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Your Best Sales People: Hiding in Plain Sight

The Best Sales People are All Around You

Marketing leaders, sales people, and business-development pros aren’t the only workers spending a lot of time in the persuasion business.  According to a study commissioned by Daniel Pink and reported in his book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, the average full-time American worker spends about 40% of their time in active persuasion mode.  Pink calls this “non-sales selling.”

Furthermore, more Americans than you might think are involved in good old-fashioned “sales selling.”  Even during the rise of e-commerce since 2000—which has forced waves of disintermediation—the proportion of the U.S. workforce in sales (1 in 9) has stayed the same.  If all of the salespeople in America lived in one state, it would be the fifth-most populous state in the nation!

The Leader’s Vision: “Everyone Is in Sales”

Now, let’s stipulate that company leaders, gurus, writers, speakers, and assorted professional yappers are prone to saying things like, “Everyone here is in customer service” or “We are all part of the sales team.”  While that is undoubtedly true, it also serves to make a lot of people in any given organization uncomfortable.  Why? First, sales doesn’t exactly have the best reputation as a profession.  Second, many of us believe there’s a distinct personality type (and one that is not ours) that makes the best sales people for selling and persuading.  Think backslapping, friendly, gregarious, hyper- social extroverts in sport coats.

The data are clear that extroverts are much more likely than introverts to seek sales positions, to be recruited for sales positions, and to be rated highly by supervisors in those jobs. However, research does not support the common assumption that extroverts make the best sales people.  As it turns out, the statistical relationship (correlation) between extroversion and sales performance is basically zero.

The Growth Opportunity in Finding Your Best Sales People — Almost Everyone Is Naturally Equipped to Sell

If extroverts aren’t the ideal persuaders we have long assumed them to be, then who really would be your best?  The category of people who make up the best sales people is neither extroverts nor introverts but rather those in the middle of a personality continuum.  “Ambiverts” are moderately comfortable with groups and social interaction but also enjoy time alone, away from crowds.  A research program from Adam Grant at the Wharton School found that among sales reps for a software company, ambiverts had the highest average revenue per hour.

What’s the explanation?  For their part, introverts can be too shy to initiate conversations and too timid to close deals.  Extroverts, on the other hand, can talk too much, listen too little, and contact customers too often.  Ambiverts are better able to balance the activities of provocation, inspection, listening, and responding.

This is empowering news for your entire organization!  There are more ambiverts among us than there are extroverts or introverts―and that means most of the people in your company are actually quite well suited to sales, marketing, and a range of persuasive activities.

There is no reason to assume that direct selling or even non-sales selling is turf reserved for extroverts.  Nor should the introverts on your teams be given a complete hall pass when it comes to their contributions to the company’s persuasive efforts.

Although not everyone in your organization is on the sales team, the vast majority are wired to engage quite effectively with customers, prospects, and friends to be your best sales people. They are born to sell.  It’s up to leadership to make sure everyone knows the right things to say, has adequate training and practice, and is recognized for helping share your story.

Bosses, you don’t have to buy your teams sport coats.  But you do need to enable a culture in which everyone recognizes their role in sales and growth and is equipped to carry it out.

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About Jim Karrh

Jim Karrh, Ph.D., is a consultant, speaker, and author helping organizations transform their customer conversations and become more effective through “Managing the Message.” He is also a consulting principal of DSG, a sales enablement firm.

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