The Most Effective Salespeople are Ambiverts

Contrary to popular belief, the most effective salespeople score halfway between the poles of extreme extroversion and extreme introversion in personality tests.

Adam Grant, associate professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania conducted research that compared personality to yearly sales and found that “ambiverts” earned 24 percent more than the introverts and, 32 percent more than the extroverts.

Susan Cain's case of the “unassuming-looking fellow named Jon Berghoff” in Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking explains why:

Jon is a stereotypical introvert, right down to his physical appearance: lean, wiry body; sharply etched nose and cheekbones; thoughtful expression on his bespectacled face. He's not much of a talker, but what he says is carefully considered, especially when he's in a group.


Jon is also a standout salesman, and has been since he was a teenager. In the summer of 1999, when he was still a junior in high school, he started working as an entry-level distributor, selling Cutco kitchen products. The job had him going into customers' homes, selling knives. It was one of the most intimate sales situations imaginable, not in a boardroom or a car dealership, but inside a potential client's kitchen, selling them a product they'd use daily to help put food on the table.

Within Jon's first eight week on the job, he sold $50,000 worth of knives. He went on to be the company's top representative from over 40,000 new recruits that year. By the year 2000, when he was still a high school senior, Jon had generated more than $135,000 in commissions and had broken more than twenty-five national and regional sales records.


By 2002 he'd recruited, hired, and trained ninety other sales reps, and increased territory sales 500 percent over the previous year.

For a hint to the secret of Jon's success Cain refers to a study conducted by Avril Thorne on The Press of Personality: A Study of Conversations Between Introverts and Extraverts.

Pairing 52 women to get acquainted in two conversations — one with an introvert and one with an extravert — they asked the women to provide accounts of their conversations. The researchers also listened to playbacks of the interactions. Both the women's account and the recording were analyzed by a system.

Both introverts and extraverts participated equally. The most distinctive conversational styles occurred when introverts were matched with introverts — they engaged in focused problem talk on topics like friendships, school, and work. Whereas extraverts matched with extraverts had a wider range of topics, a more casual conversation, and more claims of common ground.

The most interesting part of the study revealed that introverts appreciated extraverts so much that their topics became breezier, and vice versa. Extraverts felt they could relax with introverts and be more open to confiding their problems.

When the social layer of our interactions tends to require additional energy it is thus likely to interfere with our attention to information. When there is less pressure to perform, we are likely more inclined to listen better. Says Cain:

Thorne's research also helps us to understand Jon Berghoff's astonishing success at sales. He has turned his affinity for serious conversations, and for adopting an advisory role rather than a persuasive  one, into a kind of therapy for his prospects.

“I discovered early on that people don't buy from me because they understand what I'm selling,” explains Jon. “They buy because they feel understood.”

Jon also benefits from his natural tendency to ask a lot of questions and to listen closely to the answers.

Selling is not about being a fast talker, or using charisma to persuade. The good news is that most of us are in the middle like Grant, who is a former salesman and self-described ambivert.