I’m an engineer, or at least that’s what I went to college to be.
In case you didn’t know, engineers aren’t exactly known for their bubbly, outgoing personalities. I don’t tend to talk unless I’m spoken to first, and even then I tend to deliver the kind of short, cool, fact-based answers that don’t exactly lead to long, breathy conversations.
All my life people told me that my introverted personality would make me bad at sales, or bad at business in general. Yet, here I am, 30 years later, the founder and CEO of five profitable startups. During my time at the helm of Patriot Software, I’ve had to not only sell myself, but sell my business, over and over and over again. You know what? I’ve actually found that my introverted personality helps me, and here is why.
Introverts Are Sales Naturals
The thing about introverts is, we are naturally in a listening mode, and in business, listening to what your customers want is everything. The normal association with successful salesmen is that they are “sweet talkers,” or “fast talkers,” or they have “silver tongues.” All of this implies that they do a lot of talking. Actually, it’s not the amount of talking that matters, it’s the kind of talking. Words are key to any business communication, but which words you choose and how relevant they are to the customer are more important than how snappy your rejoinders are.
Personally, I hate salesmen. If you run your own business for any length of time, I’m sure you’ll come to hate them too — even if you are, yourself, a salesman! That’s because there are too many pushy, over-promising, motor-mouthed salespeople in our world, many of them hired by people who think that talking a lot equals a great salesperson.
It’s true that being outgoing will allow you to meet new people and form new connections. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll actually sell anything to them.
Cold Calling for Cold Feet
If you’re introverted, and the thought of cold calling someone frightens you, don’t worry. It frightens extroverts, too. Cold calls almost always yield cold results, so don’t let that scare you. Those calls that instead stretch into longer, passionate exchanges are often the product of someone on the other end of the phone either being a talker, or really wanting what you have to offer.
Like anything else, if you do it long enough, you’ll get better at it. While cold calling can be painful at first, in time you’ll find that being conversant and engaging is a skill you can learn. It may come more naturally to extroverts, but in all honestly, introverts do a better job with it. Unlike our extrovert counterparts, we are usually better listeners. This means that when we do talk, it’s generally about the other person’s needs, not our own.
Passion Makes the Sale
One of my startups, Top Echelon, is built on networking with recruiters and job hunters. I’ll admit that when I thought of the concept, I didn’t realize how hard I would have to work to sell the idea itself, and then take that even further to sell my service. When I started the company back in the 80s, I thought it was a genius idea. And genius ideas sell themselves, don’t they?
No ideas sell themselves, but ideas that you’re passionate about have a much better chance of success than ideas you aren’t invested in. If you’re starting your own business, then you should, by default, be invested in what you’re selling.
I’d never been much good at selling the ideas of others, but when it came to selling my own ideas, it was easy. I wanted people to know how great they were; if not for the sales, then at least so I could hear how impressed they were when I explained my idea to them.
When selling my own ideas, I didn’t force myself into a conversation where I talked about something I didn’t care about, and hope that I wouldn’t get rejected. Instead, I was talking about something that I connected to very deeply and passionately—and that passion always came out, despite my reserved nature.
Whenever possible, find something about the product or service you’re selling that really turns you on; something you can’t stop talking about; something you’ll get a “wow” with. Passion is the bedrock of sales, and if you find something you’re passionate about, people will see it and want, if nothing else, to experience that same passion.
I went to college In the late 1970s, at Ohio University (OU). Back then it had a reputation of being a party school. Every year I was there, multiple magazines rated OU as one of the Top 5 Party Schools in the USA. But, apparently that didn’t matter to my engineering professors. They made sure that my engineering classes were excruciatingly difficult.
One of the things I wanted to get out college beside an education was a chance to meet women. Every Friday and Saturday (and often many other nights), the local fraternity houses were having parties, and all the parties were well attended by many of the college’s most beautiful women.
Most engineering students spent the majority of their time studying, and very few participated in social fraternities. But, I did. It was a way to gain access to the people—in this case, ladies—that I wanted to associate with. While my engineering peers were studying on Thursday nights, I was busy dancing the night away at my fraternity’s weekly parties.
I started off as a bump on a log. But, over time, my fraternity brothers coaxed me into doing more and more activities that brought me further and further out of my shell. Before you know it, I was judging sorority beauty contests and coaching sorority intramurals. I even got kissed when we won.
You may not be able to go back in time to your college years, but that’s okay. There are lots of groups you can join that will, despite your initial reservations, help you break down barriers. Moreover, you’ll find that those groups are key in helping you generate sales leads. Extroverts join clubs and groups as well, often for the same reason.
Take Risks; Make Jokes.
Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen to you if you speak up and try and sell yourself? Will you be embarrassed? Will people look at you funny? Will they scream “no!”?
Now, ask yourself: What might you miss out on if you don’t speak up?
Risk is something that you can build up a tolerance to. The more of it you take, the less fearful or averse you’ll be to taking more. And in business, you have to take risks. Start small, and work your way up. Before you know it, asking questions with tough answers won’t seem so tough. You’ll find yourself shrugging off the word “no,” and you won’t bat an eye at the prospect of embarrassing yourself.
In the early days with Patriot Software, I realized that I needed to do a convention in order to help all the recruiters in my network build trust. But if you have a convention, then, generally speaking, you have to have a speaker and an emcee. At my first convention, I didn’t have the business clout to reach out and pull in big name speakers, so I had to give the keynote address and be the master of ceremonies. That’s a lot of talking for someone who is an introvert, but I also knew that my business wouldn’t survive if I didn’t run this convention.
It didn’t take long for the embarrassing things to start happening. During the introductory dinner, I walked out in front of over 100 recruiters and introduced myself. Most of these people had never worked with me face to face, so when they saw how young I was, a group of men in the front shouted incredulously, “You’re Mike Kappel? What are you, like twelve years old?”
“Ha, of course I’m not twelve. Could a twelve-year-old grow a mustache this luxurious?” I said, racing a finger over my mustache. “I’m fourteen!” At least, I think that’s what I said. To be honest, I was so nervous that I’m surprised I even spoke at all. But the joke, especially at my own expense, broke everyone’s tension including my own. Moreover, by the time the convention ended, I had made a slew of new friends. And, for the record, friends are much easier to sell to, regardless of whether you’re an introvert or not.