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Busting the Personality Myth About Salespeople

Do you have the right stuff to be super at sales? . / Credit: Sales presentation image via Shutterstock

Despite common perception, outgoing, gregarious and assertive people don't necessarily make for the best salespeople, new research shows.

A study by researcher Adam Grant of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania discovered that ambiverts, people who are neither introverted nor extroverted but fall somewhere in between, tend to be the most effective salespeople. [Read related article: 4 Ways to Recruit the Perfect Sales Team]

"Although there are plenty of claims in the literature that more extroverted salespeople would perform better, the evidence was surprisingly weak," Grant said.

As part of the study, Grant conducted a personality survey and collected three months of sales data for more than 300 salespeople, both men and women.

Those employees who had intermediate extroversion scores turned out to be the best salespeople, bringing in about 24 percent more revenue than introverts and 32 percent more than extroverts, Grant found.

Grant said he was surprised that people on the two ends of the spectrum — extreme introverts and extreme extroverts — brought in relatively equal amounts of revenue.

The study's findings suggest that the classic stereotype of the extroverted salesperson misses the concept that personality traits like extroversion have costs and benefits, Grant said.

Grant said he believes extreme extroverts might lose out on sales because they don't listen carefully enough to their customers, dominating the conversation with their own perspectives and ideas, while at the same time being assertive and enthusiastic to a fault, leaving customers wary and cautious about being manipulated.

Conversely, ambiverts seem to strike a balance between the two personality traits.

"The ambivert advantage stems from the tendency to be assertive and enthusiastic enough to persuade and close, but at the same time, listening carefully to customers and avoiding the appearance of being overly confident or excited," Grant said.

The study's results should be taken into consideration both when hiring new employees and training current ones, he said. Managers, for example, should work to ensure that their selection and hiring processes aren't biased in favor of extroverts, while training staffs should keep in mind that teaching extroverts to hone their listening skills may be just as important as training introverts to develop their assertiveness and enthusiasm.

The study was recently published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.