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The N Effect: let the sales competition begin

Jun 24, 2015

How to explore the competitive nature of people and motivate people to perform better, in a healthy environment.

Healthy effective competition between sales reps BI WORLDWIDE Latin America.


At BI WORLDWIDE, we use the principles of behavioral economics to create the best engagement strategies on the planet. We work with expert academics who advise us on the latest research on human behavior, engagement and decision-making. We use non-cash rewards and recognition to engage and motivate employees and sales teams. Check out our case study library to see how our customized and results-driven solutions have helped clients all over the world.

Chances are you’ve heard this adage before:

Two guys are walking through the woods. Suddenly, a bear starts chasing them. The first guy stops to put on tennis shoes. The second guy yells: “We’re being chased by a bear. Why are you stopping to put on tennis shoes? You’ll never out-run the bear!” The first guy says, “I don’t need to run faster than the bear.  I just need to run faster than you.”


Is Everyone Competitive?

Human beings are complex: we are both competitive and cooperative.  We are programmed to work together to build community to keep us safe in hard times. On the other hand, our ancestors discovered that competing successfully enhanced survival. Competition is so deeply buried in our DNA that it’s instinctual; it impacts the way we behave in meetings, how we make presentations and who we go to lunch with. We compete against each other, we compete against other groups and we even compete against ourselves.

However, our competitive natures vary by individual; some are more competitive than others. We recognize these people, in part, by the jobs they hold – and sales people rank highly on the competitive scale. One thing is universal about competition: We compete to win. If we can’t  win at some level, we don’t compete.

Environment Influences Competition

In recent years, we’ve come to learn a thing or two about competition. First, it’s not just men who are competitive – women are highly competitive too. However, the assumption that men were more competitive than women was so strong that the question itself wasn’t even considered until late in the 20th century.

Recently, researchers discovered that men and women are equally competitive. It turns out the social environment is what governs the competitiveness in each gender. In other words, if you are in an environment where men are expected to dominate, they do. If you are in an environment where women are expected to dominate, they do. Competition is a social construct.

The N-Effect

The second thing we’ve learned about competition is that fewer competitors lead to a higher drive to compete. Social scientists have recently discovered something they call the N-Effect.2 In essence, it means the more competitors we have, the less competition there is. When you’re just a face in a crowd of hundreds, there is little motivation to work hard to stand out. There are too many competitors. But when you look around and find only one or two others nearby, you see a level playing field and truly believe you can win. And you work harder than you normally would because your chance to win is within reach.

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