There are many myths and misconceptions about which personalities are appropriate for a career in sales. Having talked to thousands of hiring managers about the personality types they are attempting to hire, we’ve encountered, on a first hand basis, many of these misconceptions and misguided ideas. A common view relates to introversion versus extroversion. Specifically, that if you are introverted you are not suitable for sales.
Many of these managers hold on to these mistaken ideas because they lack a fundamental understanding of basic trait drives, temperament and motivation. The result is that their view of sales candidate suitability is hinged on one single trait drive, in this case, whether one is either introverted or extroverted.
Because of their simplified view of personality, they miss the main point, which is that you cannot tell very much about a person’s suitability for sales (or any other job) based on any single trait drive. All humans have multiple trait drives. Therefore, what really matters is how all of their various trait drives work in combination.
Using extroverts as an example, take hunters compared to farmers. Despite the fact that the kinds of sales roles for which they are suitable are basically opposites, they actually share significant similarities in some key areas of personality. Specifically, they are both extroverts and they both have a sense of urgency. What makes them so different in sales style? It has everything to do with the trait drives where they differ, hunters being much more assertive and much more independent than the farmers. When these differences combine with and impact the similarities it means they come off in a completely different manner and have completely different sales strengths and weaknesses.
Given that we are talking about sales, the most obvious concern with introverts is of course related to all aspects of how they will interact with customers and prospects. Aggravating the situation is the fact that many introverts also tend to have a great fear of failure, are very passive-reactive as well as lacking in drive and assertiveness. Please understand me, these are not ‘bad’ traits since there are no ‘bad’ traits. It is just that when combined with their interaction style they are usually more suited to other kinds of roles or possibly some highly specialized sales roles.
There is a type of introvert, though, that can be very successful in many sales roles. In particular, they are very effective in roles where they are selling services and products that I would describe as more ‘technical’. IT, financial products, things that are typically sold to engineers, architects or other technically oriented customers are among many examples. They are often highly effective in these roles, since they tend to be quite naturally consultative and tend to have a firm grasp of their subject matter. They are perceived as less ‘salesy’ and more as an expert or a problem solver. Their style is often quite effective when selling to very senior level prospects as they have a very businesslike and no-nonsense demeanor that tends to mesh very well with these type A analytical customers.
So what are the other trait drives that contribute to the success of these sales introverts? Like the hunters referenced above, these introverts have a very high level of assertiveness. Additionally, they are very impatient, which is where their sense of urgency is derived from. As well, like most introverts, they tend to also be quite perfectionistic. As a ‘package’ of traits it means they are not only highly driven by the need for achievement but also very strongly motivated by a fear of failure. They tend to not only want to get things done but they are also very meticulous about details and getting things done ‘right’. Systems and procedures are important to them so they tend to create them for themselves if they are not already in place. They are skeptical of others so they tend to be very hands on and very work focused to the point that they are often thought of as workaholics. In fact, many sales people who have this style are successful not because they are the best ‘natural’ sales people but because they just out work their peers.
These are the introverts you want to hire for sales. Unfortunately, interviews are not where they can highlight their natural strengths, with the result that sales hiring managers will often pass them over. Hiring managers can be particularly gun shy about hiring this type if they have hired the ‘wrong’ type of introvert in the past. In these instances the old saying of ‘once burned twice shy’ comes to mind.
Unfortunately many sales hiring managers rely too much on face-to-face interviews. In the case of interviewing introverts they are doing a disservice not only to themselves but to many candidates as well. Why? Because, there is no realistic way in interviews to discern the difference between the introverts you should hire, and those that you definitely should not. Of course, this is exactly why you should use a sales personality test!
I do hope you have found this article helpful. I would be very pleased to hear from you in order to answer questions about our sales personality test and to learn about your specific sales hiring challenges.