At a time when being loud and overly confident can seem like the key character traits of a successful entrepreneur, it might be reassuring to know that some of the most successful business people of our time – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page – are all introverts.
Being an introvert does not necessarily mean you are shy or reclusive – rather introverts are people who tend to focus on an inner world of ideas and experiences, according to the Myers & Briggs Foundation. Characteristics include a preference for written communication, being private and contained and feeling comfortable being alone.
While aggressive sales techniques may be used by car dealers and the more brash entrepreneurs, introverts need to make the most of their own skill set to really nail sales, says Beth Buelow, author of The Introvert Entrepreneur. She says: “Introverts are really good listeners and have a strong ability to problem solve and connect to people on an emotional level.”
When it comes to pitching or meeting new customers, introverts need to know their product inside and out, Buelow adds. “The key point is to go in and ask really good questions. Don’t worry about how you’re going to pitch, you need to focus on what your customer needs and how your product can best solve their problem.”
Mike Southon, entrepreneur and author of The Beermat Entrepreneur: Turn Your Good Idea into a Great Business, is a firm believer in letting customers do the selling for you. “If someone is saying I’m a brilliant this or that, then they’re selling too much,” he says. “Get your customer to sell for you, actively or passively. Extroverts would want to shout about it but your customers should be doing it too.” In practice, he says, this would work by business owners writing a case study of a customer based on their use of the product or service, which could then be published on the company’s website.
“Case studies are everything, everyone likes a story. Tell people the story, how your business solved their problem and what the result was.”
Pitching your product to a room full of people can be anxiety-inducing for most people – especially introverts – but it can be necessary, believes David Samuel, the managing director and founder of telecoms business and mobile virtual network operator 24 Seven.
“Unfortunately, it’s how a lot of businesses operate. But I think if you know and define your audience well and understand their needs, then sales pitches become easier. Being an introvert, of course, doesn’t mean you know your product any less well. In fact, I think the opposite is true. When in a sales situation or meeting a new client, rather than giving the 30-minute [sales pitch] into why they ought to work with us, I’m able to offer them the facts and the details about why they should want to work with us and how this will help achieve their objectives.”
Buelow says that while many introverts prefer to socialise one-to-one, in a professional context, a steady stream of one-to-one networking meetings or promotional conversations can chip away at their energy as interactions can be more intense and the stakes generally higher than in casual social situations.
She encourages introverts to get comfortable with public speaking as it enables business owners to target more people at once. “If you are public speaking you are in control and are positioned as an expert. You’re also able to prepare.”
While the thought of networking may fill many introverts with dread, making new connections can be valuable for growing the business. Instead of avoiding it completely, experts recommend introverts are selective in the events they attend.
“They need to learn what type of networking event they’re most comfortable at,” says Buelow. “If there’s a speaker on, it gives people something to talk about after. Conferences are great for networking too, as typically a shy person isn’t going to enjoy entering a big room of 100 people with no structure.”
Self-confessed introvert Lyndsey Haskell, founder of online garden gift shop What You Sow, recommends going to talks or presentations that are followed by networking sessions.
“It means you have something to talk about following the presentation and your first interaction will often be to ask if a seat is free,” she says. “This can then lead on to the next conversation – such as ‘Have you been to one of these events before?’ or other similar questions that invite a dialogue. If I stay for two hours and have really good memorable conversations with two other people, I see it as a success.”
Buelow suggests that before making unsolicited sales calls, entrepreneurs should first consider whether it is necessary. If cold calling can’t be avoided, prepare by sending a warm-up email or by engaging with a potential customer through social media, by commenting on a post or sharing a tweet. “It puts you on their radar and acquaints you more; so you could start the call by saying you liked that Facebook post they wrote – it shows it’s not such a cold call on your end.”
As for the call itself, Buelow suggests entrepreneurs write a script of what they want to say and rehearse the first and final sentence. “How you open and close your talk is important, you can trust the middle to take care of itself as that will be about listening.” During the call itself, she suggests standing up and smiling to help inject a dose of confidence and friendliness.
“The best way I have succeeded in overcoming my fears of meeting new people and business meetings has been to rehearse and know my lines,” says Sandra Lewis, the founder and director of virtual assistant company Worldwide101. “When I very first started in business, I would have my notes and I would over-prepare my pitches until I knew them by heart. This helped me relax, and over time I have been able to overcome my shyness in most situations. It’s a great way to gain confidence.”
Introverts can also find solace in making meaningful connections through social media. Buelow, who describes herself an introvert, says she uses online and social media to connect with others. “That’s what’s comfortable to me. I reach out via podcasting and that’s proven to be an efficient way for me.”
As she says: “You have to figure out what is the most energy efficient way to reach people who need to hear your message.” It may be daunting, but stepping outside of your comfort zone can lead to big rewards.
By Suzanne Bearne