Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Winning Sellers Do Not Have to be Extroverts


If you think you have to be an extrovert to be a good seller, you’re suffering from a very prevalent, and inaccurate stereotype about salespeople.

It turns out that the really effective, flexible and creative salespeople are introverts, and their unassuming middle-siblings, the ambiverts.

Psychology researcher and thinker Carl Jung recognized in the 1920’s that introverts and extroverts had distinct ways of viewing their worlds, and that they came to different conclusions about similar experiences, based on their temperaments.

Introverts, broadly speaking, get their energy from inside themselves, and are likely to be more sensitive to external stimuli, which could be part of their preference for quieter environments. Extroverts get their energy from outside themselves, and seem to need much more external stimuli to feel engaged or satisfied.

Ambiverts are those in the middle of the temperament continuum, with a blend of intro- and extro- traits. They can be quiet, but are willing to put themselves out there in the right situations. Ambiverts tend to be more flexible given the situation, not always defined by their preferences.

Most of us are not at the temperament extremes: most of us are in the middle and can use that flexibility to...

our advantage.

Extroverts are often more likely to be the loud, assertive people so many of us associate with sellers. They are happy to socialize, OK with being loud (I’m not judging, just observing), and seem to do well being in groups of people for extended periods of time, and may even need that contact to feel recharged.

Introverts are often thought of one-dimensionally as shy, which is not the whole story. Shy is about confidence than intro/extro orientation.  Most introverts are not shy, and do enjoy people, but because big groups and loud situations can be draining, introverts do better in smaller, more intimate settings. They need some downtime after social outings, and thrive when they can think things through, rather than react on the spot.

That means the introvert who read the prospect’s website and white papers before asking for a meeting, engaged in a back-and-forth discussion with the buyer rather than just a one-sided presentation, really listened thoughtfully to the answers, and wrote the proposal from the prospect’s point of view, is likely to do well in that sale.

Brian Tracy, renowned sales trainer and author advocates the 70/30 rule for listening: spend 70% of your time listening and only 30% talking. “[R]esolve today that, from now on, you are going to dominate the listening in every sales conversation. Become comfortable with silence.”[1] [footnote: email on 4/23/19]

Daniel Pink reveals why the most effective salespeople are not extroverts. “As it turns out, studies also show that extroverts aren’t the best sellers; that title goes to ambiverts, who score around 4-4.5 on the extroversion scale of 1-7.”[2] Pink is referring to the Gosling TIPI scale measuring the “Big Five Domains of Personality”, originally developed by Gosling and Rentfrow at the University of Texas Austin School of Psychology.[3]

As a young person, I was always bubbly and enthusiastic. I could and would strike up a conversation with anyone. I sought out roles in front of the camera, leading creative endeavors, or dressing up to make others laugh. I thought leadership was being in front.

All the evidence seemed clear that: that’s not what introverts do. If I’m not an introvert, by the rules of a binary construct, then I must be an extrovert. That turned out to be just ambition and drive, not extroversion. I realized well into my 40’s (much later than one should have figured this out!) that I was not an extrovert.

I keep up with the conversation and the agenda vastly better in small settings with fewer players. I was easily distracted by external factors, which frustrated me. I allowed large meetings and group discussions, for example, to slip from my grasp because of one loudmouth. I fell apart in competitions to be the loudest or most outrageous. I sought isolation at big events like conferences. I hit the wrong notes in social settings in desperate moments, panicking and talking too much trying too hard to be funny.

I felt like a failure for decades because I couldn’t endure what felt like a 26-mile sprint.

But I was never going to do well in those settings as an introvert, or more accurately, an ambivert. Realizing that my temperament simply was not extroverted, and that wasn’t a personal failing, was like having a burden lifted. I could finally be myself.

Ambiverts who listen well will hear what a buyer values and needs, and then structure their offer around what was discovered, rather than what you have in your bag to sell.

Wharton School of Business researcher Adam M. Grant in 2013 conducted a study of sales effectiveness among 340 outbound call center representatives to understand the impact of temperament of sales effectiveness.

“Because they [ambiverts] naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale, but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.”[2013, "Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage," Grant, Adam M.]

Listening well takes a fair amount of time, knowledge of your product, and some self-trust. The quiet seller who doesn’t chew up time in sales meeting self-aggrandizing will often sell circles around a big loud-mouth because they’re thinking about what the client needs, rather than what makes them look good.

Small talk is also a certain kind of torture to non-extroverts. The small talk about weather and the day’s activities feels tedious or superficial in so many settings. Deeper conversations with close friends are vastly preferred because one learns from those kinds of conversations, the relationship is strengthened and can move forward.

Small talk, as seen through a sales lens, is the route to another superpower, though. The introvert or ambivert preference for depth and connection serves the quiet seller especially well in the fact-finding portion of the sales cycle.

The initial small talk in a sales conversation serves to build trust at the beginning of the meeting. This is true in any contact between people; the small talk establishes trust and pacing. Introverts are inclined to move through that phase quickly, anxious to get to the more rewarding part of the discussion. They have a bigger goal, and are better at staying on task here than many extroverts who just enjoy being in that part of the conversation, and get derailed from the info-gathering effort.

The Client Needs Analysis is really rewarding to introverts and ambiverts because it offers a chance to gain depth and insight into the prospect:

How did the business start?
What motivates you?
What do you want to accomplish next?
What is preventing you from reaching your goals?

The CNA questions have a triple benefit in the hands of a non-extrovert:

·       The conversation can quickly get deep enough to be interesting

·       Asking questions communicates genuine interest to the buyer which strengthens the relationship

·       The seller gets solid information about the business to make rational and relevant recommendations to the buyer.

Go forth and sell quietly!

[1] Racy, Brian “70/30 Rule” email newsletter, https://milled.com/brian-tracy/the-white-magic-in-selling-XPv5XYX5vHgKVwZv  April 2019.

[2] Pink, Daniel H. (2012) To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. New York: Riverhead Books. Pink is referring to the

[3] Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2003). A Very Brief Measure of the Big Five Personality Domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504-528.

[4] Grant, A. M. (2013). Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage. Psychological Science, 24(6), 1024–1030. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612463706

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