The Salesperson: Breaking the mold


The terms Introversion and Extroversion are central traits in human personality theories first characterised by Carl Jung. Virtually all personality models and assessments include these concepts in one form or other. Extroversion and introversion are typically viewed as a single continuum. So, to be high in one necessitates being low in the other. However, Carl Jung’s theory of the personality continuum has over the years been misinterpreted and twisted when profiling individuals’ interpersonal behaviours. Jung was of the perspective that everyone has both an extroverted side and an introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other. In fact, many of us are “ambiverted”; falling somewhere nearer to the middle of the continuum. Contrary to popular belief, extroversion is not about being loud and introversion is not about being shy. It is about where people get their energy and motivation from: other people or within themselves.

The Salesperson

We have been brainwashed to believe that to be great is to be bold and to be happy is to be sociable, that extroversion is one of the most prized characteristic of the ultimate salesman. When searching, interviewing and selecting sales people to take our products to the customer; we are always scanning the pool of applicants for candidates who are the most talkative and have a higher velocity of speech, because we have this ingrained perception that loud and fast talking candidates are smarter, more interesting and more competent than the serious, sensitive and “shy” ones. Yet you will be surprised to find that there is no correlation between the “gift of the gab” and sales performance. If you take a closer look at most sales departments you will find that sales incentives, structures and processes are designed around extroverts. In many sales departments, you will find rituals such as bells, cheerful pandemonium and over-the-top celebrations that glorify extroversion. It treats high performers as rock stars by consistently putting them in the limelight. The vast majority of sales managers believe that the ideal salesman is an extrovert. However, before we delve in to the facts about what a successful salesman should “look and act like”, it is important for managers to understand the difference between the two personality traits in order to be able to firstly; understand why both types of salespeople are needed on the team and secondly, how to structure processes and incentives around their attributes to allow them to work to their full potentials.

Introverted vs Extroverted

Neurologically, introverts and extroverts’ brains are activated differently. Meaning, they each get “energized” and motivated by doing different things. Scientists have found that although both types have the same amount of dopamine levels (the chemical in our brains responsible for “reward seeking behaviours” like earning money, climbing the social ladder, attracting a mate, or getting selected for a high-profile project at work) each type reacts to this chemical differently. In other words, both types of personalities get motivated by the same rewards: an extrovert gets “energised” by the flood of dopamine in the brain, whereas an introvert feels overstimulated by the same flood. Therefore, where extroverts get a “buzz” from these external rewards, an introvert prefers to use a chemical called Acetylcholine. As explained by Scott Barry Kaufman, the Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute, like dopamine, acetylcholine is also linked to pleasure; the difference is, acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward. It powers our abilities to think deeply, reflect, and focus intensely on just one thing for a long period of time. It also helps explain why introverts like calm environments—it’s easier to turn inward when we’re not attending to external stimulation.  Therefore, it’s not that introverts are antisocial, reclusive or rude; on the contrary, they like one-to-one interactions where they can have time to equally talk and listen and digest what the other person is communicating. The extrovert on the other hand, shines when their enthusiasm is accepted and encouraged and they are allowed to explore and talk things through. They like lots of options and gambles because of the “buzz” they feel in expectation of a reward. They are not overstimulated by this rush of feelings as introverts are. So it is quite easy to see how we might be able to better nurture both our types of personalities in the workplace, and even perhaps which customers to pair them with!

In reality

Since introverts and extroverts are the extremes of the continuum, the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle leaning a little one way or the other. These people are called ambiverts. Ambiverts display both extroverted and introverted behaviours. This means that they generally enjoy being around people, but start to feel tired and drained after a long time. Similarly, they enjoy solitude and quiet, but not for too long. Ambiverts get energised by a combination of social interaction and alone time. A study by Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, found that ambiverts perform better in sales than either extreme introverts or extroverts. Ambiverts actually closed 24% more sales. “The commonly held myth that being highly extroverted is important for a salesperson is actually untrue, since extreme extroverts lack the balance of an ambivert, which helps them to use varied approaches to closing a sale.”

In a world that is increasingly noisy, some customers want to rise above the chatter and have a thoughtful and stimulating conversation with the salesperson. The greatest tragedy is the fact that many salespeople (at least 30% of your current salesforce) are currently suppressing their introversion in fear of peer pressure and not fitting into the “mold”. That nagging pressure for sales people to project “loud self-confidence” day in and day out, meeting after meeting, sales pitch after sales pitch; takes a lot more effort for the more introverted type and wears them out over time. Therefore, understanding where your sales people fall along the introversion/extroversion continuum, could enable you to create an environment and sales processes that nurture the talents of both types of salespeople and allowing for a more “ambiverted” approach to your sales culture.