In the ten plus years we’ve been studying sales teams at The Chemistry Group, one of the data points that has fascinated us over the years are the outliers, the sales freaks...those people (generally men) at the top of every league table, no more than the top 3-6, the ones who when discussed are described like this "well he smashed his number but his behaviour is appalling" or "he doesn't play well with others" or "I can't get him to share his methodology" or "Christ no, I don't want more of him but I can't fire him, I need his revenue".
We had one at Michael Page when I started in recruitment, arguably we had loads of them but the one who stuck out, let's call him Andrew (as it was his name) was possibly the most memorable of them all.
Andrew exhibited what we would all agree are psychopathic traits: shameless self promotion, shameless stealing of other peoples leads and candidates, a relentless desire to earn the biggest bonus, total indignation/outrage at the slightest barrier between him and his number, an inability to play with others and a total charming effect on women...here he was, a narcissistic individual who had a way with the ladies whilst earning the most money and rewards! The leadership despised him but were in awe of his revenue making abilities and in fear of him taking these skills elsewhere!
In Kevin Dutton's new book, "The Wisdom of Psychopaths he eloquently explains a) what the traits are of psychopathy and b) that there are more people with psychopath traits in business than in jail! It's a fascinating book.
Here is an excerpt of a summary conclusion, "The psychopath seeks reward at any cost flouting consequence and elbowing risk aside"...this may go someway to explain the Sales Psychopath. Furthermore Robert Hare, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia is quoted as saying "you'll find psychopaths where your position and status afford you power and control over others and the chance of material gain"...this clearly explains what was happening with the banks in 2008!
Further evidence that your top sales people are possibly psychopaths comes from another misunderstanding of psychopaths. The general view is that they are not emotionally intelligent, again Prof. Dutton provides evidence to the contrary, Angela Book for example (after talking to Ted Bundy) ran an experiment that proved psychopaths really were better at decoding vulnerability. It appears that psychopaths feel how you feel, they just don't care or in the case of sadistic psychopaths the fact they feel your pain just makes it more interesting. This type of behaviour directly correlates with what we find in high performing sales people, we call it "transactional empathy". To those that are important to them (the blocking PA, the client themselves) they come across as empathetic and keen to help, to those who they do not see value in, they dismiss or ignore.
The current view on psychopathy is that in today’s chaotic world the ability to focus and not be distracted while completing your goals (another trait of high performing sales people) is actually a positive trait. That is, psychopathy exists in all humans at a curve of diminishing returns, too little and you are chaotic and likely to be missed in a world that values noisy egotists, too much and well, you end up in a maximum security prison. Someone in the middle is the psychopathy "sweet spot", the place where you can use all the good stuff and not be swept in to the dark!
It's this "sweet spot" that is the most interesting place, it's also where you will find your salespeople in the league table from 6-12. So if we were you, I’d build the ideal profile for your sales people round these people and hire against that, your business will perform great and you can sleep safe at night!
If you would like to determine whether you or any of your people are psychopaths, try the Levenson Self-report Psychopathy Scale, it's not the complete picture but it’s a starting point.
By Roger Philby, the CEO of talent management consultancy, The Chemistry Group