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The Pitch For Neurodiversity in Sales

By Colleen Giblin | November 30, 2022 | 0 Comments

SalesSales EnablementSales Strategy and Leadership

The term “neurodiversity” refers to the full range of natural variation in the way people’s minds work. Conditions such as ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, and dyslexia (among others) are considered neurodivergent. Such brain differences are not uncommon–approximately 20% of the global population qualifies as neurodivergent.

Supporting neurodivergent talent is key to unlocking your sales organization’s untapped potential.

Selling is uniquely challenging and rewarding in ways that make it perhaps a surprisingly good fit for people with certain neurological differences. For example, ADHD is reputed to be especially prevalent amongst sellers. Why would this be?

First, let’s look at the typical seller compensation structure. Compared to jobs with a fixed base salary, sales jobs tend to be highly leveraged. Sellers must be willing to accept some level of financial risk to have a chance at a larger upside. 

While risk perception is inherently subjective, and risk tolerance/aversion varies by individual, research has shown that people with ADHD symptoms often perceive higher benefits from engaging in risky behaviors (ADHD-associated Risk-taking is Linked to Exaggerated View of The Benefits of Positive Outcomes). In sales terms, this means that individuals with ADHD may be more likely to value the larger upside of a variable compensation plan despite the risks.

Indeed, the risk appetite displayed by ADHD-ers is consistent with the perceptions and behaviors expected of hunter roles within the sales force: Gartner research has found that farmers with account management responsibilities are risk-averse, demanding a 6% premium over their average conversion rate in order to pursue a growth opportunity, whereas hunters with purely acquisition responsibilities are more risk-tolerant, willing to take on opportunities even at a 6% discount.

Aside from risk tolerance, research has also found ADHD to be associated with a type of creativity called divergent thinking–the ability to generate multiple ideas or solutions to a problem (Uninhibited Imaginations: Creativity in Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). As selling becomes more complex, getting deals over the line is no longer so straightforward. But for sellers with ADHD, their penchant for problem-solving enables them to turn any deal into a creative challenge, finding novel, unexpected ways to meet customer needs and close deals. For some hunters, this may explain in part what makes the “thrill of the chase” so appealing.

Neurodivergent sellers may require workplace accommodations to thrive. 

To borrow from a popular book title, the challenge of Adult ADHD could be summed up as “How to Succeed as a Hunter in a Farmer’s World.” Despite their many strengths, ADHD-ers commonly share areas of development stemming from difficulty organizing tasks in sequence, keeping materials in order, managing time, and meeting deadlines. Making accommodations to address these areas can enable ADHD sellers to maximize their strengths. 

For example, granting ADHD sellers more flexibility and uninterrupted work time can help them better allocate their attention. And minimizing or reassigning tasks that are marginal to the core seller role can pay off in terms of increased productivity on higher-value activities that play to their talents and more directly impact the bottom line. While these accommodations might be especially helpful to sellers with ADHD, it’s not hard to see that extending them to the entire salesforce could be beneficial as well. 

Areas where neurodivergent sellers need more support may be opportunities to identify and address pain points experienced across the salesforce. 

Statistics show that neurodivergence is prevalent, meaning you already have neurodivergent sellers in your organization whether you know it or not.

Why not explore ways to improve their on-the-job experience and achieve peak performance across the entire organization?

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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