still need to manage it. That competitive streak can be so strong that it can push your salesperson to tackle the wrong competitive challenge. Chuck’s escalator challenge was a harmless little competition (he wasn’t suggesting racing up the down escalator!), but some competitions can be harmful. 

Competitive People are Different

Understand this about very competitive people: They crave competitions like some other people crave chocolate. And just as too much chocolate might not be healthy, a highly competitive person may grab any old competition at that moment when they’re really hungry for one. Recognizing this, the savvy manager will ensure that those salespeople on her staff who are competitive will always have healthy, productive competitions in progress.

Absent a healthy game to play and win at, that highly competitive salesperson might even compete with their prospects and clients—by trying to prove them wrong about something or by negotiating a win-lose deal when there could have and should have been a win-win. Competing with your customers is a game that rarely ends well.

Or they might just choose a distracting competition. The classic example of this is a competition that has nothing to do with the job. If the salesperson craves being your top biller, but doesn’t see any way to achieve that, he might seek all his competitive challenges outside the workplace (racquetball, poker, etc.), leaving you with a salesperson who is not as motivated on the job as he might be.

Managing the Competitive Salesperson

As sales manager, your opportunity is to suggest, orchestrate, and manage the competitions you want each of your people to play. Competitive people hate to lose even more than they love to win, so a big contest that pits each salesperson against all others—and thereby guarantees lots of losers—might not be your best choice. Instead, tailor a competition for each person on your staff who is competitive. Longer competitions generally have more value to the company (and they’re easier on you), but make sure that lengthy competitions have frequent mileposts, progress reports, and feedback opportunities.

Certain people on your staff might have a shot at top biller, perhaps because they need to surpass only one or two others. That could be the right game, the right contest, for these folks. For the many who can’t yet put that prize in their sights, devise a different prize. Some examples:

  • Ranking #1 in new business.
  • Ranking #1 in resuscitating customers who’ve drifted away.
  • Ranking #1 with a particular product or service line they’re interested in and that’s important to the company.
  • Ranking #1 with a new product or service the company has just launched or is about to launch.
  • Ranking #1 with a specific client sector the company has targeted for growth.

Ensuring that each of your competitive salespeople has the right game to win could make all the difference between growth and stagnation, between a good year and a lousy one. For them and for you.

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