Hiring salespeople is a high-stakes game. The cost of a bad sales hire can average from $25,000 to $50,000, not to mention the less quantifiable damage to team morale and culture.
Conventional wisdom suggests that extroverts -- commonly thought of as outgoing and sociable -- would make better salespeople than introverts, who have been popularly represented as awkward in social situations.
The conventional wisdom is wrong.
First, it’s very rare that people are 100% extroverted or introverted. According to psychotherapist Marti Olsen Laney, introverts and extroverts are the extreme ends of the “energy continuum.” Most people fall somewhere in the middle, and display a mix of introverted and extroverted tendencies even if they tend toward one side or the other.
Second, let’s clear up some misconceptions. Extroverts aren’t all social butterflies, and introverts aren’t necessarily shy. In fact, the extraversion-introversion divide isn’t about personality at all. The distinction is defined by where people get their energy from -- other people, or solitude. Introverts gain energy by being alone, while extroverts are invigorated by social situations.
Third, research has shown that being extroverted doesn’t automatically translate into being a good salesperson. A meta-analysis of 35 studies that surveyed 4,000 salespeople found almost zero correlation (a statistically insignificant 0.07) between extraversion and sales performance. And on an individual level, both extroverts and introverts possess characteristics that contribute to their success in sales.
Let's explore the relative merits of both extroverted and introverted salespeople.
What makes extroverts good at sales?
Extroverts love being around other people.
There are zero sales positions where a rep can get away with never having to speak to a customer. Calling or meeting customers is part of the job, and because they’re energized by such interactions, sales reps who tend toward extroversion will find it easier to connect with prospects and customers every day.
They are animated and expressive.
Extroverts draw their energy from the external world, and also expend their energy on others. They are generally more demonstrative, speak more loudly, and gesture more than introverts.
Their enthusiasm is likely to inspire confidence in prospects and clients. Consider that we unconsciously mirror people’s behaviors and innately trust people who appear to be experts.
Small talk comes more naturally to extroverts.
You don’t have to become a prospect’s best friend to sell to them, but being able to relate to your prospects outside of their business is beneficial.
“When I speak to a prospect for the first time, I ask them how they’re doing,” says Dan Tyre, a sales director at HubSpot. “I try to establish human rapport before conducting business.”
Small talk comes naturally to extroverts, but can be “intimidating, boring, or exhausting” for introverts, according to Medical Daily reporter Lecia Bushak. Some level of small talk will always be inevitable during sales calls, and the experience will be more pleasant for extroverts.
What makes introverts good at sales?
They’re naturally deep thinkers.
According to Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage, research shows that a neural signal within an introvert’s brain follows a longer path than in an extrovert’s, suggesting that more mental connections are made when introverts are asked questions.
In sales, critical thinking is crucial. Being able to anticipate objections and thoughtfully answer questions is essential for a consultative salesperson, and introverts’ natural ability to think deeply is an advantage.
Introverts make great listeners.
It’s essential that prospects feel heard. A salesperson who won’t let a prospect get a word in edgewise or steamrolls past objections won’t be successful.
Introverted salespeople don't feel the need to dominate a conversation simply because they like the sound of their own voice. Instead, they’ll sit back and let a prospect talk through their problems before offering measured advice.
“[Introverts] don’t have the energy -- or desire -- to be the ones speaking themselves,” Bushak writes. “This ultimately ends up benefitting them, as they’re able to take what they observe and learn, and use it to better solve problems and be creative.”
None of these behaviors, of course, are exclusive to extroverts or introverts. Rather, they’re simply easier for people who fall on either side of the energy continuum to adopt.
Ambiverts: The best salespeople of all?
A study by Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant found that ambiverts -- individuals who fall roughly in the middle of the extraversion and introversion scale -- are the most successful salespeople.
Grant used a personality assessment ranking salespeople on a scale of one (most introverted) to seven (most extroverted). A three-month study found that on average, introverts (ones and twos) and extroverts (sixes and sevens) brought in around the same average hourly revenue -- $127 and $115, respectively.
The most ambiverted reps (fours) pulled in $208 an hour. Ambiverts that ranked between a 3.75 and 5.5 sold an average $155 per hour for their companies.
The takeaway for hiring managers and sales leaders? Hiring too far toward either end of the spectrum isn’t a good move. Instead, look for salespeople who have a mix of extroverted and introverted tendencies, and who can bring the best of both sides of their personalities to the table.