Withholding Information prohibited symbolArticle

Anaza, N.A.; Nowlin E.L. “What’s mine is mine: A study of salesperson knowledge withholding and hoarding behavior.” Industrial Marketing Management. 64 (2017) 14-24.


Dr. Luciano Castro, Clinical Associate Professor


This paper presents a very interesting discussion around the issues regarding salespeople information sharing. Every sales manager expects their sales team to contribute market and customer information in order to improve strategic decision making. This is the foundation to building a true learning organization with a sales team. However, some salespeople are impeding the flow of knowledge and weakening interpersonal and organizational performance.

Do you have this kind problem on your sales team? Let us define the issue at hand based on the referenced article. Knowledge withholding is a conscious refusal to transfer knowledge to others, while hoarding is a salesperson’s practice of keeping the information to themselves by default. This fosters a “what is mine, is mine” mentality. Knowledge withholding is a precondition to hoarding, the authors advocate. The consequences of having significant knowledge withholding and hoarding behavior within your sales organization are severe. This will hinder good organizational climate, negatively affecting the motivation of those surrounding the problem and lowering individual and organizational performance.

The fundamental conditions to encourage withholding knowledge and hoarding are grouped into three main factors, according to the author: environmental, incentive and individual. Out of a list of several topics inside these three groups of factors, a survey from 234 U.S. salespeople working inside and outside sales, confirmed that exaggerated internal competition and past opportunistic behavior from others in the sales teams are the environmental factors that feed salespeople’s knowledge withholding. Concerning incentive factors, lack of knowledge-sharing reward (financial or non-financial) and lack of feedback from upper management were associated with increasing knowledge withholding. Additionally, authors found strong evidence upon observing individual factors that neuroticism, represented by anxious and tense individuals who focus on negative experiences and take pleasure in complaining, also encourage knowledge withholding.

What this means for food and agribusiness

In a context of agribusiness, sales managers have to rely on their sales teams to bring back valuable field information. Often, agribusiness salespeople work in distant and diverse contexts and need quick answers, but also long-term strategic adjustments for their sales territories. Therefore, it is fundamental that sales managers:

  1. Consider using team sales contests instead of individual sales contests. Team contests could increase motivation, but not at the expense of shared knowledge. Focusing too much on individual internal competition may create disputes for internal resources. Also, sales performance is very frequently a relative concept, therefore preventing others from creating great sales results may increase their performance.
  2. Provide rewards, whether financial or non-financial, to recognize salespeople who are cooperating and bringing valuable market information. It is a great opportunity to show why the information was critical, while also showing others a behavior that is reinforced internally. If successful salespeople bring market information to the organization, others—especially younger salespeople—will mimic this behavior. The opposite is also true.
  3. Provide feedback to the contributing salespeople on how the information has made a difference for strategy creation. This will show the sales team that they were critical and contributed to the success of the company. It motivates people as they see meaning behind their daily duties, creating optimism around their careers inside the organization. Optimism in sales yields better results.
  4. Act to stop and prevent opportunistic behavior from salespeople; and, create the conditions for increasing social relationships and a wealthier organizational climate among coworkers. No salesperson will share important information with a coworker if he or she has experienced uncooperative or unhelpful behavior. This situation often yields reciprocal behavior, creating a vicious cycle.
  5. Ensure that neuroticism is eradicated from the sales team. While being an innate personality trait, recruitment and selection mechanisms should try to identify this negative behavior. Additionally, sales managers should foster collaboration and create a positive atmosphere with positive people who will neutralize neuroticism that is still present in the sales team.

It is worth adding that agriculture is a fertile environment for cooperative behavior. The uncertainties of crops, market and climate, along with policy changes, have contributed to a risky business environment. Growers, in response, have historically developed several collective actions as demonstrated by cooperatives and association enterprises around the globe. Therefore, agribusiness sales managers have a wonderful opportunity to align their sales organization culture with that of agriculture. There is a great chance that customers will identify themselves and value a cooperative sales organization culture.