by Jim Karrh
Posted 2/25/2013 12:00 am
Updated 10 months ago
How much of your work time involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value for something you have?
Is it an hour in your typical workday? More? According to a study commissioned by Daniel Pink and reported in his excellent book “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,” the average full-time American worker spends about 40 percent of his 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 (one in nine) has stayed the same. If all of the salespeople in America lived in Arkansas, our state would rank fifth in population.
In this column, I will share some surprisingly good news about how you and your teams can prosper in a world where selling (both the direct and indirect kinds) is still crucial for marketplace success.
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’s best suited for selling and persuading. Think backslapping, friendly, gregarious, hypersocial extroverts in sport coats.
The data are clear that extroverts are much more likely than are 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 salespeople. An analysis of 35 separate studies of actual salespeople found that the statistical relationship (correlation) between extroversion and sales performance was basically zero.
As it turns out, the category of people who are best at sales and persuasion are neither extroverts nor introverts but rather those in the middle of a personality continuum. “Ambiverts” are those of us who are moderately comfortable with groups and social interaction but who also enjoy time alone, away from crowds. A research program led by Adam Grant, an associate professor of management at the Wharton School, found that ambiverts among sales reps for a software company had the highest average revenue per hour. (Some of Grant’s work is reported in the January 2013 issue of Scientific American.)
What’s the explanation? 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.
Your key takeaways are that 1) there are more ambiverts among us (and probably within your company) than there are extroverts or introverts, so 2) most of the people in your company are actually quite well suited to sales, marketing and a range of persuasive activities.
This insight should empower your entire organization.
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.
You, and those around you, are likely to be ambiverts — and thus in some ways born to sell.
Bosses, you don’t even have to buy your teams sport coats.