Can an Introvert Sell Well?

What goes through your head when you think of selling? If you’re anything like me, you think: The spotlight is on you. Your every word counts, and you have to be “on.” Always be closing, right?

Sleepless nights, bad hair days, and personal dramas notwithstanding, you have to be out there, pushing yourself and your wares at every cocktail party and convention. You’re so in your customer’s face, she can inhale the jalapeño you had for lunch.

Her objections? Groundless. Lack of funds? Meaningless. Her ambivalence? Mindless. You keep pushing, talking. Smoother, faster, louder. The drill is so Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s exhausting, especially for you as an introvert. Does it really have to be that way?

Instead, let’s approach selling as a game. A challenge. An outlet for your introverted strengths. You’re an active listener rather than a nonstop talker and in-your-face seller. You succeed by developing relationships. By finding your own best introverted way of selling, you’ll negotiate good deals while generating goodwill. You can win—and so can your customers—if only you prepare. By stepping into their shoes, you’ll be more surefooted when you sell.

As an introvert, I’m protective of my space and I don’t like to be talked to without good reason. Maybe that’s why my favorite stores are bookstores. The books, rather than the salespeople, call my name, and I can wander through the text-laden pastures without anyone nipping at my heels. Imagine a bookstore in which salespeople followed you around, pressured you into buying full-priced, hardcover books, and shamed you for just browsing.

Now for the shocker: I have a distaste for salespeople. Not so much real salespeople as the used-car salesman stereotype lodged in my brain. As hard as I try not to show it, my body language is sure to shut down long before most salespeople can even get close to me, let alone close the deal.

Can you relate? On a conscious level, I know not all salespeople sell snake oil. I think of the innocent image evoked by the tongue twister from my childhood: “Sally sells seashells by the seashore.” Sweet, eh? Although, on second thought, who needs to buy seashells by a seashore? A bias is a hard thing to shake.

Clearly, I’m not alone in my bias: Development Dimensions International (DDI), a global talent management consultancy, found that 46 percent of corporate buyers surveyed across six countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States) said that they would not be proud to call themselves salespeople.

The buyers most commonly described their perceptions of the sales process as “a necessary evil.” Worse, colorful descriptions they used to describe salespeople included “irritating, like a rash you want to scratch but your doctor won’t let you,” “leeches,” and “they come, they lie, they steal, they go.”

Do you have biases about salespeople that make you leery about selling? If you see salespeople as slick or condescending purveyors of useless products who sneer at your questions, then how do you justify selling without feeling like a phony?

So you’re an introvert and you’re about to sell—your products or services, your ideas, or even sell yourself during your job search. Let’s say you care about others, the quality of relationships you build with them, and your reputation. You believe in whatever you sell and you bring a depth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm to the process. Therefore, you’d only sell something that would help others. To help reduce the “ick” factor, remind yourself that it’s legitimate to benefit financially for the time and effort you put into selling.

Consider the following tips and reminders to help make the process of selling more palatable—and even enjoyable:

  1. Position yourself as an expert. As an introvert you are inclined to attain deep knowledge in your areas of interest. Sharing your knowledge will help inspire trust in your customers.
  2. Reframe the sales conversation as: How can I help the other party by offering her something useful? This will help mitigate your introvert’s reticence to sell.
  3. Listen attentively and address the other party’s questions and concerns.
  4. Pay attention to your customer’s nonverbal signals. Is he leaning in with interest or buttoning his coat to leave?
  5. Target the other party and her organization by learning about them in advance (research, introverts!). Speak their language and share what’s relevant to them. Succinctly. And then be quiet—another introverted strength—and let them draw their own conclusions.

I’ll share more reflections on selling for introverts in blog posts to come. Meanwhile, think about which of your introverted strengths (e.g., writing, researching, thinking deeply, attaining expertise, thinking things through before you speak or act, listening attentively) you can use at your next sales meeting. Remember this: the act of selling doesn’t have to be an albatross.

Bradford Thomas, Simon Mitchell, and Jeff Del Rossa, Sales: Strategic Partnership or Necessary Evil? 2007–2008 Global Sales Perceptions Report, Development Dimensions International, Inc., Bridgeville, Penn., pp. 4, 6.

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3 Responses to “Can an Introvert Sell Well?”

  1. Rick Lavoie Says:

    Nancy, Not surprising that you make us introverts feel like we can take this great advice and totally run with it and make it happen for us. So thank you for that. BTW, I like the book cover design 🙂

  2. Nancy Ancowitz Says:

    Thank you, Rick! That means a lot coming from you, given your own marketing expertise.

  3. Ed Godwin Says:

    Very nice, encouraging article. Thank you.

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