Why are salespeople so pushy? Study reveals many have dark personalities

DURHAM, N.H. — If you think salespeople can be pushy, rude, and obnoxious, you’re not alone. So, why do many people in sales get a reputation for being conniving snakes? A new study finds these jobs attract people with dark personalities.

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire, University of Kentucky, Texas A&M University, and Florida State University conducted two studies to analyze how negative traits affect salespeople. Those traits include Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy, which collectively form the “Dark Triad.” Outside of CEOs, lawyers, and celebrities, salespeople score higher for these dark traits than all other professions!

The studies examined how and why “dark” salespeople persevere and thrive in organizations. Specifically, researchers investigated how dark salespeople perform over time relative to their low DT peers and how ambient social structures influence their performance.

Which dark traits lead to career success?

The first study revealed that even though salespeople with dark personalities were able to succeed in the short-term due to their narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies, these traits eventually led to a “fall from grace,” which included lost performance wages. However, those with Machiavellian traits produced little in the short-term but exhibited long-term performance benefits.

For the second study, researchers measured the reach efficiency of the dark personality’s social network. Researchers say when a salesperson’s network exhibits high reach efficiency, information about their actions becomes socially visible to others who have an indirect connection to the dark personality. Meanwhile, those with low reach efficiency had their spread of information blocked and their social visibility of individual actions delayed.

“If the network structure obscures information regarding the misdeeds of a dark salesperson, it enhances the probability for performance-enhancing cooperation between the dark personality and his or her unsuspecting peers,” says study co-author Cinthia Satornino in a media release.

Researchers say some salespeople are able to mask the dysfunctional manifestations of Dark Triad traits, such as callous self-interest, with charisma during the hiring process. Even though these DT traits can offer advantages for some salespeople to get ahead, there are downsides in the long run. These traits are likely to undermine their relationships with colleagues, diminish their social capital, and worsen their performance.

Researchers found that narcissism and psychopathy influence performance similarly, while those with the Machiavellian trait had the inverse effect. Narcissism and psychopathy led to decreased sales performance when reach efficiency was high. However, salespeople with Machiavellian traits benefit from high reach efficiency, which resulted in enhanced performance.

The study is published in the Journal of Marketing.

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