I recently conducted an informal poll on the Sales Central Group on LinkedIn.com and the results were that the respondents, all sales professionals, overwhelmingly believe that introverts can be successful sales pros.
Succeeding in Sales, Part 1
Success in sales requires sales pros to engage in tasks and use skills that are usually very uncomfortable for people with introverted personalities. These include:
- Prospecting for new business, often including cold calling
- Asking the buyer to attend calls and meetings
- Leading presentations and meetings
- Persuasion skills
- Seeking objections buyers might have
- Asking for the order
These tasks are more easily handled by extroverts, who enjoy being the center of attention, are not reluctant to speak up, thrive on interaction, and love to socialize, especially with large groups of people. Indeed, they seek conversations with other people (the “gift of gab”) and are not happy working alone. Extroverts are usually very open to new experiences.
Introverts, on the other hand, are content when working by themselves or with a small group of like-minded individuals. They prefer familiarity and disdain conflict, are usually not very impulsive, and are often excellent listeners and deep thinkers. Introverts tend not to delegate and instead take on tasks by themselves, mostly because they do not want to ask for assistance or manage another person. Introverts tend to seek solitude, whereas the extrovert thrives on interacting with others in a group. Solitary confinement is torture to an extrovert. To an introvert, it is a party of one!
Succeeding in Sales, Part 2
But what about other key skills that outstanding sales pros must have? Skills like:
- Participation as a team player
- Subject matter expertise
- Following up on questions and issues
- Identifying and solving problems
- Strong careful observational proficiencies (reading people’s emotions—introverts often notice things that extroverts don’t)
- Researching potential solutions
- Challenging the prospect or pushing for more information
- Handling transition and implementation issues
Many introverts excel at these valuable skills. But can that compensate for not having the desire to interact with large groups and to initiate conversations with people they don’t already know? Some introverts, when placed in a position that requires extroverted qualities, such as public speaking or social action, are more adaptable to those tasks and can thrive, whereas others are not.
Looking at Sales from Both Sides Now
Let’s contrast the pitches that introverts and extroverts would use to sell the same product to the same people. An introvert, after spending a lot of time researching, reflecting, and thinking about how to approach the prospect would craft a pitch based on thoughtful logic, their analysis and their impressions of the audience. The pitch would emphasize the advantages of buying the product, but in a very nuanced, soft-sell manner.
The extrovert, who may have sourced the lead from cold calling, would, after arriving in the room or introducing her or himself on the video conference, begin the meeting by discussing the weather, the local professional team, or noting the university the decision maker graduated from. They would then jump right in and explain why the prospect should purchase the product in a very unambiguous and direct manner, but without getting into much detail. They would be careful not to offend the buyer, whom they want to have as a friend.
And the Winner Is…
According to research published by the Applied Psychology Journal, and cited in an article by Melissa Dittman Tracey, there is almost zero correlation between extraversion and introversion sales performance, and the most successful salespeople tend to be a hybrid who fall in between the introvert or extrovert classifications, what are termed “ambiverts.” They are more flexible, may have traits that are the best of both worlds, and often have very successful sales careers.
My experience has been that all types can be successful. Extroverts have the advantage of being socially comfortable meeting and interacting with new groups of people. They also are less intimated by the prospects and have no problem asking for the order. Introverts can likewise be effective in sales by leveraging their own strengths.
In over thirty years of sales management experience, I saw many (but not a majority of) introverts exceed their sales quotas. This was especially the case when the subject matter was very complicated, such as with life insurance policy management or electronic medical records. Introverts may be reluctant to initially engage with buyers, but once the sales cycle is underway, they become more comfortable and can manage the accounts.
Succeeding in Sales, Part 3
The key skills to being successful at selling in the 2020s are being able to build trust with the buyer’s team and to solve their problems. Introverts can do both equally well as extroverts. An ideal scenario would be to set up a separate business development function to find and pass on qualified leads to introverted (and extroverted) salespeople. That would alleviate their anxieties over making the initial contact and possibly any social awkwardness they might have.
Mirroring this idea, some companies have broken their salesforces into hunters, usually extroverts, and farmers, usually introverts. The hunters find and develop new accounts. The farmers call on existing customers and try to upsell them on additional products and services. This makes a lot of sense in that it matches personalities and skill sets with the work to be performed.
In summary, an introvert can succeed in sales when placed in circumstances that favor their personality strengths: research, listening and observing, and planning and reacting. Management needs to recognize the differences in personality types and design the structure of the salesforce accordingly.
Author: Steve Weinberg has spent his life selling and helping others sell better, sell faster, and sell more. He is an expert at building, guiding, and sustaining high caliber sales teams, and creating exemplary standards in account management. He has over three decades of leadership experience in sales, including Vice Presidencies at Dun & Bradstreet Software, AC Nielsen, Solcorp (then part of EDS, now HP), and Deloitte and Touche. Steve earned a B.A. in Economics / Business Administration from North Park University, and an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago. He is also a CPA and has experience in accounting, consulting, and as a graduate-level Economics instructor. He is married and has two adult children. He is the author of Above Quota Performance (Armin Lear Press, 9/20/2022). Learn more at https://www.steveweinbergsales.com/.