When it comes to being successful, Adam Grant—celebrated organizational psychologist, and published author—has a factor in mind that’s often overlooked.
“According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck,” he states in the opening chapter of his New York Times bestselling book, Give and Take.
But as he quickly injected, there’s something missing in these 3 factors. “[There is] a fourth ingredient, one that’s critical but often neglected: success [also] depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in turn?”
Grant calls these approaches to interpersonal interactions our “reciprocity preferences.” And a person’s brand of reciprocity can usually be categorized under 1 of 3 buckets: you’re either a taker, matcher, or a giver.
Question is: how can you tell which one you are?
What The 3 Buckets Mean
There are a few things to remember before defining your reciprocity style: how you are in personal intimate relationships isn’t necessarily the same as in your professional ones; and everybody is a mix of all 3, but skew towards 1 the most.
Takers believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. “If I don’t look out for myself first, no one will” is their mantra for the day. Their general strategy is to be better than others in order to succeed. But they’re not necessarily cutthroat or vicious—it’s more like they’re extra cautious and self-protective.
Givers operate on the other side of the spectrum: as other-focused workers, they pay attention more to what people need from them than what they can take. It’s either they help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs—or they may not even think about personal costs at all.
The last style is where most people lie: matchers. You operate on the principle of fairness, where you believe in an even exchange of favors. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.
What’s startling about Grant’s research is how your reciprocity style can be a large predictor of success. If you were to rank givers, matchers, and takers on a pyramid of success, the results are quite predictable.
Across various professions—from medicine to engineering—givers widely rank as the least productive and effective professionals. They end up putting the needs of others ahead of their own, at the cost to their success. Matchers rank second, and takers come out first.
But there’s another set of people more successful than takers; the ones who come out at the very top. Across a diverse set of metrics, and a wide range of occupations, the phenomenally successful ones are givers again.
It turns out that you can be a pushover kind of giver (the doormats, the chumps), and a strategic kind of giver. You can learn to maximize value for others and yourself at the same time. All it takes is adopting a certain kind of strategy. And qualifying as one is what separates the successful from the truly phenomenal in the herd.
So how does this apply to a dog-eat-dog field like sales?
How Being a Giver Boosts Sales
Being a strategic giver means that you employ a few tactics to achieve two things: maintain your sense of generosity and inclination to maximize value for both parties; and two, avoid falling into the trap of being an unproductive, doormat giver.
When it comes to amazing salespeople, the employees who live this principle out stand out from the rest. According to Grant’s research, the very top-performing salespeople deploy a tactic overlooked in closing a sale: in place of aggressively talking, they aggressively listened instead. Replacing hard-sell sales pitching, the very top performing salespeople gave the floor to customers to do all the talking: all they had to do was ask them a lot of questions.
And as seen in actual case studies, this knack for powerful listening achieves two things: one, it builds prestige for the salesperson (customers respect and admire the concern shown for their needs); and two, it enables the salesperson to learn exactly what the customer needs—which is crucial in helping them “figure out how to sell us things we already value.”
By creating a virtuous circle where the customer feels heard, respected, and treated for their specific needs; and a scenario where the salesperson is able to provide the best value to meet those needs; making a sale practically becomes inevitable after the interaction.
The Art of Hiring Well
At the end of the day, there are many more tactics that salespeople (and other professionals) alike can use to practice helping others in driving their successes. So the next time you’re faced with hiring another salesperson, we challenge you to look beyond the typical profile so you can truly find the diamonds in the rough. After all, here at Kalibrr, we make sure we do the same—every single time you need to find your next great hire.
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