We all know salespeople are competitive and that competition is a natural element of sales culture. That is precisely why sales competitions, “Sales Rep of the month”, President’s Club vacations and scoreboards are such classics within sales organisations.

This also explains why many salespeople are such avid athletes or so interested in sports. Those competitive genes aren’t confined to the 4 walls of our workplace!

The desire to be the best, drives us into higher performance. Simple concept.

However, something that is often undervalued and misunderstood is the role of collaboration inside a sales organisation.

Contrary to popular belief, the best sales teams aren’t a pack of “lone wolves”. Yes, each time probably has a handful of rogues, those who do their own thing yet still manage to blow out the targets. However, all of the anecdotal evidence suggests that the best teams are mission-driven and committed to team success. In other words, they are collaborative – in addition to competitive.

Collaboration, in other words working together to achieve a shared goal is indeed one of the strongest drivers of sales success. I’ve seen it work time and time again. Teams that set collaborative goals and work together for team success will always outperform the team of mavericks.

Just look at how Leicester City FC won the Champions League with a team of, to be honest, average performers. They won because they committed to achieving success together, they worked hard TOGETHER, whilst other teams feature “lone wolf”-types often put individual performance before the success of the team.

Bottom Line: The best sales teams understand how to balance competitiveness with collaboration. Let’s dig into what that means.  

The secret to sales success: Competitive Collaboration!

Getting this balance right is extremely tricky. Don’t get me wrong: most companies haven’t cracked this.

We all know the benefits of a competitive culture. Competitiveness drives engagement, drives people to “go the extra mile” and triggers us to go that little bit harder in order to get the jump on our colleagues.

In addition, most of us know that too much competitiveness can have a negative impact on performance too. It can demotivate middle and low performers, it can lead to undesired, selfish behaviours and putting the sales person before the customers.

However, by the same token – too much collaboration can lead to what I call a “culture of mediocrity”. Sometimes we do need to rely on fantastic individual performances to drag us across the line. Sometimes you need your captain to step up and score the crucial match-winning goal.

So, we’re back to striking the balance then. Before we look at how though, what do people even want in a workplace? Competitiveness or Collaboration?

This study from TechnologyAdvice surfaced some interesting insights. As it turns out, most salespeople dream of a work environment that is “somewhat competitive” and “very collaborative”.

Therefore, the key in my mind is to unlock Competitive Collaboration.

In other words: set and work towards goals together as a team but still recognise fantastic individual contributions.

Run collaborative contests that serve both competitive spirit and collaboration. For example, set a goal – “if we hit 1 million in bookings this month, let’s all go to Napa for the weekend. The top rep gets the presidential suite! “. By doing so, you will have your team work together, yet the competitive juices flowing. Yes, a silly example perhaps – but you get the idea.

In an ideal world you win the championship AND your best players are driven to play great games.

I think David Minze from the 15five blog summed it up perfectly:

In this sense collaborative environments are spaces where employees work together, but where they are also in constant competition with themselves to execute ideas and become better today than they were the day before.” (David Mizne – 15five blog)


Written by

James Pember
CEO Sparta, gamification & performance management technology for the world's biggest and most-loved enterprise brands.Passionate about performance. Passionate about helping companies drive change. Love the intersection of behaviour, business, psychology and technology. One-time marathon finisher (probably won't try again).