The Hogwash Fact About Extraverts and Selling That Everyone Thinks Is True

the truth about extraverts and selling

In a recent post over at ENR, Scott Butcher talked about the dark cloud that hangs over the concept of selling in our industry. Let’s dive deeper into that and look at a huge misconception that may be affecting your business.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from executives in our industry is that they hire “rainmakers,” but it rarely seems to work out.

They find someone who has the right resume, is outgoing, loves to talk to people, is neat, professional, and assertive. This is the perfect person to gain more work from your existing clients and bring in new ones, right? Yet, it just never works.

These executives are scratching their heads. They did everything right. Why did they watch it fail?

The Terrible Assumption About Extraverts and Selling That Plagues Business Development In Our Industry

It never fails. People repeatedly make the same tragic mistake when it comes to business development. They assume that extraverts have an advantage when it comes to sales.

Worse, since they are not extraverts, they assume they don’t have what it takes to sell. So what do they do? They go out and hire an extrovert to sell for them.

And when that doesn’t work, they just assume they hired that one extrovert who doesn’t deliver. So, they look for another extrovert to fill that role.

How stupid is that? Assuming an extrovert is good at sales is like assuming a blond is dumb or a woman can’t be a great engineer. It’s so stereotypical and ignorant that it is offensive.

The Research That Proves My Point

Here is the truth. Again and again, academic research has shown that being an extrovert does not give you any advantage in sales. In fact, it’s the opposite.

And the best sales people, they are NOT extraverts. They are not even introverts (although better than extraverts). They are just average people like you and me (known as ambiverts). Extraverts who are consistently great at selling (I’m sure there are one or two) are the exception, not the rule.

I want to share some research, from the Wharton School’s Dr. Adam Grant, on the subject with you:

“According to conventional wisdom, productive salespeople are likely to be extraverted, which is the tendency to be assertive and enthusiastic (DeYoung, Quilty, & Peterson, 2007). Studies show that extraverted people tend to gravitate toward sales (Barrick, Mount, & Gupta, 2003) and are more likely to be selected for sales positions by managers (Dunn, Mount, Barrick, & Ones, 1995). As Costa and McCrae (1992, p. 15) explained, “Salespeople represent the prototypical extraverts in our culture.”

“However, studies have returned weak and inconsistent relationships between extraversion and sales performance. For example, extraversion was not significantly related to performance in wholesale manufacturing sales (Barrick, Mount, & Strauss, 1993), health and fitness sales (Furnham & Fudge, 2008) or business-to-business sales (Stewart, 1996).”

“Despite the widespread assumption that extraverts are the most productive salespeople, research has shown weak and conflicting relationships between extraversion and sales performance. To resolve these puzzling results, I propose that the relationship between extraversion and sales performance is not linear but curvilinear: ambiverts achieve greater sales productivity than extraverts or introverts. Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close, but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.”

“…ambiverts have a sales advantage over extraverts regardless of their standing on the other four big five personality traits.”

Now That I Think About It…

I didn’t really even need to give you proof, did I? I bet if you think about the people you have known throughout your career that consistently brought in work…they were ambiverts or even introverts.

In fact, it’s quite likely that you and most people you work with are ambiverts (you can take a test to find out at

Now What?

Let’s face it. It’s easier to continue believing the discredited hogwash that extraverts are the people who should be developing business for your firm.

But if you have the courage to accept the truth, there are plenty of resources that can help you gain comfort in that role. For example:

  • I posted the exact word-for-word scripts you can use to get meetings with busy people which you can get at this link.

  • There are many helpful books out there. Dan Pink’s “To Sell Is Human” is the perfect book to read if the idea of selling makes you sweat. You can learn more about it at this link.

  • And if you want to see more research on business development in the A/E/C industry, Scott and the SMPS Foundation recently published A/E/C Business Development – The Decade Ahead, which you can get here at this link.

  • You can even listen to a podcast where I interview Adam Grant about his research at this link.

Ok, I’ve given you the truth about business development and personality type, the science that backs it up, and all the tools you’ll need to get more comfortable with a greater, gulp, sales role.

Now it’s your turn to share. Leave a comment below and tell us what your biggest challenge, fear, or frustration is when it comes to business development.


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