Who Makes the Best Salesperson?


When you picture a salesperson, you typically think of somebody who is assertive, gregarious and extroverted. However, a recent study published in Psychological Science (a journal of the Association of Psychological Science) looked at the actual performance of salespeople and they found that the best salespeople are those who are neither too extroverted nor too introverted, something the study labeled as ambiverts.

Adam Grant of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania did the study and he wanted to look at the relationship between personality traits and success in sales after he found that there was a gap in this kind of research. He was surprised at what he found because the general wisdom is that extroverted people make the best salespeople and would perform better in terms of making sales. But that turned out to not be the case. As it turns out, both extroverts and introverts performed about the same at sales, but salespeople who are not either outperformed both extreme types of personalities. The difference was significant and ambiverts outsold introverts by 24% and outsold extroverts by 32%.

Grant postulated that there are reasons why the stereotypical extroverted salesperson didn’t fare as well as might be expected. There are both pluses and minuses from being extroverted. On the plus side is that extroverts are assertive and enthusiastic which often leave customers feeling wary. And the negative side, extroverts don’t listen carefully and instead often dominate the conversation with their own ideas.

Ambiverts, on the other hand strike a good balance among traits that are important in sales. They can be good listeners and don’t come across as being too enthusiastic or overconfident. They are able to put the customer at ease.

And this has a lot of implication for anybody creating a sales team. It’s typical to hire salespeople who are outgoing and confident. And anybody who is hired who doesn’t fit the typical mold is given assertiveness training to make them better fit the perceived ‘salesperson mold’. This study would suggest that perhaps a far better tactic is to hire salespeople who are not extroverted. And if you do hire an extrovert perhaps you need to provide listening training.

And of course, if you are hiring a telecom sales team it is also vital that they fully understand the product and the value proposition of how products benefit customers. But assuming that there is training on the products, this study suggests that the best salespeople might just be those average people who we would normally assume will not succeed – those who are quite different from the stereotypical salesperson.

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