Are you in sales? Yes, you are. Think about it, your title may not say so, but essentially you make a living selling. You may label it influencing, persuasion, cajoling, convincing, trading or exchanging—but if you use the general definition of selling, “to hand over something in exchange for money or to persuade someone of the merits,” then hopefully you’ll agree with Dan Pink, author of To Sell Is Human (Riverhead Books, 2013) that we’re all in sales.
A Seller’s Market
In general, sales people have had a traditionally negative stereotype. The typical car salesman comes top of mind. People have associated sales roles with adjectives like pushy, sleazy and manipulative—you get the point.
Historically, sales people could afford to take on an aggressive stance because it was a seller’s market, where the salesperson had exclusive information. In this context, the customer needed to interact with this gatekeeper. In this traditional model, extroverts—outgoing, gregarious and talkative—were hired and promoted in the sales ranks.
A Buyer’s Market
Pink details in his book how the sales playing field has been changed and the customer now has the advantage. Much of development has come with the advances of technology, access to information, increased global competition and consumerism. Today, if a customer knows what they want, they can access most, if not all of the information without involving a sales person.
As the selling dynamics have shifted from seller to buyer, Pink identifies three key qualities a sales person must possess in today’s environment:
1. Attunement: Fully understanding your target’s perspective as the prelude to help them.
2. Buoyancy: Resilience through multiple cycles of rejections.
3. Clarity: Expertise to make sense of complex situations and providing insights for problem finding.
These qualities are not found in the traditionally extroverted salesperson.
The Rise of the Ambivert
A study conducted by Adam Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Management, developed and deployed a personality scale from 1 to 7. The scores from 1 to 2 were considered introverts and scores from 6 to 7 were considered extroverts. In the middle, scores from 3 to 5 were considered ambiverts—a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert features.
Additionally, the study mapped personality scores to sales productivity. Quantitatively, introverts produced $120/hour, extroverts $125/hour and ambiverts $155/hour. Surprisingly, the ambivert group that scored the highest productivity of $208/hour scored a 4 in the personality scale, right in the middle of the ambivert range.
Unlike the extremes in the scales, ambiverts know when to talk and when to listen, when to support and when to push. They are able to manage more selling situations and customers from broader spectrums of personality and leverage both skill sets of the personality spectrum for the benefit of the sale. In short, Pink and the research conclude that ambiverts are the best personality type to sell in today’s environment.
The book and the accompanying study demystify the stereotype that extroverts make the best sales people. To find out where you fall on the scale, take the brief indicator at www.danpink.com/assessment. The good news is that we can all work on balancing our skills and becoming better ambiverts. If you’re looking for a pragmatic how-to book to balance your personality skills, I would recommend this book, it’s a how-to manual packed with exercises in every chapter.