Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Without a doubt, one important characteristic of being successful in sales is competitiveness. But that may come in a few different forms. It's one of the things I'm looking for when I interview salespeople. (read more about that here) Most people think that being competitive means that you want to win and that's true on the surface, but it goes much deeper than that. Not everyone is outwardly competitive and that's ok. In fact, there are 3 types of competitors that exist and they are not all created equally.
Desire to beat my opponents. "I want my team to beat your team."
This is probably the most common type of competition and most often what you think of when someone says they are competitive. This is great in sales. It means in a situation where your product is up against a few competitors, the motivation is to squash the competition and win the deal. A lot of people will say this is the most important kind of competitiveness but it also has its downfalls.
If the desire to beat the competition is too strong, it can have a negative effect. This idea of winning at all costs will lead to false expectations being set. This is partially why salespeople get bad reputations. Sometimes this will lead to salespeople saying whatever it takes to get the deal closed. Obviously this scenario can have severe consequences to your company's reputation. Winning with integrity is key.
Desire to beat my teammates. "I want to be the best on my team"
The best way to explain this type of competitiveness is by using a sports metaphor. This is the kind of competition that exists in every organized team practice all over the world. Everyone is competing for a starting spot on the team. You have to be better than the other players at your position if you want to play on game day. It's no different in sales. This is the reason many sales floors have a sales leader board projected on screens throughout the office.
Similar to the previous type of competitiveness, there is a negative effect if this exceeds a certain level. Politicians are a great example of this. In order to win, politicians will do everything in their power to make their opponent look bad. Obviously, this would be hugely detrimental in a team environment. This can turn a team of A-players into a team of B or C players if they even stick around in such a toxic environment.
Desire to beat my personal best. "I want to be better than I was yesterday"
This is the most important kind of competitiveness to look for. This type of motivation is purely intrinsic. It doesn't have any reliance on any external party. In sales, it is extremely helpful to have this kind of competitive nature. It means you always want to beat last month, last quarter, and last year.
This kind of competitiveness can only get you so far in a vacuum. If you aren't in a team environment or competing against any external forces, it can be more difficult to push yourself to the limit. It's the reason most people achieve their personal bests during real competition and not during training.
Although the first two types of competition can be detrimental in excess, they are absolutely necessary and usually beneficial. If you are competing with yourself and constantly striving to be a better version of yourself, you won't burn out. Regardless of your standings on the sales dashboard or how many deals that you have lost to competitors, you will always show up and try to do more and be better.