What makes someone a good salesperson? Decades of research on sales performance suggests someone who is intelligent, adaptive, conscientious, and extraverted is successful in sales (Churchill, Ford, Hartley, & Walker, 1985Verbeke, Dietz, & Verwaal, 2011Vinchur, Schippmann, Switzer, & Roth, 1998).

So all you need to do is hire the people who score the highest on these characteristics, right? Not so fast. Recent research suggests it’s not that simple.

In 2013, Professor Adam M. Grant of the University of Pennsylvania surprised the sales world with a study that showed a curvilinear relationship between extraversion and sales performance. That is, those with moderate levels of extraversion (those he deemed “ambiverts”) had the highest sales productivity.

SalesExtraversionThese ambiverts are likely combining the best of both worlds: they are still assertive and enthusiastic go-getters, but they also know when to listen, ask the right questions, and pay attention to their customers’ needs.

Salespeople who are “too” extraverted may come off as too talkative, slick, and overbearing. These findings are consistent with other research by Steve W. Martin featured on HBR that found that top sales performers were 30% less extraverted than average sales performers.

Bottom line? Human behavior is complicated. It’s important to keep these data-based insights top-of-mind when hiring and resist the urge to depend on intuition. Effective sales recruiting begins with understanding where your instincts may be wrong.

Next Theory Thursday I’ll discuss the interesting research on social skills and sales performance. Keep an eye out!

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices and data-based HR. She writes about trends and research in talent acquisition, people analytics, and workplace diversity.
Ji-A Min