What Personality type makes the best sales person? Most people will quickly respond with - Extroverts. Indeed, this is typically what most hiring professionals will look for when hiring for 'sales' specific roles. However, there is actually no direct evidence supporting the assumption that Extroverts make the best sales people.
Consider now the fact that Leaders sell. It is a primary function of the Leader role, regardless of what the job description actually calls for. They are constantly selling ideas, concepts and action plans to employees, suppliers, customers, clients, funders, board members, stockholders... Likely it is their number one job function and responsibility. If we believe the assumption above, that Extroverts make the best Sales Professionals then, by extension, it would follow that the best Leaders are Extroverts.
In new research, from Adam Grant, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Management (to be published in the Journal of Psychological Science later this year), it was determined that true Extroverts fared little better in sales success than did true Introverts. Surprising results given the common expectation concerning the extroversion/sales connection.
Grant used a 7 point scale to assess the degree of each participants Introversion (1 and 2) to Extroversion (6 and 7). He assessed a group of software sales personnel over a period of 3 months. His findings? Introverts fared the worst, averaging $120/hr in sales. However, the true Extroverts did little better, averaging about $125/hr in sales. Most interesting was the finding that the Top Performers were those in the middle (4/5/6), the Ambiverts, those individuals that are neither extremely introverted or extroverted. The absolute top performers were those that were a '4' on the Introversion/Extroversion scale, selling roughly $208/hr. A big leap ahead of everyone else.
We've heard a lot over the years about Introverts versus Extroverts, but have paid little direct attention to the value of those in the middle, those individuals that carry traits of both. True Extroverts often focus more on themselves, talking more than they listen, which can be a strong disadvantage for a leader. Their personalities can seem like a force onto themselves, often overwhelming those around them.
Introverts, on the other hand, have challenges of their own in leading others. They prefer to process their own thoughts before sharing, which can make them appear hesitant to speak their mind, share direction or to close the deal. Employees often feel that they are not as well-informed as they would like or need to be.
Enter the Ambiverts. They tend to strike the right balance between the other two styles. They can speak smoothly and convincingly when needed but are also capable of listening to and including others. They know when the Extrovert's initiative and gregariousness is needed and when the Introvert's quiet confidence and thoughtfulness is called for - shifting comfortably and seamlessly between the two.
The truly good news coming out of this finding is that the majority of us are Ambiverts. Most of us sit somewhere in the 3 to 6 range used by Grant in his study, making more of us better at Leading others than we might previously have thought. The downside of course is that we no longer can hide behind the belief that we are not 'extroverted' enough to lead. As it turns out, sitting somewhere in the middle of this scale is more than enough for leadership success.