Gritting their teeth to close the sale: the positive effect of salesperson grit on job satisfaction and performance

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DOI: 10.1080/08853134.2018.1489726
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Abstract
This research is the first to examine the effect of “grit” – defined here as perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals – on salesperson performance and job satisfaction in a business-to-business (B2B) sales context. While more commonly studied in the psychology and education literatures, grit has heretofore been underexplored in sales research, a notable omission given its importance in predicting performance outcomes across multiple domains. In response, we demonstrate that gritty salespeople perform better and enjoy greater job satisfaction than their less gritty counterparts. Moreover, we show that competitiveness and self-efficacy help to develop grit and reveal important moderating effects; grit is highest when salespeople are self-efficacious and socially astute. Moreover, the results also suggest that need for power attenuates the positive effect of grit on performance, revealing a potential “dark side” of grit. We then provide some future research ideas involving grit in an effort to encourage further exploration of this construct in sales research. Finally, we conclude by offering cautions to future researchers as they decide whether to examine this interesting construct in a sales context.
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Gritting their teeth to close the sale: the positive
effect of salesperson grit on job satisfaction and
performance
Riley Dugan, Bryan Hochstein, Maria Rouziou & Benjamin Britton
To cite this article: Riley Dugan, Bryan Hochstein, Maria Rouziou & Benjamin Britton
(2018): Gritting their teeth to close the sale: the positive effect of salesperson grit on job
satisfaction and performance, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, DOI:
10.1080/08853134.2018.1489726
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/08853134.2018.1489726
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Gritting their teeth to close the sale: the positive effect of salesperson grit on job satisfaction
and performance
Riley Dugan
a
, Bryan Hochstein
b
, Maria Rouziou
c
and Benjamin Britton
b
a
School of Business, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-2271, USA;
b
Culverhouse College of Commerce,
University of Alabama, Box 8702, Tuscaloosa, AL 35406, USA;
c
Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University,
401 21
st
Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37240 USA
(Received 31 October 2017; accepted 13 June 2018)
This research is the first to examine the effect of grit”–defined here as perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals
on salesperson performance and job satisfaction in a business-to-business (B2B) sales context. While more commonly
studied in the psychology and education literatures, grit has heretofore been underexplored in sales research, a notable
omission given its importance in predicting performance outcomes across multiple domains. In response, we demon-
strate that gritty salespeople perform better and enjoy greater job satisfaction than their less gritty counterparts.
Moreover, we show that competitiveness and self-efficacy help to develop grit and reveal important moderating effects;
grit is highest when salespeople are self-efficacious and socially astute. Moreover, the results also suggest that need for
power attenuates the positive effect of grit on performance, revealing a potential dark sideof grit. We then provide
some future research ideas involving grit in an effort to encourage further exploration of this construct in sales research.
Finally, we conclude by offering cautions to future researchers as they decide whether to examine this interesting con-
struct in a sales context.
Keywords: grit; salespeople; performance; job satisfaction; competitiveness; self-efficacy; social astuteness; need
for power
Just about everyone has encountered some individual
who possesses tremendous natural talent. Whether it be
swinging a baseball bat, sketching a caricature, or taking
a calculus exam, some people possess the natural ability
that lends a grace to their actions and elicits envy from
their colleagues, for whom success does not come as
easily. However, these naturally talented individuals are
not the subject of the current research. Rather, it is pre-
cisely those for whom success does not come as easily
but who nevertheless persist in their efforts toward their
intended goal who have recently attracted attention
from scholars across multiple domains (Duckworth et al.
2007; Eskreis-Winkler et al. 2014; Kleiman et al. 2013;
Silvia et al. 2013). Specifically, we examine the gritty
individual, defined in this research as someone who
demonstrates perseverance in pursuit of a long-term goal
(Duckworth et al. 2007). Historical examples abound
where the gritty inventor (e.g., Thomas Edison), enter-
tainer (e.g., Walt Disney or Oprah Winfrey), or business
person (e.g., Henry Ford or Sam Walton) repeatedly
failed, yet persevered to ultimately excel (Sugar, Feloni,
and Lutz 2015). Yet despite the success of gritty individ-
uals, the concept of grit has not been a topic of study in
the academic literature until recently and, we suggest,
has not been a topic of study in the sales literature
until now.
As a construct, grithas its origin in positive psych-
ology, a field of scholarly research that endeavors to
suggest ways that individuals can improve their lives.
Indeed, a growing body of research demonstrates that
gritty individuals do enjoy better performance outcomes
than their less gritty counterparts (i.e., Duckworth et al.
2007; Eskreis-Winkler et al. 2014; Mueller, Wolfe, and
Syed 2017). As a result, grit has attracted the attention
of many in the general public who consider it a malle-
able trait that can help foster success across multiple
endeavors. For example, the U.S. Department of
Education has recently earmarked funds to introduce
gritinto programs designed to help failing schools,
with some institutions going so far as to award students
a grade for their grit (Cohen 2015).
Yet despite growing interest from both the scholarly
community and the general public, grit remains underex-
amined in the sales literature. This notable lack of
research is surprising, given that research suggests that
most successful salespeople are made and not born
Corresponding author. Email: rdugan1@udayton.edu
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed at www.tandfonline.com/rpss
#2018 Pi Sigma Epsilon National Educational Foundation
Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 2018
https://doi.org/10.1080/08853134.2018.1489726
(Novell, Machleit, and Sojka 2016). Moreover, few pro-
fessions place as much importance on the value of grit
as professional, business-to-business (B2B) selling. In a
field typified by frequent buyer rejection and lengthy
buying cycles (Boichuk et al. 2014), sometimes lasting
up to 24 months or longer, it is only the gritty those
who can persevere toward their long term goals that
survive in a challenging and competitive, consultative
selling environment (Liu and Leach 2001; Rapp et al.
2014). Thus, the purpose of the current research is two-
fold. First, we will introduce the grit construct to the
sales literature and will demonstrate why it may be par-
ticularly useful in explaining performance outcomes for
B2B salespeople who participate in lengthy sales cycles.
Second, we aim to encourage future sales research into
this fascinating, and increasingly popular, construct. In
so doing, we will focus on the perseverance rather
than the consistency of interests facet of grit (Bowman
et al. 2015; Cred
e, Tynan, and Harms 2017).
The remainder of this article is organized as follows.
First, we provide a literature review of the grit construct,
with particular attention paid to the breadth of academic
disciplines from exercise science to neuropsychology
in which researchers have examined grit to help explain
phenomena. Next, using motivational theories (i.e.,
Brehm and Self 1989), we develop hypotheses regarding
the antecedents and consequences of grit, along with its
moderators within a sales context. In other words, we
ask what sales managers can do to help develop grit
within their salespeople and what positive downstream
consequences grit has on organizational outcomes. To
develop answers to these questions, we present the
results of a sample of 147 salespeople from a large B2B
warehouse equipment provider that demonstrates that
self-efficacy (i.e., Dixon and Schertzer 2005), particu-
larly when coupled with social astuteness, and competi-
tiveness (i.e. Krishnan, Netemeyer, and Boles 2002) can
foster grit and that grit has a positive impact on both job
performance and job satisfaction. However, we also
demonstrate that the positive effect of grit on perform-
ance can be attenuated when salespeople are also high in
need for power. We then aid future researchers by pre-
senting topical research ideas for grit and develop impli-
cations for managers. Finally, we conclude by offering
some cautions and conclusions for sales researchers as
they consider grit in their future research endeavors.
Literature review and nomological network
Over 100 years ago, the eminent psychologist William
James (1907) lamented that man used but a small
amount of his available energy, with the inevitable result
being that his level of achievement represented but a
fraction of his potential. However, James asserted that
one was able to control the amount of energy that one
brought to bear on ones actions and that it was possible
to learnto expend more energy as a function of ones
circumstances. Furthermore, in the 1950s, researchers
speculated on the trait that pushed some individuals to
persist through difficult times such as their educations
and marriages while others, who were seemingly simi-
lar as measured by more common metrics such as
income level and education, either quit or saw their
unions dissolve (Glick and Carter 1958). Thus, while not
formally described or examined, the importance of grit
or something akin to it to achieving successful out-
comes was familiar to researchers long before its recent
renaissance.
Given grits focus on sustained effort and persever-
ance through difficult challenges, some have argued that
it is merely a subdimension of conscientiousness
(Rimfeld et al. 2016) and that it does not provide add-
itional explanation of variance in outcome measures
beyond this more commonly established Big 5person-
ality trait (Cred
e, Tynan, and Harms 2017; Rimfeld et al.
2016). Indeed, correlations between grit and conscien-
tiousness are generally quite high (Duckworth and Quinn
2009). However, the two personality traits do not com-
pletely overlap. Whereas conscientiousness may refer to
ones ability to resist distraction in pursuit of short-term
goals such as a students decision to study for a test
rather than go out with friends grit deals uniquely with
ones perseverance in pursuing long-term goals, such as
graduating college (Duckworth et al. 2007) or building a
business (Mueller, Wolfe, and Syed 2017), both of
which typically take multiple years before a successful
outcome is obtained. Thus, while the gritty are conscien-
tious, the conscientious may not always be gritty. In fact,
research has shown that grit remains a significant pre-
dictor of performance even when controlling for con-
scientiousness (Duckworth et al. 2007). Grit also
predicts performance when controlling for other key fac-
tors such as intelligence and aptitude (Eskreis-Winkler
et al. 2014; Strayhorn 2014). For example, in research
examining the effectiveness of newly hired elementary
teachers in low-income communities, grit was shown to
predict classroom effectiveness whereas traditional meas-
ures of aptitude, such as college GPA, did not
(Robertson-Kraft and Lee Duckworth 2014).
Moreover, grit demonstrates predictive ability across
many disciplines and contexts (see Table 1 for a repre-
sentative sampling of studies that examine the grit con-
struct). In their seminal 2007 study, Duckworth and
colleagues found that grit explained variance in perform-
ance for military cadets, university students, and even
spelling bee participants, suggesting the breadth of its
importance across domains and life stages.
2R. Dugan et al.
Table 1. Representative gritarticles across the academic literature.
Publication Field Key finding(s)
Implications for sales research
and practice
Aparicio, Bacao, and
Oliveira 2017 - CHB
Education/
E-Learning
Grit has positive effects on an
individual's performance on learn-
ing, and satisfaction with, new
technology systems.
Grit may be particularly important when
salespeople are required to learn new
technologies (CRM and other sales
force automation systems).
Ceschi et al. 2016 - FIP Personality Grit mitigates the negative effects of
burnout on counter-productive
workplace behaviors.
Gritty employees may be less likely to
abandon firm best practices in the face
of stress and repetitive failure.
Datu 2017 - PAID Social
psychology
In a study of high school students,
grit was positively associated with
relatedness with one's teachers.
Grit may help salespeople form
stronger bonds with their managers.
Duckworth et al.
2007 - JPSP
Personality Grit accounted for a significant
amount of performance variance for
military cadets, college students,
and undergraduate students.
Grit may help predict performance across
a variety of sales roles (i.e., new busi-
ness development, account manager,
sales management, etc.).
Eskreis-Winkler
et al. 2014 - FIP
Positive
psychology
Grit predicts retention across a variety
of contexts, including the military,
the workplace, and marriage.
Grit may be negatively associated with
salesperson turnover.
Hill, Burrow, and
Bronk 2016 - JHS
Positive
psychology
The authors find that positive affect
and a personal life direction help
foster the development of grit.
Managers who create an exciting, posi-
tive work environment may be better
positioned to develop grit in their
salespeople.
Kleiman et al.
2013 - JRP
Positive
psychology
Grit reduced suicide ideations
over time.
Grit may help salespeople overcome the
setbacks that are part of
the profession.
Martin et al.
2015 - JCSP
Sport
psychology
In a study of wheelchair basketball
players, those athletes reporting
high levels of grit tended to be the
most engaged in the sport.
Grit may help to predict salesperson
engagement, important for relationship
development and lengthy sales cycles.
Meriac, Slifka, and
LaBat 2015 - PAID
Personality Conceptually similar, but the authors
find that grit offers predictive val-
idity beyond work ethic in explain-
ing individuals reactions to stress.
Specifically, grittier individuals
were less prone to work stress than
less gritty individuals.
Grit is critical in helping ameliorate
stresses associated with the
sales profession.
Mueller, Wolfe, and
Syed 2017 - JBV
Entrepreneurship The authors reveal a significant
pathway between grit and new ven-
ture performance.
Grit may be particularly important for
salespeople in new business develop-
ment (i.e., "hunters").
Poczwardowski et al.
2014 - JASP
Sport psychology The authors show that grit is critical
in successfully navigating career
transitions for high-level athletes.
Grit may be important for salespeople
starting a new role (i.e., sales represen-
tative promoted to sales management).
Sengupta-Irving and
Agarwal 2017 - MTL
Education In addition to an individual difference
variable, perseverance can be
viewed as a collective variable fos-
tered through different tasks and
teacher-student interactions.
Sales managers help foster grit not only
in individual salespeople, but also in
sales teams. Team-building exercises
may also be critical in the formation
of collective grit.
Silvia et al. 2013 - IJP Physiology Individuals high in the different
dimensions of grit (perseverance
vs. consistency of interests) dis-
played different levels of auto-
nomic nervous system activity.
Perseverance of effort may be more
important for success in sales than
consistency of interests.
Strayhorn 2014 - JAAS Education African
American studies
Grit adds incremental predictive
validity above traditional cognitive
measures such as high school GPA
and ACT scores for African
American collegians' grades.
Grit, even more so than collegiate sales
training or GPA, may help explain
sales success.
Vainio and Daukantait_
e
2016 - JHS
Positive
psychology
Grit is positively related with overall
psychological well-being and life
satisfaction.
Grit may be positively associated with
job satisfaction for salespeople.
(continued)
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