Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Selling for Introverts

If you're an introvert, outside sales mostly likely doesn't come naturally to you. If this sounds like you, this post is for you. I too am an introvert, in a business development role. I understand what you're going through.

In my nearly 30 years of career, over 20 have been spent in sales & marketing roles. Being an introvert and an intellectual type, honestly, initially selling for me was a real struggle. My first time at it, I frankly struggled and nearly gave up on selling as a career.

Back in 1981 when I graduated with my degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Maryland, my very first job was as a Sales Engineer for a major oil company. While I loved the freedom, meeting new people, learning all sorts of new material, and solving client problems, sales part of the job did not come naturally to me.

In all my schooling, I just wasn't trained to sell. I had taken all sorts of hard sciences and engineering courses. But not a single course in selling. I was trained to solve problems, not to sell. To learn about sales, I decided to take sales classes. Clearly, they were developed by extroverts, for extroverts. They just didn't work for me. Instead, I felt even worse thinking I'll never be able to sell.

To make matters worse, at the time, I believed successful sales folks are pushy, aggressive, will say yes to anything and everything, just in it for the commission checks, fast talkers, talkative and so on. While I didn't like that image, I tried to be like one of those "salesman".

It was exhausting. I hated it and didn't look forward to it. I tripped all over myself trying. To be blunt, I sucked. I knew it. My employer knew it. Yet at the time, I lacked the guts to quit and worse, to admit failure. Well, the good Lord heard my prayers and had my butt canned. Sure, my ego was bruised. But man, what a relief that was. In hind site, that was the best thing that happened to me. Anyways, I ultimately landed at EPA, saying to myself I'll never do sales again.

As they say, never say never. After 10 years at EPA, though I was doing well in my career, I resigned to jump into business. Well, guess what. To build a business, one has to sell. What a surprise, eh? So here I went again. Yes, I was nervous at first.

Not knowing at the time, this time lady luck was on my side and slowly I came to realize through experience that selling really is more like problem solving, and that we introverts also have inherent gifts and talents that we can leverage to drive sales success. Extroverts don't have the corner as I thought they did. In many reasons, I have come to believe that in many cases, we introverts actually make better sales people, especially in situations where success depends on becoming an expert and developing long-term relationships.

In this post, I want to share with you what I learned, through my own struggles, about "selling as an introvert" in my business development journey. My intent though is not to boost myself but to simply share lessons learned. So if you're in introvert and an intellectual like me, and you can pick up some nuggets through my experiences, that will help you succeed in a business development position, then this post would have achieved it's purpose.

Here's what I learned.

1. As most introverts, I am a great listener. Unlike pushing products where there is limited repeat sales, complex solution selling requires excellent listening skills, patience and ability to think deeply. In fact, successful sales people in such a selling environment spend more then 70% of their time asking probing questions, listening for both what's said and what's not said. Here we introverts really excel, beating those extroverts hands down. An added benefit is that when we listen, truly listen, the buyers feel heard and that helps to build trust and confidence, which pays off in the long-run.

2. As I am sure you, I can absorb and analyze lots of detailed and very complex information. It's rare for me to miss crucial details. In a complex solution sale, capturing those details is so critical to success, for both sides.

3. I love to become a subject matter expert, learning all that I can. In fact, the more I learn, the more confident I become and the easier it gets for me to sell. I just can't wing it like those extroverts. I like to use that expertise to help clients solve their problems, for I believe strongly that my success comes through client's success. As I do this, clients come to understand that I am on their side. They let their guards down for they know I am not there to hustle a sales. I am in this with them for the long-haul and not some quick sale just to make a buck.

4. I am non-threatening and strong in building one-to-one lasting relationships. Most of my time in conversations is spent in asking questions, probing, learning, and listening.

5. I am very patient and methodical, knowing that real success takes time, and consistent and persistent effort. In a long sales cycle environment, we introverts have real advantage over most extroverts who generally want a quick sale, and then move on.

6. I love to write and therefore I write a lot in various forums. Over the years, those writings have lead me to being invited to write articles for newsletters and magazines, to speak, to teach, serve on committees, calls from prospective clients, and ultimately to business. In the process, I have also developed many close friendships which then in many instances leads to referrals. Morever, when I attend various meetings, my name is frequently recognized and that makes making connections even easier, and more fun and enjoyable.

7. Being one of those who are slow to take off, the more I learned about my offerings and my clients, the more clear I became on how and what value I provide to my clients and to whom (my target market), the faster I started to take off. We introverts have the patience to go through such a learning curve.

These are just to name a few. I'll share more with you in my upcoming posts. For now, now that we introverts can and do succeed in business development too. We just have to find the right type of a sales environment, selling products & services that utilize our inherent strengths, view sales more as helping our clients solve their problems, identify our own unique talents and interests, and then leverage all that to drive sales success.

So if you're an introvert like me and you have to sell your services, and it doesn't came naturally to you, don't despair. Step back for a moment, assess your inherent talents and abilities, see them from your customer's perspective, and then find ways to leverage all that for your success.

Hey, if I can, you too can succeed in outside sales. Go introverts!

No comments: