Does the world really need more sales people?
One of the many benefits of the internet is that consumers and business buyers now have unlimited access to all the information that they need and easy ways to make purchases. At one click, they can access;

  • Hundreds of suppliers
  • Blogs and information sites offering advice to potential buyers
  • Customer reviews and case studies

In addition, they can order via credit card for instant or next day deliver.
In this world of easy payment and instant access, do we really need sales people?
Some businesses argue that we do not, that effective marketing and a good website are enough to generate sales and in some cases, this is true. However, for the majority of business, good sales people remain an essential part of the business development process.


7 reasons that your business needs good Sales People

  1. Customers don’t really buy your product, they buy the idea behind your product.  Let’s say 3 customers each buy the same CRM system. One customer may buy it because they fear that competitors will be gaining an advantage over them. Another might do it to be able to find efficiencies in their sales force and another might do it because it is important to them to be seen at the leading edge of technical innovation in their role. Great sales people invest efforts in finding out what the real concerns of customers are and on solving those problems. They focus on finding out what job the client needs the product to do, rather than just pitching features and benefits.
  2. Every business needs new business.
    Any business will lose between 10% and 20% of its customers each year due to reasons beyond their control. Customers change jobs, retire, restructure and shift focus. New business is the life -blood of any commercial organisation. Effective sales people know how to find prospects and create new customers.
  3. Many customers don’t know they need your product.
    How many products and services exist today that simply did not exist even just a few years ago? We didn’t know that we would need smart phones, tablets, web designs, SEO experts, online movie rentals, but we take them for granted. Often, customers do not know they need a product until they have an opportunity to discuss their business with a sales person. Only then do they begin to see the potential benefits. Great sales people don’t just respond to needs, they help to create the need.
  4. Sales Data is confusing and misleading
    Have you ever spent a significant sum of money on an important purchase, only to find that there was a better product or deal available?Many customers need an opportunity to discuss their needs with a knowledgeable sales person so that they can make their minds up confident in the knowledge that they are making the best decision possible.
  5. Service Matters
    In many cases, customers buy from one supplier because they feel like they know and trust the sales people that they deal with. The sales service is a key driver for many customers.
  6. Complexity and Value
    Not every deal is simple enough for an automatic transaction. Many sales require nurturing over a long period of time because they involve high value deals and multiple decision makers.
  7. Urgency
    Sometimes, customers need a gently push in the right direction. They need reasons to act now.
    A customer who has realised that they have a need, but who has not yet decided on a supplier, is a customer liable to be poached by a competitor. Sales people know how to create both the desire and urgency to buy.

Whenever we run Performance Appraisal courses for clients, we usually begin the process with a debate about whether there is a role for Performance Appraisal in fast moving modern businesses. There are many good reasons given for not running appraisals. Many people have memories of awkward meetings with their boss trying to make sense of things that happened months before. Others admitted that they were always somewhat guarded in appraisals because they were concerned that any negative marks could affect their pay. Others still reported that in their experience appraisals were used (by their boss) as a way of getting six months worth of negative feedback into an hours meeting or that the feedback they received was so generic as to be useless.

Of course we come to understand that such views are the result of poor execution of the appraisal meeting rather than the concept of appraisal. However when I ask groups to come to a conclusion as to whether Appraisals are a good thing the answer (after much consideration) is usually Yes if……

The “If” being that appraisals are worthwhile so long as there is a robust performance management process in place. So it is worthwhile taking a moment to identify the different elements of the performance management mix and to put the performance appraisal into it’s proper place as an essential component in the mix that will only work if the other parts of the engine are functioning well.

If your appraisal system isn’t working for you, then perhaps it is best to take a look initially at least, at your whole Performance Management System.


Many of these Performance Management Processes share similar characteristics. Most involve one to one dialogue and a degree of action planning. It is important, however, to remember not to confuse the measures or to try and combine them. A Performance Appraisal can be likened to a service on a car. The point of the service is to check all working parts, not just to address short-term problems. This way, the car will run efficiently and optimally for many years because problems have been avoided. In the same way, the appraisal should look at all aspects of performance, not just the problem areas.

How does Performance Appraisal Differ from other Performance Management measures?

Performance Appraisals are just one component in a range of possible interventions that a manager can use to drive performance. These include;

PM Measure Why Notes
Job Review Employee is changing jobs (through promotion restructuring etc) or the nature of their role is changing This is a meeting to review and amend the job description and the key performance indicators associated with it.The meeting should take place every time there is a significant change in the employee’s role or responsibilities.
Coaching Whenever there is a development need for which coaching is the most appropriate option. Usually a series of one to one meetings focused on developing a key skill or achieving a specific goal.
Pay Review To communicate and or discuss remuneration terms. This should be done at least annually (even if no award is made) or after a major shift in role or responsibility. Pay Review decisions should be made with reference to results as reported in a Performance Appraisal.They should not be a major part of the appraisal process. Avoid doing Pay and Performance reviews in the same meeting if at all possible.
Disciplinary Meeting Whenever there has been a breach of rules or professional standards.Disciplinary meetings can vary in severity from informal “reminders” to formal written warnings. Disciplinary meetings should take place close to the occurrence of the problem behaviour.Disciplinary meetings should never be combined with appraisals.
Career Counselling Meetings between Manager and staff member to discuss long-term career goals and opportunities. These should occur by mutual consent There is an element of career counselling within all appraisals, however, the appraisal must primarily be about current and future performance.
Performance Appraisal Occur at regular intervals (2 or 3 times per year).All employees should have the right to an AppraisalThe aim is to review and analyse current performance and identify ways to develop future performance Performance Appraisals are a regular and systematic review of every part of an individual’s performance.Usually one to one meetings, the primary focus is to improve individual performance.

I spend a great deal of my time talking with founders and sales managers about the best way to win those all-important first customers.

Getting people to buy a new product can be really tough. There is an inbuilt inertia in every marketplace. To some the word “new” can mean exciting, novel, fresh, easier and more cost-effective and to others it can  mean risky, uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

We all know the product growth lifecycle model, and we all know that even if we get those elusive first 100 clients (early adopters) that there is a chasm (see Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm!) that often swallows up the unsuspecting and over-optimistic business.

We all know the product growth lifecycle model, and we all know that even if we get those elusive first 100 clients (early adopters) that there is a chasm (see Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm!) that often swallows up the unsuspecting and over-optimistic business.

The logic, however attractive, does not always stand up.

If a customer really values something and they get a chance to have a bit more of it for free in return for their loyalty, they feel like they have won.

For example, for many years now, I have been somewhat disappointed with my health insurance. I value having it (I’m a self-employed man with 3 kids) but I resent the year on year increases with no additional value.  I was offered a cheaper solutions with greater flexibility by other suppliers, and I thought about switching but somehow never quite got round to it. I was too busy to see it through (I imagined long boring meetings and piles of paperwork were involved), and worried about the possible hidden restrictions, In short I was just about familiar and comfortable enough with my big brand supplier not to let my irritation at rising prices push me to look elsewhere.

Then a sales representative for another company came to see me.  He understood my reluctance to change, but also took it seriously. He made a good case for switching, did a thorough comparison of my existing supplier’s offering with that of the company that he represented. He then said that he understood how difficult it was to break with an existing supplier so as an incentive he offered me two months free cover if I were to switch. Interestingly he never once used the word “free”. He always talked about “additional cover, 14 months for the price of 12.”

On reflection I realised that I didn’t by health co*ver that day because it was free. I bought it because I believed it was the right product for my family at the time. The offer months free cover just made it easier for me to break my habit.

The key is that I already valued the product and I just needed a push. (The two months free equated easily to the £300 I would have spent over the same period). Free meant something.

Compare this with the “try this for free offers” pitched by so many start ups – there the “free” offer is on something for which I have no real need(as yet). I might try it, I might even like it, but because I have paid nothing for it (and for those of you selling software, I haven’t even had to expend more that a mouse click’s worth of energy to receive it,) I have nothing invested. My commitment levels are low and I associate the value of the product with the price I paid for it.

Now there are exceptions. If your product is a 12 foot multi-uddered seven shades of purple cow (Thanks Seth Godin!), you might get people to invest time and effort in trialling the product, thus realising its value. But if this is the case, why are you giving it away for free?

That’s not to say that free offers don’t work, they do, but they work best when the client understands that they are getting something of value for which they don’t have to pay, rather than just getting something for free.

So if you want to get traction, think carefully about what you mean by the term. If you just want to find a few individual people to try your product, that’s one thing. If you want to recruit members of your tribe who will genuinely appreciate your product and who will recommend it to all and sundry, then you need a strategy.

  1. Only offer free trials to those who will really benefit from your product right now. People who may have a use or need for your product at some unspecified time in the future will not value it, nor will they blog or tweet anything meaningful about it – make sure they have a problem – now.
  2. Make sure that the person trialling the product or having it for free is someone who has the power to buy (or is a significant recommender).
  3. Enter into an agreement. If someone gets something for free, it is without value. If someone trades their time and input to receive a product they need for free, it is worth at least the value that they put on their time and effort. If you want to give someone a product for free think about……..
    • Talking to them beforehand about why they may want the product. Make sure that they have a problem that needs solving right now.
    • Ask them to agree to a number of conversations to assess their impressions of the product (allowing you to pick up valuable feedback and PR quotes)
    • Ask them to recommend the product (so long as they are happy with it) to colleagues and peers.
    • Ask them to be the basis of a case study (you can arrange for it to be written).
    • Ask them to provide insight as to the best way to ? the benefits of the product. 100 new tribe members may be worth 100 free licenses. In fact we need a new word for no cost, but traded against other?

Like all trainers I read and borrow a great deal from others. When I am facilitating creative sessions I use a wide range of techniques from the experts and from fellow practitioners. I always try to recognise the author and to recommend their books if people find the processes that we are using to be useful and effective.

One of my Creative Thinking heroes is Edward De Bono. I have most of his books and have attended many sessions that taught his techniques. One of the most well known commonly used methodologies is the Six Thinking Hats.  (If you Google the term, be prepared for lots and lots of references). However I have found that some groups just struggle to make the six hats work for them. Some get so wrapped up in the detail of the process that they lose site of their goal, others dismiss it because they tried it before without success, others still seem inhibited by the idea of wearing different coloured hats (even if they are imaginary).

However De Bono created the Six Hats as a tool to access a powerful principle that he called parallel thinking. In short it is the process of getting everyone to look at all aspects of an idea or problem from the same “cognitive stance” i.e. we will all look at the positives or the idea together, or we will look at the negatives together. This approach saves time and energy required to battle on behalf of new ideas. Parallel thinking takes the Ego out of the discussion around new ideas. It turns debate into dialogue. De Bono is not the only one to tap into Parallel Thinking the Disney Creative Process uses the construct of three rooms (the dreamer, the realist & the critic) to achieve much the same result.

So here is my version, I find it works very well with business groups who may be a little suspicious of anything that seems like a gimmick. It is a variation on the six hats (and offered with the utmost respect to Professor De Bono) We call it the 360° idea review. It is slightly more directive a process than the six hats but is very flexible and a very effective way to promote real discussion.


360° Idea Evaluation

The 360 Idea Evaluation is a combination of Six Hats and Disney Creative Process (and other) methods which allows the group to work around an idea (without the need for dressing up or extra rooms).

1. Ask the group you are working with to abide by the 360 rules as they review the idea.

Tell them that we will look at the idea from all angles and that the aim of the exercise is to be sure that we make the right decision for the right reasons..
Remind the group that as a result of the discussion, we may decide to

a) accept the idea
b) accept the idea with minor revision
c) accept the idea with major revision
d) hold the idea for now
e) reject the idea, but use elements of it as part of another solution
f) reject the idea

Make sure that everyone understands that the purpose of the dialogue is to explore the idea together.

2. Put a flipchart page on the wall or table. Make sure that everyone can see it and contribute to the discussion.


3. Using the 360 checklist, start the discussion at Instinctive Reaction at the top of the chart. Remind the group that you would like them to give their honest and instinctive response to the idea but not to provide any justifications or reasons.

It is important to get everyone’s ‘gut reaction’ to the idea because it allows emotions and instincts out and acknowledges that they are an important part of the process. This, in turn, allows people the space to look at the idea from multiple perspectives without ego issues clouding the dialogue.

Use the questions listed below as a prompt to get the discussion going. Record everyone’s answers.

4. Then move round the chart to the Data section. It helps to move either the group or the chart so that everyone is looking at it from the same perspective.

Now ask everyone “If we were to move ahead with this idea
a) What information/data do we need?
b) What do we already have?
c) Where will we get the information?”

Remember, this is not a debate about whether the idea is any good or not simply a discussion about what data we need to explore it further.

5. Next we look at the Strengths and Benefits of the idea. Once again, we move the group/chart so you are all looking at strengths from the same perspective.

Remind the group we are looking only at the strengths of the idea and the potential benefits that it might bring. Record all input.
6. The next step is to discuss the Problems & Risk associated with the idea and to identify any issues that might arise from implementing the idea.

Remind the group that no decision will be made at this time, we are simply surfacing problems that might sink the idea at a later stage.

7. When we move to the next step, Development, the whole group works together to mitigate the problems.

They can use any brainstorming technique to do so, or simply start the conversation with the question;

“If we had no choice but to implement this idea, how would we go about doing so?”

8. Finally, ask the group to step back and to Review & Decide. Review the process that you have been through. Check that the idea has been developed enough for people to feel that they can make a decision.

Remind the group that in innovation, the decision is rarely “yes” or “no” and that we may decide to do something in between (see notes for step 1).

If you have a number of options you may, as a group, apply some decision-making techniques such as “paired analysis” or “weighted rankings”



Common Complain
While preparing some new sales courses recently, I spent several hours trawling the internet to find out what the most common complaints about salespeople and the experience of being sold to are. I spent time on general sales blogs, consumer group sites and industry sites for businesses that rely heavily on direct sales operations (financial services, household improvements, advertising, enterprise, software etc). Not surprisingly, lots of people have lots of opinions about the things that salespeople do wrong. The big list is very long and varied, however there are a number of themes that emerge and after some “chunking” and de-duplicating, here are the most common complaints that we have found reported about salespeople.

False Sincerity

This is the practice of acting as if there is already some connection between the salesperson and the customer. It can happen in a number of ways;
Asking how people are and what kind of day they are having. On a superficial level this is polite, but in reality the customer knows you are just filling in time until you can pitch your product. If there is no relationship, don’t ask questions that suggest there is, it feels wrong for everyone. Obviously, once a relationship exists (a second call or a follow-up meeting) then it becomes more appropriate to make such enquiries.

Lack of Research

“Salespeople who haven’t bothered to find out at least the basic details about the company really are signalling that they don’t care about me at all, they only care about how much I might be worth to them”. This comment from a technology buyer says it all.
Misleading reasons for calling

This takes many forms. At it’s worst; people who call claiming tobe representing another organisation are starting the call with a lie. Examples;

The software company that claims to be calling on behalf of Microsoft or other major suppliers
White-goods insurance companies that claims to be calling on behalf of the manufacturer
The alarm company that claims to be calling on behalf of the Police or Local Council

In addition, some salespeople claim they have been asked to call by a customer’s colleague, or claim that they have had prior dealings with the customer’s company. If the first thing a salesperson does is seek to mislead the customer, it does not bode well for the rest of the call.

Cheesy/Clichéd Offers

We all know the kind of thing – “Mr Jones, I am just calling to let you know about this limited offer, it must end on Sunday”.
“We have salespeople in your area next week and they are able to offer incredible discounts only this week”.

This is a scattergun approach. No effort is made to sell the value or to establish whether the product may actually be useful.

These kinds of lines may have worked in the 1960’s, but by now, everyone has heard them a million times.

Like the “closing down” offers from furniture stores that never close down, this approach treats the customers as though they are stupid. Not a great way to start a business relationship.

Scripted Pitches

Sometimes, salespeople actually do have a pitch scrolling down on their computer (or stuck on a wall in front of them). Sometimes, the script is just a well rehearsed sales pitch from which the salesperson dare not deviate.

The problem is that most customers can spot a script a mile off and script says that you think so little of the customer that the salesperson will just say what they are paid to say, regardless of their level of interest.

False Urgency

This is the habit of talking too quickly and responding before the customer has finished talking, or racing into the pitch. It often occurs because the salesperson is nervous or under pressure to hit a target by a given deadline.

The problem is that the urgency is the salesperson’s issue, not the customer’s. Customers who feel rushed often raise more doubts and create delays to give themselves time to think. If the salesperson sounds too desperate, then the customer’s instinct is to back off.

Not Listening

In many ways, this is part of the problem all the above complaints have, but not listening tells the client that their views (and therefore their needs) are less important than the sales pitch.

Customers don’t feel listened to when;

They get asked a standard bunch of questions, regardless of the answers they give.

There is a disconnect between the issues they have raised and the issues addressed by the sales pitch.

The salesperson talks over them, or attempts to anticipate what they are going to say.

The salesperson fails to (naturally) mirror the pace and tone of the conversation.

Scare Tactics and Criticism

These are tactics often employed by salespeople, over emphasising the downside of not buying or implying (and sometimes stating directly) that the customer is failing to do their job properly by not purchasing the product offered.

What do all these complaints have in common?

They are all avoidable through the selection of capable salespeople, by training them effectively and by building a culture that puts the customer first.

They are often the result of salespeople being put under too much pressure to hit a number and too little focus on the long-term customer experience.

They all destroy “perceptions of value” in the long term.

As entrepreneurs and sales people we have a choice as to how we interact with customers we can either focus on the short term fear driven game or on the longer term value driven experience. The behaviour of your sales people will say an awful lot about your company make sure it is not the cause of common complaint.




A question I often get asked is “what do you do when the client goes quiet ?”, that is you have made an initial contact generated some interest and the client has gone away to think about it. If you call too soon you are being pushy, if you leave it you run the risk of losing the business.
So some rules to help with this.

Always suggest a time when you will call the client. (preferably before they say I’ll get back to you..). This leaves you in control and feeling confident about calling them. (you are after all just keeping a promise).

If the client says “I’ll think about it” ask “when should I schedule our next call?” The language is inclusive, never pushy and leaves the client with a choice.

Give the client a reason for calling them back at your suggested time for example “we have some new user feedback being published on Friday I will give you a call then.

If a client insists that they will call you and that you shouldn’t call them take this as a signal that they are either not convinced or they do not have enough purchasing power to buy. Try and push your questioning a little further “at this stage what issues are concerning you” or “may I ask for your initial impressions.” You may be able to tease out any concerns and send them away in a more positive frame of mind. However still leave the call saying that you will near death experience ambien keep Ambien them posted of any developments in the mean time.

If the client fails to take your call and then goes quiet you have a few options.

The upfront approach, “When we last spoke you asked me to keep in touch, but I haven’t heard back from you I am just a little concerned that I may be emailing you unnecessarily. Can you suggest a time to speak.”

The indirect approach, call their PA or assistant (assuming they have one ) and explain the situation and because you don’t want to leave things unresolved could they suggest an appropriate time for you to call.

In truth clients go quiet for all sorts of reasons, they get distracted, other priorities arise, or they simply need time to think. Gentle polite persistence is the right and the assertive thing to do. Clients who get angry when you call at an agreed time or keep them updated with new developments, are often just masquerading as decision makers don’t let their reaction colour your wider thinking.

So much business is won simply by being front of mind at the time the client decides to buy. If you fade into the background you run the risk of the client finding another solution while you wait for them to call.

So keep the initiative, dont worry about the really grumpy client , they are not typical of the wider population and always remember it is better to be seen to be too keen than not to give a damn.


I spent yesterday lunch time with a client and she told me an interesting story about her younger brother Tom who is 19 years old and who has just started his career in telesales.

The UK, like much of the US and the rest of Europe, has experienced some pretty brutal winter conditions in the last few weeks. On the worst days, people have been unable to get to work and businesses have suffered a great deal of disruption as a result. One such business was a local newspaper in York, here in the north of England. The Advertising Sales Manager, upon realising that most of his staff were struggling to make it into work, asked staff if they would be prepared to work from home (or whether they would prefer to take the days as holiday).

Four of his sales people (including Tom) opted to work from home, the rest took the days as vacation.

The guys who worked from home did not have access to the main sales database in the office (prior to the blizzards no one envisaged that they would need it) and were selling to their customers on their mobile phones and home lines. They had no sales data with them and they had to dig out the customers’ contact details from Yellow Pages and from other local business directories on line. Hardly ideal conditions, but the sales manager reasoned that this was better than nothing.

Curiously, when the sales manager reviewed the sales figures for the days that the Fantastic Four had worked from home, he found that each of them had delivered sales roughly three and a half times greater than they had in the office. This was in spite of having only limited access to sales resources and client lists.

So what is going on here, and what can entrepreneurs learn about their own sales performance?

Here are a few of my own theories;-

By asking the sales team to make a choice between working from home and taking the days as vacation, the Sales Manager has effectively identified who his top sales people are (at least in terms of attitude) The four most motivated people on the team had a whole marketplace to themselves.

The sales team were able to work free from daily administrative duties. They were unable to input each call they made into their CRM system or to follow up on the many administrations that are required to publish adverts in newspapers. All they did was sell, keep a note of their progress and then phone all the results in at the end of the day.

There were no distractions- they may not have appreciated this at the time, but having even a few hours of uninterrupted sales time is a real luxury. They were able to move straight from one call to another without the need to spend time on their CRM system or explaining their call to a colleague or being diverted into another conversation. This actually means that they can quickly get into “the zone” -that state where we feel confident, articulate and capable and the lessons learned on one call are easily transferred to the next.

The sales people didn’t have access to all their usual sales tools and resources, perhaps the fact that they had to really think about everything they said to customers produced a more authentic sales experience.

Finally, they may have succeeded simply because they weren’t being over managed, . They had proven that they had the initiative and drive to work under their own steam by volunteering to work from home and their manager had little option but to trust them to get on with the job.

What can entrepreneurs learn from this?

Make sure you create a dedicated time to talk to your customers, a time without distraction or administration. (you can always write up your CRM notes later). The only way to get good a selling is to be selling. Don’t try to fit in a few calls around other jobs. You will never get round to them.
When you hire sales people, hire attitude first and foremost. Sales skills can be taught, hire the people who want to be selling and who find themselves somewhat frustrated and irritated by the admin.
Don’t let your CRM rule the roost, the job of a sales manager is to increase the quantity and quality of sales output. Let the CRM system serve you, not the other way round.
If you find a really great sales person, get out of their way! trust them and they will reward you by using their initiative and tenacity to deliver the results you need.
And remember, selling is just talking to customers. Sales brochures, websites, research documents and presentations all help the process, but none of them are absolutely necessary. Never let the lack of one of these things become a reason not to pick up the phone.


Introverts can’t sell! Can they?
I have been fortunate to have been invited to speak at the Business of Software Conference http://businessofsoftware.org for the last three years. It really is a fantastic conference – the delegates are every bit as inspiring as the best of the speakers, there is a huge sense of comradeship amongst the tribe of entrepreneurs who attend this conference and every year, I leave motivated to do things differently in my own business.

At the most recent conference, in October in Boston, Neil Davidson, (BoS founder and co sponsor) in his welcome speech was trying to encourage people to mix and share stories and he asked how many of the audience considered themselves to be introverts. I think that there was only me and about two other guys who kept their hands down. 290 plus hands were held aloft. I have to confess it made me feel a little like a visitor in a strange land.

However, during the three days of the conference I spent some time thinking about the whole topic of introversion and in particular why tech entrepreneurs (who are usually introverts) rarely see them selves as effective sales people. Many also say that they hate being sold to or they really dislike sales people. (to get an idea of how tech entrepreneurs view sales people, have a look at my deeply unscientific piece of research, conducted during the opening of my 2008 Business of Software presentation http://businessofsoftware.org/video_08_pkenny.aspx ).

Most of us learned about introversion and extraversion by doing a psychometric assessment on a management course or as part of Psychology 101 at college. So we become familiar with the terms and they have moved into the the modern parlance. The terms introvert and extravert are used as labels, as if we are one or the other, and are often bandied around by people who have only a loose understanding of what they mean. As a result, the meaning that we attribute to these very specific terms has changed rather dramatically over the years. Ask people to tell you the difference between an introvert and an extravert and the usual answer is along the lines of;

Extraverts are the outgoing sociable ones, the life and soul of the party.
Introverts are the quiet ones, who prefer their own company and can be anti social at times.
These stereotypes persist, and are repeated so often that we start to accept them without question. Indeed since the rise of Geeks as the new masters of the universe, many people working in tech roles wear their introversion proudly as a badge. I actually saw a delegate at a conference wearing a t-shirt with the slogan Please F**K Off I’m an Introvert! The problem with these modern definitions is that they are inaccurate and overly simplistic and as a result, they are persuading otherwise brilliant people to accept unquestioningly that they can never be good at sales because they don’t fit a psychological stereotype.

So let’s get a few things straight, and to do so we need to go to the Grandaddy of all this stuff Carl Jung.

Preferences not personality

When Carl Jung (upon who’s work almost every personality assessment tool is based) talked about introvert and extravert he wasn’t even talking about personalities, he was talking about preferences and the Introvert /Extravert dichotomy is only one of three pairs of preferences that drive the way we perceive, and respond to, the world around us. We all have times when we feel more introverted and we all have the ability to be extraverts, we just tend to prefer one over the other. What’s more, Jung was certainly not talking about whether we are sociable or not. Jung’s definitions of introversion and extraversion had much more to do with where we get our energy from and how we form our thoughts. Extraverts get their energy from the outside world, (imagine they are solar powered), they are relaxed when they are “out there” sharing views news and ideas with the outside world. Extraverts tend to externalise their thoughts in order to work out what they think, which is why you may often hear them articulate an idea or opinion and then change it as they are discussing it. They are not being indecisive or ingenuous they are simply thinking aloud! Introverts on the other hand tend to get their energy from within and when they relax, it tends to be by finding a quiet place to think (imagine they need to plug themselves into the mains an recharge their batteries quietly). Introverts often say less, simply because they tend to work out what they want to say internally before they open their mouth. Remember though, that these are not hardwired traits but rather are preferences that we have developed early in life. As with all preferences, when we are in our most comfortable place, where we can act according to our preferences, we feel less stress and use less energy. Move out of our comfort zone and we may find it harder work, but it is not impossible to do. As someone who has a preference for extraversion, I can work all day in a seminar group without feeling the slightest bit tired (in fact I feel the opposite) but a few hours of solitary writing at my computer I find exhausting. A colleague of mine with a preference for introversion has the opposite experience. However neither of us is seriously limited by our preferences. I have worked hard at developing the discipline to sit down and create new content for my seminars. I don’t enjoy it as much as I do delivering, but I have learned to adapt. In the same way, my colleague David has become an incredibly skilled presenter, but he still has to go and recover somewhere quiet after delivering a keynote.

Summary: Introvert / Extravert is a preference not a life script!

Breaking News: Introverts can sell!

Even if you have a strong preference for introversion there is no reason not to become excellent at selling. The only difference is that you will succeed at selling for different reasons than an extravert might.

Some of the very best sales people I know are introverts, and they succeed because they play to their strengths. For example my friend and client Francois sells surgical implants. His customers are used to being wined and dined and entertained like royalty. Most of the sales people he works with are extraverts, yet he out performs them all. He does so because he has learned to prepare really well for every call or meeting. Francois does not like small talk, it just doesn’t come naturally to him, so he invests extra time researching the customer’s background and thinking about conversation starters he can use. It is because he invests time in doing this extra research, he develops a genuine interest in the customer, not in some some schmoozey shallow way and he always manages to find something that his clients want to talk passionately about. This is real interest, it cannot be faked.

Further more, Francois really thinks about the questions that he asks. He prefers it when the customer is talking, so he asks big wide open questions and just listens and notes their reply.

Finally, Francois presents with great economy, he leaves nothing to chance, he has mentally rehearsed every answer to every question that he may be asked. He demonstrates the product intelligently, only explaining the stuff that is important and relevant to his customer. His customers are busy people and they appreciate the efficiency of his pitch.

I have spent nearly twenty years advising overly extravert sales people to pause, to listen, to think before they speak. Introverts do a lot of this stuff naturally.

Francois’ extraverted colleagues are also talented and capable (they play to different strengths) but they all struggle to match him either in quality of customer feedback or in sales.

Summary: If you play to your strengths you can be every bit as good a sales person as Francois

Back to Jung

Jung argued that the process of gaining maturity and wisdom was the process of developing those elements of personality preferences which were least natural or comfortable for us. As we gain maturity we become more at ease with our under utilized assets, we find it less tiring to be out of our comfort zone. If you build a business which is designed to reduce the volume and quality of real human interaction with your customers to an absolute minimum, if you delegate all sales and service interaction to people with a preference for extraversion then you may be doing a huge disservice to your self, your customer and ultimately your business.

Summary: Development is all about getting good at the things that don’t come naturally.

“I’m an introvert” should never be an excuse to fail to engage with a customer in a sales or service conversation


I have spent the last couple of weeks catching up with clients and friends in business, partly just because New Year is a good time to catch up and partly to assess the mood out there amongst business owners and sales and marketing people as we move into 2011.

Encouragingly many are starting to think about boosting the size of their sales teams once again. Indeed some are planning interviews and assessment centres in the next week or so. During one such discussion with an old friend and recent customer, they reminded me that in many of my presentations to sales managers that I offer the following advice.

If in an interview for a sales role the decision comes down to a choice between a candidate who asked the most interesting questions and the candidate who did the best pitch, you should always go with the person who asked the best questions.

Here’s why, great questioning demonstrates potential in the following areas

Preparation: Asking great questions is a sign that the candidate is really well prepared. Intelligent and appreciative inquiry requires that they have bothered to look beyond the landing page of your web site and that they have dug around and really thought about the stuff that they found there.
Agility: Great sales people need to be adaptable and responsive to the needs of the customer, if a candidate is comfortable to ask questions and able to adapt their message dependent upon the answers you give, then they are demonstrating raw sales potential whatever their level of experience. A slick pitch can sound impressive but if it is delivered by rote it will fail to inspire your customer.
Listening: You know that someone is a natural (or experienced) questioner when they are able to gently elicit the customer’s needs by allowing the answers that they get to be the mother of the next question.
Unlocking difficult customers: You cannot talk a doubting customer into believing your pitch, (at least I haven’t seen it happen in twenty plus years of working with sales people) however you can always unlock an unarticulated need, or help a client to see things from a different perspective by asking questions that start a process in the client’s mind. (more on this in a future post).
Customer Focus: If they are really well prepared a good candidate will ask questions about your customers, (their experience and their concerns), they will ask questions about where the product is going and how it will be developed and they will ask questions about your expectations of the role and of them before they ask about the pay and conditions. This is what I call unselfish questioning, that is questioning the client’s needs before their own. (It is surprisingly rare and you should take notice if people are smart enough to focus the majority of their questions on you their customer.)
So give me a great questioner over a “pitch meister” any day!


Mat Clayton

Mat has been working in the B2C space with his Social Networking consultancy and his own startup Mixcloud.

The essence of Mat’s presentation was that social media is a highly effective way to build followers and to encourage interaction with customers but is challenging because the attention span is so short and the medium encourages fickle behaviour. Glimpse and they are gone.

Mat has become adept at employing guerilla tactics to (e.g. exploiting Twitters re tweet bots to create four simultaneous trends prior to the launch of Mixcloud). However I suspect that the game will change everyday, I can’t imagine the good folks at twitter allowing this to become a common occurrence, and