I cannot think of a worse job for a serious introvert than sales. Except maybe a ringmaster for a circus. Or a TV anchor. Or an anchor-ringmaster in the middle of a newscast about the circus. But definitely sales; sales sucks. It goes against your grain. It goes against your friggin genetic code. It goes against the grain of your friggin genetic code. And yet, here some of us are, in sales, with our personalities and genetic code being severely abraded.
Sales in my line of work consists of cold calls and first meetings. They are terrifying and anxiety inducing. The worst parts are the just before the call and just before the meeting when I am travelling to the office. First my heart starts pounding and then I start fidgeting and plucking at things. Like my eyebrows. My eyebrows are less dense now. Then my bowels start churning double time. It’s good to have a bathroom readily accessible before meetings and calls. Did I have these symptoms at the beginning when I started this job? Yes. Do they lessen as time goes on? Not by much. So why aren’t I crazy and plucking the felt off the partitions with my teeth? Well, here is how I deal with it.
It’s all about acting. Or role-play if you are a gamer. You treat the whole thing like a play or a movie or an RPG. You set up a persona, a face that other people expect to see. Now frankly, this is exhausting and almost impossible to maintain for long periods of time, but then you don’t need it for that long anyway. You don’t need to be an actor or have significant experience in plays either. Personas are things we set up all the time in our work and our play. You maintain this for as long as you can and then let it go and get your breath back. Knowing which persona to put on depends on how observant you are, and how well you can read the environment around you. Some introverts find it easy to do this, because they talk less and listen more.
Now here is how you apply the acting principle:
Cold calls: As with any acting gig you need a script. A script is a perfect solution to cold calling. What you do is write down what you are going to say, set up in your mind the tone you are going to use (bright and chirpy) and make ready some common responses to questions. I find that writing everything down verbatim is a bad idea because you can’t react to changes in the conversation and you end up sounding like you are from a call center in Bangalore. Just set down a structure: who you are, where you are calling from, whom you would like to speak to, and then your pitch. Keep your voice confident and strong. Be polite but not servile. Keep playing your part. Make sure you have the name of the company written down as well as the name of the person you are speaking to. You don’t want to get things mixed up in your nervousness. When it is done you can move on to the next call following the same general structure but with new details added.
Meetings: As with the cold calling you need prepare yourself well in advance for this. Know your material, build your persona. Wear clothes that reflect your persona, dress well, smell good, use mouth wash and wear clean undies. All this helps reinforce your image. Sadly, no matter what you do, you are not going to be a happy-go-lucky-backslapping-double-handshake-belly-laugh kind of person so you’ve got to stick to your strengths. These are your strengths:
- Composure – Most introverts are calm, composed and don’t suffer from verbal diarrhoea (at least on the outside). Use this to your advantage. The introvert does not come over as loud and obnoxious so this does not put the prospective client on the defensive. This is good.
- Listening – Since we don’t like to talk that much, people tend to think we listen. This is also good. After five minutes of pitching a client who refused to look at me or pay attention, I slowed down. Then he started talking to me and he wouldn’t stop. The more time he wants to spend with you, the better it is.
- Trust – In B2B sales, the sales cycle can range from a few months to a year. Bluster is not going to win here. What is important is trust. So build on the long term relationship.
None of these makes sales any easier for introverts, but it certainly makes it possible if you happened to end up in sales or marketing. There is a growing awareness about and acceptance of introverts these days. What we need to do is accept ourselves and use what we have to our advantage. After all, at least you are not a ringmaster.