Imagine you’re in a room full of introverted 20-somethings, fresh out of college, and you ask them what they plan to do with their careers.
Graphic designer, veterinarian, librarian, therapist, tech writer, chicken nugget specialist—these might be some of the answers you’d receive. But what if you asked how many of them would be open to sales?
Surely, no self-aware introvert would ever dream of becoming a salesperson, right? At least that’s what I thought until I met not one, but two account executives from our own team who identify themselves as introverts.
It didn’t make sense to me at first. How could somebody end up in a profession that requires them to actively go against their very personality?
So I decided to talk to them and get some insights into the opposing ideas of introversion and sales. I’ve compiled everything I learned from my conversations with Rishabh Wadhwa and Yashwanth Sivakumar in this blog.
Do introverts really choose careers that require them to be proactive, talkative, and sociable, or does the universe really enjoy surprising us?
How do introverts even end up as salespeople? To me, it seems highly unlikely that an introvert would actively aspire to and work towards becoming a salesperson, of all things. And I was right.
Rishabh, for example, started off as a Business Analyst. However, his mentors recommended that he should try his hand at Sales. And when Deepak Anchala, our CEO, gave him the push he needed, Rishabh went on to become an outbound SDR.
Meanwhile, Yashwanth was an engineering graduate, unimpressed with the line of work his degree offered. He found himself in a fruitful career in Sales after giving it a wild shot almost six years ago.
Suffice to say, Sales as a career for introverts is almost always unplanned.
Can an Introvert Truly Like Sales as a Career?
Next comes the obvious question—is it really possible for an introvert to like being a salesperson? Doesn’t being a salesperson entail everything an introvert hates doing? One look at the JD should have scared off any introvert for good, right?
Here’s a brutally honest account of Rishabh and Yashwanth’s first days in sales:
“The first thought that came to my mind was going door-to-door and selling to top executives in person. But my reality involved inside sales activities like calls and emails.”
“Even though I eventually grew into it, my first days weren’t all that smooth. At one point, I even considered quitting sales due to the peer pressure and my initial trouble with keeping up with my team’s numbers.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect before becoming one. I was just excited because it was my first job. The initial days were challenging because not only was I selling, which was something very new to me, but I was also talking to folks from halfway across the globe.”
“I still vividly remember my first call – it was a prospect from Canada and I just froze on the call when she asked something for which I didn’t know the answer. I guess I’ve come a long way now.”
Both Rishabh and Yashwanth have come a very long way since then. They’ve shown that it is, indeed, possible for introverts to not only like sales but also thrive as salespeople.
Sure, you’ll definitely come across the initial hiccups. But those come along with any new job—irrespective of your personality or career. In the long run, you’ll start finding opportunities in what you once thought were weaknesses.
The reality of being an introverted salesperson doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? But can an introvert really compete with an extrovert in a sales environment?
The Real Question: Do Extroverts Really Have the Upper Hand?
Conventional wisdom suggests that extroverts make for the best salespeople. Sales definitely sounds like a career created for extroverts. However, this notion is debatable.
It’s undeniable that extroverts possess a significant number of skills that make them excellent candidates for sales positions. However, is the “extrovert advantage” really a thing?
Yashwanth would disagree. While extroverts definitely have an advantage in the outside sales arena where there’s plenty of space for small talk and bright smiles, inside sales requires more of the following:
- Getting to the point to save your prospect’s time
- Great listening skills to understand your prospects and their needs
- Empathy towards your prospect’s pain points
- Preparing well in advance for your presentation and anticipating objections
To add to this, one of the most comprehensive investigations, a meta-analysis of 35 studies of nearly 4,000 salespeople, found that the correlation between extroversion and sales performance was essentially zero (0.07, to be precise).
This analysis shows that any difference in the results of an introverted salesperson as compared to their extroverted counterparts has nothing to do with personality.
The Dark Horse of The Sales World
If the previous study failed to convince you, this one definitely will.
Adam Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management, conducted research on the correlation between sales and personality to determine who’s more suited for the job—introverts or extroverts.
He went about his research by providing his candidates with a personality assessment scale that ranges from 1 to 7—1 being the most introverted of personalities and 7 being the most extroverted.
He found that the candidates who scored closer to the extremities of 1 and 7 were almost equally successful salespeople, generating an average revenue of $120/hour and $125/hour, respectively.
Don’t be disappointed. He did come up with a clear winner—but not one that you’d expect.
Adam’s research showed that salespeople who expressed equal amounts of introversion and extroversion (candidates who scored 3, 4, and 5) brought in the highest revenue at $155/hour. Those that landed smack in the middle of the scale (at position 4) turned out to be the most successful, raking in $208/hour.
And who exactly are these people? None other than the ambiverts!
If anything, the success of the ambivert cohort is solid proof that extroversion alone isn’t necessarily a contributor to a salesperson’s success—and conversely, introversion isn’t necessarily a hindrance.
Thus, the general notion that extroverts make better salespeople is just another sales myth. Both introverts and extroverts have individual strengths that contribute to their success as salespeople—all of which culminate in the skillset of an ambivert.
To dive deeper, let’s take a look at the skills that make an introvert a successful salesperson:
- They study their products and prospects at a deeper level
- They prepare for calls and meetings more carefully
- They anticipate all possible objections and leave zero space for hiccups
- They are great listeners and are highly perceptive
- They think about the long-term value of the customer
Now let’s take a look at the skills that make an extrovert a successful salesperson
- They are incredibly sociable and drive conversations with great confidence
- They think fast and are unlikely to be fazed by unexpected objections
- They can adopt and apply new skills quickly
- Their conversational skills make them more likable and relatable.
The ambivert salesperson gets the best of both worlds and combines all of these skills in their sales process. This gives them the ideal personality for sales.
How Do Introverts Manage/Channel Their Energy? How Can They Recharge After Work?
Introverts are part of a spectrum—there’s no one type of introvert.
Some of them are social introverts, some of them are daydreamers, and some of them lean more towards ambiversion. And just like there’s no one type of introvert, there’s no one way to recharge either.
For instance, Yashwanth finds happiness in travel and photography. He also recharges by taking his car for a drive in the middle of the night after work. Empty roads and good music—enough to make any introvert (or even extrovert) happy.
Some widely popular ways to recharge after a long day include:
- Taking a long, relaxing, warm bath—nobody can disturb you there
- Grabbing some snacks and finishing that book—the one you left halfway
- Taking a walk in the park (with your pet if you have one)
- Trying something new like learning a new language or musical instrument
- Meditation or yoga to ease your mind
The best part about being an introvert is that it’s economical—activities as simple as eating, sleeping, and binging something on your couch might be all you really need to recharge your batteries.
Some Words of Advice
I asked Yashwanth and Rishabh what they’d tell their younger selves if they could go back in time to when they began sales.
Rishabh stressed the importance of not trying to change your personality for your career. Not only does it not work, but it could also potentially harm your relationship with your career. Here’s what he had to say:
“Don’t try too hard to fit in. It’s okay to take time to open up. It’s okay to reach out for help. And most importantly—practice detachment. It took me a really long time, but it definitely helped.”
Yashwanth emphasized on being more open to conversations and getting to understand your teammates better. When you get a proper understanding of what’s happening around you, you relate better and understand how to seek solutions at an org/function level.
“Try talking to more people around you in different teams and get to know them better. That’s something I struggle with even today. Building relationships with co-workers, especially from other functions, is something I would urge any introverted salesperson to focus on.”
What Is the Cost of a Bad Sales Hire? Why Are Managers Willing to Place Their Bets on Introverts?
Bad hires can set a company back by hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is estimated that a bad sales hire would cost you around 50-75% of their annual salary.
Despite the stats, more and more sales managers are willing to offer opportunities to introverts. This shows that sales managers are beginning to understand the value of introverted salespeople and the skills they bring to the table.
“While it is easy to attach attributes like introversion or extroversion as a direct correlation to success in sales, in truth, there are intrinsic values that actually matter—the ability to listen, and not just hear, the ability to empathize and not just agree, the ability to contribute actual value and not just engage, and the ability to be grounded and centered. And I’ve seen most introverts do all of these instinctively.”– Marshal Praveen – Manager, Sales