The Neurotic Salesperson

Ad de Jong, Johannes Habel, Nathaniel Hartmann, Selma Kadic-Maglajlic, Nicolas A. Zacharias

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsResearchpeer-review


Research Question
For at least six decades, sales research has strived to understand salespeople's neuroticism by conceptualizing neuroticism in two ways: as neuroticism per se or as emotional stability, which is the opposite of neuroticism. In either case, scholars typically view neuroticism as exogenous – and thus as an antecedent to the outcomes of interest. However, the emerging psychological literature questions the plasticity of neuroticism by showing that neuroticism can increase in environments that are unpredictable and uncontrollable. In such environments, individuals perceive different emotional states and are in a persistent state of emotional instability, which corresponds with neuroticism. We argue that this emerging theory on plasticity is particularly relevant to the sales profession because this profession is characterized by high levels of uncertainty, insecurity, and stress. Salespeople often face rejection, difficulty closing sales opportunities, competing interests in negotiations, and pressure due to their ambitious sales goals and incentives. Thus, we propose that salespeople's neuroticism is subject to change and is codetermined by the sales environment. Specifically, we examine two research questions: (1) How do salespeople differ from individuals in corporate non-sales jobs in terms of neuroticism? (2) If there are differences in neuroticism, how do they arise?

Method and Data
To test these research questions, we initially performed exploratory field research that revealed the neuroticism of graduate students studying sales increased after they performed a series of sales tasks. We then conducted two studies. Study 1 is based on survey data collected from employees of a large business-to-business company. Of the 1,723 complete cases, 1002 employees were in non-sales roles and 721 employees worked in sales roles. After performing propensity score analysis to create comparable non-sales and sales groups, we assessed the relationships of interest using multiple regression analysis. To adjust for possible remaining biases in the covariates for the sales and non-sales groups, the analysis included the variables used in the propensity score analysis. Study 2 is based on a cross-industry data collected through a data panel (i.e. Prolific Academic). We collected 418 responses, of which 209 were salespeople and 209 were from people working in non-sales roles. We used the same procedure as in Study 1 to mitigate the risk of endogeneity and increase robustness of the results and estimates. To assess the relationships of interest in Study 2, we performed structural equation modeling using Lavaan in the R statistical programming language.

Summary of Findings
In Study 1, we find that employees in sales roles have higher neuroticism than their non-sales counterparts, and that tenure increases the strength of the positive association between sales role and neuroticism. In study 2, we show that in comparison to non-sales roles, salespeople, on average, score higher on chance locus of control but no differently on internal locus of control. We find that chance locus of control mediates the effects of being in a sales role on neuroticism, which is not the case for employees in non-sales roles. In addition, we assessed the moderation effect of tenure on the relationship between the sales dummy and internal/chance locus of control. We find that chance locus of control increases over time for employees in sales roles but decreases over time for those in non-sales roles.

Key Contributions
Our findings have the potential to significantly advance sales theory as well as personality theory. As such, this research integrates emergent neuroticism-related research on Personality Dynamics and Cybernetic Big Five Theory to sales research. This fosters a novel perspective, at least amongst sales researchers, and demonstrates the relevance of examining how neuroticism and other within-salesperson factors change over time. Using advanced empirical methods, this study provides unique insight into the plasticity of neuroticism and how this depends on the type of job position (sales vs. non-sales), which may encourage future scholars in sales and related research streams to view neuroticism as endogenous rather than exogenous.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2022 AMA Summer Academic Conference Proceedings : Light in the Darkness: Marketing’s Role in Driving Positive Change
EditorsAndrea Godfrey Flynn, Ravi Prakash Mehta, Cinthia Satornino
Place of PublicationChicago
PublisherAmerican Marketing Association
Publication date2022
ISBN (Print)9780877570141
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Event2022 AMA Summer Academic Conference - Chicago, United States
Duration: 12 Aug 202214 Aug 2022


Conference2022 AMA Summer Academic Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Sales
  • Salesperson
  • Neuroticism
  • Personality
  • Locus of control

Cite this