Characteristics of mental toughness in the best salespeople

Case Study

Katarzyna Kloskowska - Kustosz

The profession of a salesperson is a profession in which efficiency is a measure of success and decides about a salesperson’s “to be or not to be” in a very clear manner. We were wondering, if due to the particularities of sales work, will salespeople have greater strength and mental toughness than other employees? We asked ourselves a question, are salespeople, who achieve the highest sales results, different from weaker salespeople in individual factors, consisting of a full model of strength and mental toughness, and can the most important success factors be indicated?

The company 4business&people conducted a study on 60 salespeople, specially selected for this purpose by 4 large Polish companies in the financial sector (2 banks and 2 insurance companies, employing in total 4350 salespeople). Each organization selected a few of their best and weakest salespeople.

The choice of persons for the study had an intentionally-random nature, so that the sample would allow answering questions and verifying the research theses. The method differentiating salespeople was sales income from the last three months reduced by long-term contracts prematurely terminated (for example, credits, insurance). Then the obtained results were compared with a sample of 377 people working in positions other than salespersons.

CONCLUSION 1: high mental toughness as a factor distinguishing salespeople as a professional group

The conducted study clearly shows that salespeople as a group have very high strength and mental toughness as compared to other employees in the company. In other words, salespeople are stronger and tougher than other employees. Their average level of strength and mental toughness is 7.0 on a sten scale from 1 to 10, while the remaining employees scored an average of 5.9 (see the box Comparison of the results obtained by salespeople and the remaining regular employees). For comparison, the average resistance of Poles working in business amounted to 6.1.

The results obtained allow to conclude with 95% confidence that the average mental toughness of salespeople is higher than the average of remaining employees (in accordance with the significance level a= 0.05 adopted in the study).

In addition, salespeople are higher than other employees on the following scales: a sense of self-confidence, commitment, a sense of influence and control, which was also verified by relevant tests (equality of means test). This means that the frequent practice in many businesses of creating sales teams from the administrative staff without a reliable selection will very rarely give the expected results.

CONCLUSION 2: the distinguishing factors of a good salesperson is commitment and self-confidence

It turns out that high strength and mental toughness of salespeople are not enough to guarantee success. Equally important is the system of individual factors, which make up the overall strength and mental toughness in the entire profile of the salesperson.

Studies have shown that good results in salespeople are mainly determined by: commitment and self-confidence (co-occurrence with overall mental resistance amounted to 0.92 and 0.91 respectively) (see box 2 Correlation comparison of individual components with overall mental resistance in the groups of effective and ineffective salespeople).

These two characteristics: commitment and self-confidence are the most desirable - an effective salesperson is confident of his knowledge and skills, manages relations with others well, while at the same time is committed and persistent in achieving his goals and objectives, even if there are difficulties and obstacles.

In addition, significantly better results were obtained by salespeople who were more emotional and spontaneous (a lower result in managing emotions than in weak salespeople), which may be received by the environment as more natural. Such regularity is displayed by all measures of central tendency (mean, median and dominant), which confirms the indicated relationship.

An interesting discovery is the very high result of weak salespeople in the sense of influence and control. This factor is dominant far above the others

(a sense of influence – 7.10, components of a sense of influence: control of emotions – 7.19, a sense of influence on one’s own lives – 7.10).

If a salesperson does not have awareness of his strength and toughness, and has not learned how to manage them, it can hinder him in sales effectiveness. A too high level on this scale can be manifested in excessive pressure on customers, their often unconscious desire to “push” on them goods or services, and customers don’t like that. As customers we like contact with experts - persons certain of their knowledge and skills. Sometimes they need to “go the extra mile” for us, especially in high-competition conditions – here a salesperson’s high level of commitment in persuading us comes in handy, without excessive pressure.

The study clearly shows that when looking for good salespeople it is worth particularly checking their self-confidence and commitment. These two attitudes manifested in action strategies are worth developing during training for salespeople. However, a red light should turn on for us when there is a too high sense of influence and control in candidates for salespeople. In such situations an important area for development focus for salespeople is to make them conscious of their strengths in this sphere, providing feedback and teaching wise management of their strengths.

CONCLUSION 3: salespeople do not like challenges

Studies provide a basis for concluding that salespeople exceed other employees on all scales consisting of mental toughness. The only exception is the approach to challenges (the average is 5.4 to 5.5).

From the perspective of the results of salespeople in other areas studied, the approach to challenges was assessed the lowest and appears to be a weak point in salespeople. They are usually so heavily focused on achieving their assigned monthly plans that they rarely reflect on searching for new challenges. Moreover, the goals placed on them are often so ambitious, that it can sometimes scare them. Here sales managers play a role. Skilful communication of goals, dividing them into stages, assistance and support in the context of results achieved by salespeople in the realm of their approach to challenges take on particular importance.

It is worth noting that employing salespeople who have very high strength and mental toughness increases the chances of success, but also constitutes a great challenge for the manager. Whether he can cope with it or not is determined by his own strength and mental toughness as well as skills in managing them.

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