How to Set Introverted Salespeople up for Success

Date: May 07, 2014

Extroverts are overrated. Unlock the power of the introverts on your sales team.

Conventional wisdom has long said that extroverts make the best salespeople, and employers often look specifically for extroverts when hiring for sales roles.

There’s just one problem with this: No data supports this claim. In a 2013 article on the best personality type for salespeople, the Washington Post reported that, in a meta-analysis of 35 studies of nearly 4,000 salespeople, social scientists found that “the correlation between extroversion and sales performance was essentially zero (0.07, to be exact).”

Ambiverts—those somewhere in the middle of the sliding scale between introversion and extroversion—are the most successful in sales roles, according to the report. So, if you have introverts on your sales staff—and chances are, you do: in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes that one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts—consider this advice to tip introverted salespeople to the middle of the scale.

Remove the bustle of the workplace.

“Extroverted” and “introverted” are often confused with “outgoing” and “shy,” says Phoenix psychologist Frank Bevacqua, PhD. But these labels more accurately indicate where people derive energy. Extroverts seek social interaction when they need to unwind and recharge; introverts need quiet time alone to think and reflect.

So small business owners should consider whether the workplace environment is impeding success for introverted salespeople, says Leigh Steere, cofounder of Managing People Better in Boulder, Colo. Do salespeople participate in many staff meetings, attend big networking events/trade shows or work in a bustling office? These things can zap introverts’ energy and ignore the way they work best. Steere recommends offering more workplace flexibility, such as work-from-home options, optional meeting attendance and designated quiet areas with minimal interruptions. That way, they can focus their ambivert energy on interactions with prospective customers.

Let introverts decide how they sell.

Introvert advantages are multiple, and those who capitalize on them excel at sales, says Alen Mayer from Toronto, author of Selling for Introverts. For instance, introverts are skilled at listening and relationship-building. Customers want to explain their problem and discuss what matters to them, and introverts are naturals for taking in all the details, asking good questions and grasping the big picture.

To encourage and support these strengths, let go of any one-size-fits-all sales protocols. Arbitrary quotas don’t motivate, says Beth Buelow, CEO of The Introvert Entrepreneur in Tacoma, Wash. Introverts need to be authentic with their personal brand, which means not trying to be an extrovert or share others’ definition of what should be done for success, she says.

Give your introverted salespeople sales goals, but leave the “how-to” up to them, Steere says. Their way of cultivating prospects may be different from extroverts’, but who cares?

This approach has worked well for Laura Benson from Minneapolis, founder/owner of Jeanne Beatrice, which designs, imports and sells market baskets handwoven in Morocco. Benson, who is an introvert, says her “soft” sales style is based on listening, honesty, customer needs and people-first principles. It has enabled her “to take the time to develop strong relationships with people with whom I work such as vendors, sales reps, artisans and customers,” she says. “And I think the mutual loyalty and respect really have helped my business grow.” 

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