Adam Grant is Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Give & Take and Originals. In this paper, Grant refutes the widespread assumption that extraverts are the most productive salespeople. Grant suggests that ambiverts are better at sales than extraverts or introverts as supported by a study with 340 outbound sales representatives which produced an inverted U-shaped relationship between extraversion and sales revenue.
The Extravert (Supposed) Advantage
Selling requires engaging with a wide range of potential customers, persuading them to buy a product or service which is most often done by convincing them to change their attitudes and behaviours. Extraverts tend to be outgoing, sociable, assertive, highly confident and enthusiast. According to the conventional wisdom and given these characteristics, extraverted should be more productive salespeople. However, as Grant shows in the paper, “studies have shown weak and inconsistent relationships between extraversion and sales performance.”
The Extravert Disadvantage
Grants argues that extraversion in sales may have diminishing returns and increasing costs because extraverted salespeople may focus more heavily on their own perspectives than on customers’ perspectives and that they may elicit negative responses from customers.
According to Grant, selling requires consideration of the needs, interests, and values of customers. Recent studies suggested that extraverted people like to be the centre of attention and like to dominate the conversations which might suppress or neglect others’ perspectives. As a result, extraverted salespeople will most likely speak too much and might not spend enough time asking questions to uncover customers’ real needs and concerns.
Furthermore, by being too enthusiastic and confident about the value of their products and services, customers may push back because they will interpret the behaviour of the salesperson as an attempt to influence them. Customers will then try to maintain control and might not be receptive to the message of the salesperson.
The Ambivert Advantage
Ambiverts are the perfect salesperson as they are able to find the right balance between selling (extravert) and serving (introvert). Ambiverts will switch between listening to understand the customers’ needs and between talking with the appropriate level of enthusiasm and assertiveness to stimulate customer interest and convert it into sales.
Selling is a vital part of the economy, with more than one in nine Americans working in sales according to Grant. However, as we saw in this paper, the conventional wisdom that extraverted are more productive salespeople is wrong. The key to being an effective salesperson is to find the right balance between selling and serving. This is not an easy task as customers all have their own personality and training might be non-existent in the organization.
The implications of this paper are that managers should consider their own bias when promoting people internally and hiring managers should consider a larger spectrum of personalities when hiring salespeople. The job of a manager is to identify who are the most likely to be ambiverts or who are the potential introverts/extroverts that could be coached. It is mostly a human judgment and proper coaching, but tools like VoiceOps that transcribes and analyze sales conversation can help in that endeavour.
Read more: Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage by Grant A. (2012) — Association for Psychological Science (APS)