Can an introvert become comfortable with, contribute to and find happiness in business development? That’s the question we’re going to answer in this edition of The Friedman File.

Let me kill the suspense: the answer is yes, introverts can play an effective, satisfying part in your firm’s business development culture. This is a topic I address often in my work, including a recent webinar – “Business Development for Introverts” –  that I presented last month as part of a series for ERP and CRM solutions provider Unanet.

Why Bother?

While business development may not come as naturally to an introvert as it does to an extrovert, the reality is that introverts are often more effective in the role. This can largely be because of their introverted tendencies, rather than in spite of them. Introverts are often subject experts with deep knowledge of how the firm’s services interact with its clients’ challenges. They are also usually good listeners and they ask good questions. All of this frequently leads to fiercely loyal client relationships and repeat work. In fact, clients – some of whom are introverts themselves – sometimes prefer the quieter, more-laid-back approach of the introvert to an extrovert who might come on too strong for their liking.

I always work from the premise that all firms should strive to create a business development culture, where every employee participates in and contributes to a firmwide effort to create opportunities, build client relationships and sell more work. This can help firms achieve their full growth potential, while smoothing the hills and valleys that inevitably come along. It also reduces the risk of having one or a few individuals responsible for all business development.

I also accept the assumption that the A/E/C industry has more than its share of introverts. At a recent class I taught for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), two-thirds of the room self-identified as introverts. For these and many other reasons, it is important to foster business development skills in the introverts among us.

Making it Happen

So how do we make it happen? Here are eight ways that you can turn your introverts into some of your best business developers.

  1. Don’t write them off. Many A/E/C firm principals look at an obvious introvert and immediately disqualify them as potential business developers. This does a disservice not only to the employee, but also to the firm as a whole. Good business development is as much about strategy and tactics as it is any “natural” ability to sell. Introverts can be exceptional business developers; they just may need more help getting there.
  2. Redefine the equation. Many introverts recoil at the idea of “selling.” But the professional services provided by A/E/C firms exist to help clients achieve a goal. Often, all it takes for an A/E/C professional to become interested in and adept at business development is for them to perceive their actions as “helping” rather than “selling.”
  3. Create a shadow. Let them see how it’s done, first-hand. Put them on a call with a satisfied client, then one that isn’t as satisfied. Let them witness the array of situations and how a BD expert handles them. Much the better if that expert also inherently displays introverted tendencies.
  4. Start in “safer” places. Encourage them to hone their networking skills where they’re already comfortable – with peer organizations, community groups and clubs. Schedule them for a lunch-and-learn with the colleagues in their group, then gradually expand the size and diversity of the audience in subsequent events.
  5. Encourage them to prepare meticulously for meetings and events. Many of the stresses that even veteran business developers encounter are due to a lack of preparation. Having good background information on business meeting participants or potential networking subjects can make the process vastly more effective and much less stressful. This means knowing, to the best of their ability, who will be in attendance, and doing some homework (e.g., identifying the contacts they want to meet and the people they already know, learning as much as possible from your firm’s CRM database, LinkedIn profiles and company websites).
  6. Teach them to practice good networking. As with much of the advice here, these tips are helpful for anyone presented with a networking opportunity. Even more so for the introvert. For example, getting to a networking event early avoids the awkward feeling of entering a room and finding that the only way to connect with someone is by interrupting an ongoing conversation. Is there anything more unsettling to an introvert? Arriving early offers ample opportunity to casually begin discussions with new people, and it then is the latecomers who have to bust in on your Other good networking practices include showing curiosity about the other person’s non-work life and interests, asking good (but not too personal) questions, and generally steering clear of anything related to business until a proper rapport has been developed. Training sessions on good networking practices should be standard in all firms.
  7. Stress the value. Smart people will respond when they see the value in taking on a task. When A/E/C professionals understand the relationship between a winning business development culture and the success of the firm and its people, they will almost always step up and at least try. For example, when an architect, engineer or environmental scientist who loves working on a specific type of project understands that their ability to do so hinges on contributing to the BD function, they will be much more likely to see it as a vital mission rather than a distasteful chore.
  8. Let them be themselves. The best – and often only – chance of success for an introvert to become a successful business developer is to avoid faking it or trying to play a role. They need to be themselves, using their own traits, strengths and tools. A quiet introvert trying to be the life of the party is sure to fail. But one that is great at research, and willing to put it to use while also “putting themselves out there” at a BD meeting or networking event, could become one of the firm’s best BD people. It just requires a little grooming and a little practice.

Psychologist Carl Jung said, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” It’s true. Most of us fall somewhere in between, not on the far edges of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. By leveraging the characteristics of introverts that benefit the business development process, and nurturing them so they can tap into the skills that are more typically considered the domain of the extrovert, A/E/C firm leaders can build a BD culture that efficiently and proudly features introverts and extroverts alike.

I’d love to hear any thoughts or stories you have about introverts in the BD function. Write to me at rich@friedmanpartners.comor call me at (508) 276-1101. And please check out my Unanet webinar on this topic at Business Development for Introverts.