Sporting Talent in Tech Sales Teams: Elevating Sales Performance Through Athletic Skillsets

Tue 9th Jan 2024

Dynamic, Innovative, Unpredictable: Technology is an Industry Built to Change.

The Technology industry is one of the most dynamic in the world, in constant change and innovation.

Each time we push the frontiers of technological innovation, a new market opens up, while another becomes obsolete. In this shifting landscape, as companies drive innovation forward while regulators work to keep up, the future is often unpredictable.

Contrastingly, in Sales, the essence of successful salesmanship has endured for centuries, irrespective of the evolving products being marketed. The foundational traits of exceptional sales professionals remain consistent: charisma, being personable, and an innate understanding of the customer needs and inclinations. Tech Sales professionals therefore sit at the juncture of stability and adaptability, and requiring the prowess to navigate both with ease. 


A New Metric for Sales Success


The skills that allow a given person to perform in Sales have not always been clear.

In a 2006 article for the Harvard Business Review, David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg attempted to tackle this problem. Despite 35 years of research into how companies could predict the performance of salespeople, the turnover in Sales roles had remained at the shockingly high rate of 50% in the first year of employment and 80% in the first three years. They suggested that inaccurate metrics were used and proposed a new system measuring traits like empathy and ego drive. Ranking Sales candidates by empathy and ego drive from A to D, they found that after eighteen months, only six top-ranking 'A' candidates left their roles, while 36 from the 'D' category exited, validating the correlation between these traits and long-term success in Sales positions.


Who Can Balance Empathy & Ego? The Unique Position of Athletes


Identifying individuals with the right balance of empathy and drive is a challenge in the recruitment process.

Most applicants often lack at least one of these traits, rendering them unsuitable for the role. However, applicants with a sporting background, which develops and enhances these key characteristics, can mitigate these challenges, and reduce time and costs spent on interviewing mismatches.

Teamwork is a fundamental attribute of athletes, who often have to know how to work with and bring out the best in others to achieve both individual and collective goals. Studies by Maria Kavussanu and Ali Al-Yaaribi highlight the significant impact of prosocial behaviour, such as positive reinforcement and mutual encouragements, on performance and team cohesion. Teams with more prosocial norms will function better both at the level of the individual player and as a collective. At the same time, a paper by Kavussanu, Stamp, Slade and Ring suggests that one of the primary predictors of whether an athlete will exhibit prosocial behaviours is their level of empathy. Athletes exhibiting higher degrees of empathy tend to foster such prosocial values, amplifying team capacities. Tapping into the pool of elite athletes offers employers a promising cohort rich in empathetic attributes ideal for Sales roles.

There is also a direct correlation between athletic performance and inherent drive to succeed. Studies from Mayer and Greenberg refer to the “need to conquer”, found in both elite athletes and successful salespeople. Usain Bolt, Anthony Joshua, or Rafael Nadal exemplify this relentless pursuit of excellence, enduring physical strains and media scrutiny to attain peak performance . They have a burning desire to win and be the best, and will not let anything get in their way. These athletes possess the drive necessary to relentlessly pursue success and close deals, which, coupled with the above findings on empathy and prosocial team values, makes them perfect candidates to succeed in Sales roles.


Why Sporting Achievements Complement the Tech Industry


Athletes possess characteristics that are fundamentally suited to the Technology industry.

In such a rapidly evolving sector, adaptability and swift decision-making under pressure are pivotal. Athletes have developed those skills early on in order to compete at high levels.

Adapting strategies on the fly is routine for athletes; they excel at altering game plans to suit various opponents and situations.

In football, formations change on a weekly basis, and players have to be ready to play in a variety of positions. Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo managed to thrive in both wide and central roles depending on the demands of the teams they were playing for and against.

Athletes’ adeptness and precise decision-making under pressure are valuable traits to thrive in Tech.

In certain sporting situations, an athlete will need to show clarity of thinking in an extremely time-sensitive and pressured environment. Bowlers in cricket have to decide on what kind of delivery they will pick in the space of walking back to their mark; golfers have to decide between shots how they want to balance risk and reward or how they can use wind and terrain to their advantage; and runners and cyclists need to be able to time their push for the front so that they don’t burn out too early or finish with too much in the tank. In each of these cases, the wrong decision could be the difference between success and failure, between victory and defeat. The most successful athletes are those that are able to make the correct decisions quickly in these high-stakes scenarios. The skills that athletes bring to the table thus make them extremely desirable candidates in the Tech sector, where responding quickly to new developments while still being able to think through decisions can be a source of immense value.

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Matching Sportspeople to Tech Sales Roles


Sport gives athletes the perfect combination of experience and aptitudes to succeed in Tech Sales. Collaborating with rapidly expanding FinTech, PropTech, and InsureTech firms where we have placed thriving candidates, we at add-victor recognise the demand for Sales experts to support and sustain their growth. The success story of Luke Baldwin, shifting from professional rugby to excelling as a Business Development Manager at Vitesse PSP, exemplifies the potential synergy between athletes and these industries. Baldwin notes the resonance between the Tech industry's focus on AI and the tech-savvy generation workforce, akin to the dynamism of sports teams. He underscores Tech Sales as a platform for transitioning athletes, offering rapid growth opportunities: “a great breeding ground for moving up the curve quickly and being able to have a great impact on company culture and values.” add-victor aims to continue helping employers find the best candidates for their Tech Sales positions in the future, recognising the athletes’ natural fit for such positions.



  • What makes a good salesman by David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg:
  • Kavussanu, Maria, and Ali Al-Yaaribi. “Prosocial and Antisocial Behaviour in Sport.” International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, vol. 19, no. 2, 2021.
  • Kavussanu, Maria, et al. “Observed Prosocial and Antisocial Behaviors in Male and Female Soccer Players.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, vol. 21, no. sup1, 2009.