The Profile Of A Great Salesperson


Many of us have an assumption of the type of personality that makes the best salesperson:

Extraverted, overly enthusiastic, friendly, outgoing, smooth talker, bold, driven, maybe even a little bit pushy at times

As a result, if we don’t feel like we have these characteristics we will likely avoid any careers that have to do with sales.  In addition, if we exhibit these characteristics we are often drawn to sales careers because we believe that we “have what it takes” to be successful.

Also, some people look at sales opportunities, such as joining a direct sales company as an independent consultant, as something they’d love to have in their life, but they lack confidence because they aren’t a “typical salesperson” in terms of their personality.

Here’s the thing, and I’ll quote Daniel Pink in his recent book “To Sell Is Human” to make my point:

The notion that extraverts are the finest salespeople is so obvious that we’ve overlooked one teensy flaw.  There’s almost no evidence that it’s actually true.

A recent study by Wharton Business School Professor Adam Grant, as profiled in Pink’s book, strongly makes a case for the misconception of the “extravert salesperson” as being the most successful.  In his study, Grant collected data from a software company that uses telephone salespeople to sell products.  What he discovered was fascinating:

  • Self-described “introverts” did nearly as well as self-described “extraverts”; and
  • Neither group did as well as a “third” group.

What is this third group?  Well, it is you and me.  It is the vast majority of people.  These are people who are neither completely “extraverted” or extremely “introverted”.  The people who exhibit introvert qualities in certain settings, and extravert qualities in certain settings (which by and large is most of us) dramatically outperformed those who were exclusively introverted, or exclusively extraverted.

In addition, a recent Harvard Business Review study noted (quoted from To Sell Is Human):

According to a large study of European and American customers, the “most destructive” behaviour of salespeople wasn’t being ill-informed.  It was an excess of assertiveness and zeal that lead to contacting customers too frequently.  Extraverts, in other words, often stumble over themselves.  They can talk too much and listen too little, which dulls their understanding of others’ perspectives.  They can fail to strike the proper balance between asserting and holding back, which can be read as pushy and drive people away.

So what does this all mean?

It means that we shouldn’t shy away from sales opportunities just because we aren’t extraverted. There is evidence that having a little “introversion” is a very good thing, and complete introverts perform just as well as complete extraverts. 

It means that we can feel confident in our ability to succeed in a sales career even if we aren’t the smooth talking stereotype.  The best types of salespeople have both introvert qualities and extravert qualities.

It means that the pushy salesperson “closing a deal” is a misguided relic of the past (that may not have even worked in the past to begin with).

It means that there are many great opportunities for happiness in a sales career if we embrace them. 

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