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What Makes Salespeople Tick: Embracing a Quiet Ego

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Adaptive selling is necessary for B2B sales. One of the qualities that can lead to adaptive selling behaviours is having a quiet ego. That is, having a self-concept that balances self-interest with customers’ needs. It helps salespersons to adapt their selling behaviour through empathy and understanding. To promote a quiet ego, sales managers can evaluate candidates on this trait while hiring and also train existing salespeople in developing this trait.



Adaptive selling behaviour is critical to thriving in today’s B2B selling. However, there is little information on what attributes make a salesperson competent in adaptive selling. Recently,

behavioural studies have started investigating various personality attributes to understand if and how they might promote adaptive behaviours in salespersons. One such study investigates the psychological attribute of quiet ego as a potential indicator of adaptive selling behaviour. It tries to answer the question: Does the quiet ego trait impact salesperson behaviour and performance?


B2B sales is changing, putting value-creation first. To understand what it means for a business, read this.


Adaptive selling is the process of selling solutions rather than products. The salesperson co-

creates value with the customer instead of merely pushing the firm’s products. For example, an FMCG firm can have different minimum order volumes based on retailers’ sizes. They might also provide different promotions and pricing based on whether the retailer is a large supermarket, a retail chain, or a mom-and-pop store This type of selling requires aligning with the customer’s goals, demands, and approaches. To do this, a salesperson needs to be willing to listen and put themselves in the customer’s shoes. This situation is where the “quiet ego” comes into effect.


Check out this interesting account of how changing the approach to B2B selling to a more adaptive one helped one relationship manager.


The study found that quiet ego helps salespersons demonstrate adaptive behaviour,

indirectly improving sales. The meaning of ego, in this case, is not the commonly held one of pride or arrogance. The term “ego” here refers to the psychological concept that originated in the works of Sigmund Freud and is a foundational idea in behavioural studies.



In that context, the ego gives a person their sense of self. That is, it gives them ideas about who they are, e.g., “a proactive seller,” “a loyal employee,” “an expert,” etc. The problem is

that these notions might be false and not justified by behavioural traits. So, a person whose ego tells them they are a good listener might show poor listening skills. The ego also pushes a person to compete with others, which can have positive outcomes. But a “loud” ego (one that is over-competitive and focused on acquiring power) can also lead to self-doubt, poor decision-making, and not acknowledging others. In sales, this can translate to an inability to relate to customers or their needs.


In contrast, a quiet ego gives a person the ability and willingness to put their ego aside when

dealing with others. The “voice” of the ego is low in people with this trait, and they maintain a balance between self-interest and others’ needs. They are willing to listen to others as well as their inner self. These people tend to be more compassionate as well. In sales, these qualities allow a salesperson to place themselves in the customer’s position, a necessary characteristic for adaptive selling. For example, an ambivert (a person with a balance of extrovert and introvert characteristics) would be able to combine enthusiasm with listening skills to achieve better customer interaction.


However, the study also found that role conflict can reduce the impact of a quiet ego. Role conflict refers to the extent to which a salesperson encounters multiple, conflicting demands

within the context of their role. For instance, the firm might want them to increase sales efficiency, but customers might want more time commitment to explain solutions more clearly. Role conflict causes stress, which reduces salespersons’ ability to regulate their thinking, planning, and learning behaviours. Stress also leaves them with less energy to engage with their job. Further, role conflict can push salespeople to prioritise their self-interest or the firm’s interest. All these factors reduce their capacity for adaptive selling.


Stress is a major yet underestimated pitfall for salespersons. Here’s another way in which it can affect their performance.



The study has several implications for B2B sales managers who want their teams to

demonstrate adaptive selling behaviours. It shows that quiet ego needs to be considered as an important antecedent factor when training B2B salespersons for adaptive selling. Quiet ego is a trait that salespersons can be taught. There are cost-effective interventions for doing so. Sales managers can evaluate salespersons’ level of quiet ego and use these interventions to train them on this characteristic.


Sales managers can also boost adaptive selling behaviours by reducing role conflict for

salespersons. As role conflict often has an organisational origin, sales managers can work with salespersons to clarify their roles and priorities. They can also provide salespersons with resources to cope with the stress of role conflict in case it becomes unavoidable. Reducing role conflict in salespersons will improve their access to quiet ego, enhancing their adaptive selling behaviours.


Finally, sales managers can also employ the quiet ego assessment tool during the hiring

process. Doing so can help them to build a sales team that is better equipped for adaptive selling from the get-go. If adaptive selling is important for a firm’s sales force, then incorporating and boosting the quiet ego trait in salespersons is bound to help. It can enable adaptive behaviours and thereby improve sales indirectly.


In 1964, David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg wrote an article on the role of empathy and ego drive in salesperson excellence. Read their interesting article here.

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