There are many stereotypes about sales people; some good and some bad. Aggressive and cutthroat are some bad things. Charming and entertaining speaker are some good things.
How about introverted? Most would not stereotype great sales people this way and yet there are many more of us than you think.
Merriam-Webster defines introvert as “a reserved or shy person.” Many believe people with these traits don’t belong in any job that requires people interaction, let alone sales. The problem is that 51% of the population is introverted according to a 1998 study by Myers-Briggs. If I’d rejected shy people I’ve interviewed, I would have missed some of the best sales people I’ve ever worked with. More importantly, had my managers rejected reserved people I wouldn’t have 32+ years of successful selling in my wake.
I’m an introvert and I’ve been reserved all my life. (Note to extroverts: Being reserved doesn’t mean we lack confidence, ability or competitiveness. Assume a shy person lacks fire, and you’ll probably see fire from their tail pipe after they run over you.)
I’m not a psychologist so I can’t tell you why I’m reserved. All I know is that walking into a crowded room or onto a stage, whether it’s 10 people or 10,000, makes my heart race. However, in the profession we’ve chosen, meeting and presenting, is part of the job so I’ve learned adaptation techniques that I think are helpful to introverts, and maybe even extroverts.
KNOW YOUR ENGAGING ZONE – Recall situations where you’re very expressive, aggressive and comfortable. Maybe coaching your kid’s sports teams? Roasting a friend on their birthday? Whatever it is, understand why it’s natural for you. Knowing “why” will allow you to find your engaging zone as I did, with the help described below.
As stated, public speaking is uncomfortable for me. Working a room of unfamiliar people is equally so. Years ago, I presented to 1000+ customer executives at an event in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This was just after becoming Regional VP of Asia. My manager was there and told me I had to get comfortable speaking to large audiences because, as a VP, I’d be on stage more and I needed good reviews.
My manager asked if I could recall a time when I was comfortable on stage and all I could think of was playing music. He asked why to which I answered, “I knew the people were there to hear music and it’s something I really like doing.” He suggested that I try to apply that thinking to my work.
That led me to consider that the people I meet at big events and audiences I speak to, choose to be there. It was similar to being there to listen to music. I also really enjoy talking about selling technology and that’s what most of the audiences wanted to hear so yet another comparison to music. That single instance allowed me to discover my engaging zone and it applied to both mingling and presenting.
KNOW YOUR NATURAL STYLE – I asked many for feedback. I knew I wasn’t a great public speaker and stating it allowed people to be more direct, especially my speechwriters. I wanted more than general feedback, and asked specifically for observations on my style and the image I presented.
Before I had the benefit of my manager’s feedback in Vietnam, I was told I was stiff, distant and visibly uncomfortable. By finding my engaging zone, I improved a bit and started getting feedback that I had a casual speaking style. My audience scores improved and in some events, I got the highest marks. Unfortunately, the “casual speaking style” didn’t give me a mental model to repeat. That is, until a press event in Beijing, China.
We had a press event with a large Chinese customer followed by dinner with some of their executives. In addition to our China GM, our Account Manager, and my speech writer, we had the customer’s President, product managers and their SVP of Marketing. Their President gave me polite feedback. I asked if anyone else had feedback. The SVP of Marketing said, “You are more artist than executive.” I didn’t understand so I asked her to explain. She said, “You are more like actor or musician. I feel like you talking to just me.” I asked if that was a good thing to which she said, “Yes, yes. I like a lot.”
It was a light bulb moment that again went back to my musician days. Musicians get energy from the audience by observing and relating while playing. Later that evening we watched the videos of my speech and after making key points, I’d look at the audience. Although I didn’t recall doing it, I’d acknowledge someone with a nod or a hand gesture that was similar to what I did in small meetings. We now had the mental model of my style and I could repeat it.
KNOW THE “WHY” BEHIND YOUR COMMENTS – This is appropriate for extroverts and introverts, but it’s particularly important for the latter. If you’re presenting, know your content so slides are just a flow tool, not your words. Reading slides keeps from connecting with the audience. If you’re working a room, know the “why” behind any points you make. If you don’t know the “why” it’s hard to be credible,period, but for introverts it’s impossible. Our face gives us away.
Think of a television news host who has a set of prepared questions but doesn’t really know the topic. They ask questions but really don’t engage with the person they’re interviewing. Conversely, if the host does their homework about the topic, they can go off script and engage in a way that makes the interview more of a conversation and less of an interrogation.
Know your engaging zone, your style and the “why” behind your comments. If you can do just these three things, you’ll find comfort where you used to find distress. Please share your experiences so we can, collectively, help others.