Hiring salespeople is a high-stakes game. The cost to replace a bad sales hire can average from $25,000 to $37,500, 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 such interactions energize them, sales reps who tend toward extroversion will find it easier to connect with prospects and customers daily.
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.
Can introverts be salespeople?
The short answer is, yes you can be a successful salesperson as an introvert. Being effective in sales comes down to learned skills, not personality type.
Here’s what HubSpot's Flora Wang, Associate Product Manager, says about her experience working in sales as an introvert.
“When I joined sales I thought being an introvert would hold me back because I wasn't the outgoing extrovert that I perceived all salespeople to be. I realized that in order to sell to everyone, I had to adapt my style to different audiences. Some of the prospects I sold to were also introverts and appreciated my straightforward and thoughtful approach.
In addition, as an introvert, I am an active listener which benefitted me in sales. Prospects commented on how I well remembered certain details of their software setup or their business structure and I was able to provide a more personalized experience.”
Let's discuss why introverts make good salespeople.
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.
According to HubSpot's own David Weinhaus, strong listening skills are a must-have for successful sales reps.
"As an introvert, one of the things I pride myself on is being able to listen well. Selling before fully understanding a prospect's need for change is tempting but ultimately results in pitching, not helping. I've found that Introverts, who often have a drive to listen and understand, are successful at avoiding this trap," he says.
If you identify as an introvert, here are some tips to help you hone in on your strengths to succeed in sales.
Tips for Introverted Salespeople
- Leverage your soft skills.
- Focus on one-on-one conversations.
- Don’t rely on cold-calling.
- Allow plenty of time for research.
- Use your CRM.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Don't forget your prospects' emotions.
- Give yourself time to recharge.
1. Leverage your soft skills.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, soft skills are described as your ability to communicate and genuinely connect with those you speak to. Your ability to sell depends on how effective you are at connecting with others. Though introverts often recharge and get their energy through alone time, their ability to actively listen and give others their undivided attention is beneficial for building the trust needed to close the sale.
2. Focus on one-on-one conversations.
While those who identify as introverts may not feel comfortable or energized working the room at a networking event or giving presentations in front of large groups of people, they are often more comfortable in intimate situations where they can have deeper one-on-one conversations.
From a sales standpoint, this can be a major strength. When selling consumer products, or complex goods that have a long sales cycle dependent on relationship selling. If you identify as an introvert, aim to take on roles that allow you to have sales conversations with individuals, rather than groups.
3. Don’t rely on cold-calling.
When a sales rep conducts outreach by picking up the phone and calling a prospect they don’t have a previous relationship with, it’s considered a cold call. For decades, cold-calling was believed to be the most effective way to begin the sales process.
Today, with social media, and CRM data, among other resources available to reps, cold-calling is no longer the effective lead generation activity it once was.
If the idea of calling up a prospect you have never talked to before and asking them to buy your product makes you shudder, do not worry — there are other effective ways to engage with a prospect that may help you feel more comfortable and successfully land the sale.
As an introvert, when you are prospecting you may find greater success conducting personalized social media outreach, or creating an informative prospecting email sequence to engage with inbound leads.
4. Allow plenty of time for research.
If you identify as an introvert, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to conduct proper research before reaching out to prospects. Build confidence before hopping on a call or giving a presentation by showing up fully prepared with as much information about your prospect and what they’re looking for as you can.
Start by seeing what information about your prospect is available to you in your CRM. Here are a few pieces of information you may want to look for:
- What articles they’ve read on your website.
- What emails or newsletters from your company they’ve opened.
- Past purchase information.
- What territory the prospect falls in.
- Whether the person you’re meeting with is a gatekeeper, influencer, or decision maker.
Equipping yourself with as much information as possible can help put you at ease with the interactions ahead.
5. Use your CRM.
When used effectively, your CRM software can help automate some of your interactions, alleviating some of the pressure introverts may feel to remain in constant communication with their prospects.
Using automation, you can schedule email follow-ups, proposals, and schedule meetings, all behind the comfort of your screen.
6. Practice, practice, practice.
Though introverts may not feel naturally inclined to reach out to or engage with customers, these tasks become easier to do with practice.
Enlist a colleague or friend to practice having sales conversations with, or practice presenting to before going in and speaking with prospects to help you feel more comfortable.
7. Don't forget your prospects' emotions.
Michael Mehlberg shares this important statement regarding how introverts need to remember to consider another perspective, "Prospects justify their purchases with logic … but buy based on emotion. With that in mind, incorporate their desires and fears into your sales pitch. Think through how your customer feels dealing with the problems they face daily. Then, wrap those emotions into your pitch."
For introverts, it's easy to forget to sell based on more than just the logically correct choice. Many buyers are looking for emotional benefits or solutions that can make their life or work easier. Try to appeal on an emotional level as you navigate those sales conversations.
8. Give yourself time to recharge.
Last but certainly not least, introverts who work in sales should be intentional about giving themselves time to recharge.
For those who identify as introverts, having downtime can be essential for remaining focused, energized, and at the top of their game. Mehlberg goes on to say,
"When you feel yourself getting tired of the face-to-face interactions, it’s time to regroup and recharge. If you know you have to be 'on' for a meeting or conference, try to pencil in a little time to relax. Even if you’re still working, try to do so from a quiet and comfortable place."
Balance your schedule by performing more administrative tasks and downtime to give yourself a break from interacting with others as needed.
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 3.75and 5.5sold an average $155 per hour for their companies.
The takeaway? One's personality type doesn't necessarily dictate success in sales. Those with both introverted and extroverted tendencies can be successful.