An open letter to Sales Managers about Optimism
Did you give your team a test to determine their optimism before you hired them?
Is your team selling as much as you would like them to?
Is turnover a concern?
What are your new hire training costs?
Are you aware of the MetLife studies and successes with hiring optimistic individuals?
MetLife worked in concert with the Father of Positive Psychology, Martin E. P. Seligman to test Seligman’s theory that hiring more optimistic sales people would reduce turnover and increase sales.
The results were very conclusive.
For years MetLife had used standardized industry tests to determine aptitude for selling insurance as a primary tool in deciding who to hire. Turnover was 50% in the first year with a hiring cost of thirty five thousand per person. Sales results were not good and by the end of the 4th year 80% of the new hires were gone.
Scientific research had already shown that pessimists give up faster and more often than optimists. Quitting is a form of giving up.
They decided to experiment. In addition to the standardized industry test they tested the optimism of the applicants.
They had the existing MetLife agents take a questionnaire to measure their level of optimism/pessimism. The results showed a strong correlation between sales success and optimism.
The ten percent who were the most optimistic sold 88% more than the most pessimistic tenth. The most optimistic half sold 37% more in their first two years than the pessimistic half sold.
The first year they tested the optimism of 104 new hires from the same part of the country. At the end of the first year 59 had quit. Taking the 104 on a scale with the most optimistic at the top the least optimistic were twice as likely to have quit during the first year.
The agents in the top half of optimism had sold 20% more than the agents in the lower half. The agents from the top quarter of optimism had sold 50% more than the bottom quarter.
In the next round, fifteen thousand applicants took the optimism test. Then Met Life gambled and hired 127 new agents who had failed the industry standard test but scored very high on the optimism test in addition to hiring 1,000 using the industry standard test and monitoring optimism.
The 127 who had failed the industry standard test but scored high on the optimism test outsold the pessimists hired in the traditional way by 21% the first year and 57% the second year. This special group, who had failed the industry standard test and would not have normally been hired even outsold the optimistic half of the traditional hires by 27% over the first two years.
Finally, it is important to note that the sales of the optimists continued to improve.
Okay, how does this help you? You already have a sales force and yes, you can test future hires but you don’t want to start over. You understand that optimism creates greater persistence in sales people and would like these benefits but how do you get from here to there?
The above study focused upon separating the optimistic from the pessimistic or less optimistic at the time of hiring. It did not address existing staff and their level of optimism.
Since then research has shown that not only can individuals change from being a pessimistic to being more optimistic but that the change is easily sustainable over time.
Beyond being better salespeople who are less likely to look for greener pastures research has also found that optimistic individuals:
- Are healthier
- Live longer
- Think with better clarity
- Do better in their careers
- Have better relationships
- Enjoy life more
Optimistic teams win more often even when the talent on the pessimistic opponent is superior.
It has also been shown that people would prefer their leaders be optimistic.
While it is still smart to focus on hiring optimistic individuals for sales roles it is possible to reshape your existing sales force into a more productive team by increasing their level of optimism.
The benefits of optimism are not limited to the sales team. Increases in optimism in all employees provide the benefits desired from typical wellness programs and some benefits that wellness programs do not even attempt to address.
One study demonstrated a 19% increase in accuracy of complex decisions among well educated adults. Can you imagine an executive team that makes decisions that are 19% better?
Our founder had a successful 30+ year career in the insurance, securities and trust world. After learning to be optimistic and becoming very happy in her own life she began teaching others.
We use the best of several fields including Positive Psychology, Emotional Intelligence, Neuroscience, Quantum Physics and ancient wisdom to develop methods that work. Many of these methods have been thoroughly researched with thousands of adults using them to make permanent changes in their levels of optimism, happiness, emotional intelligence and resilience.
Everyone comes from a different perspective. We believe that a combination of proven methods provides a greater chance of success with individuals of diverse backgrounds and different starting points.
We know that increasing the level of optimism in your employees, salespeople, and staff; will result in significant benefits that will contribute directly to the success of your company.
Let’s have a conversation about how increased optimism in your employees could be achieved. You have nothing to loose and much to gain from exploring this idea.
Jeanine Broderick, CFIRS, FLMI, AIRC, ACS
Certified Happiness Coach
Happiness 1st Institute
 As detailed in “Learned Optimism” by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
M. Seligman and P. Schulman, “Explanatory Style as a Predictor of Performance as a Life Insurance Agent,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50 (1986)
P. Schulman, M. Seligman, and D. Oran, “Explanatory Style Predicts Productivity Among Life Insurance Agents: The Special Force Study,” (unpublished study available from Foresight, Inc. Falls Church, VA.
 Scientific documentation of all the above claims is available.