Great salespeople are born and made. Traits like assertiveness (the ability to be self-assured without being aggressive) and analytical skills (the ability to solve customer problems) tend to be genetic gifts. Optimism can be learned, according to some psychologists, though it’s far easier if you’re naturally confident and upbeat. But three other key sales characteristics—empathy, self-awareness and being a good listener—usually have to be mastered.
That’s only half the challenge. Successful selling increasingly depends on recognizing your customer’s “communication style”—the ways in which someone talks and behaves—and adapting yourself to that style. It’s learning to pay close attention to not only what a client says, but also how he or she says it.
Furthermore, communication styles have a critical non-verbal component: body language. You can tell a lot about a customer’s intentions by what he or she does not say. Paying attention to the tone and pitch of voice, posture, hand, arm and leg gestures, and whether eye contact is made—all of this provides clues to what’s on someone’s mind, even if he or she isn’t saying as much. Reading body language is a way to gauge the gap between what someone says and what that individual really means.
Why bother with communication styles? Understanding someone’s personality helps you with most aspects of selling. It gives you an instant bond with a customer or prospect, meeting on his or her own psychological turf. It helps you zero in on the client’s needs, challenges and problems—and lets you craft a solution designed to answer questions or concerns. It also gives you the tools to respond quickly and appropriately to pushback or obstacles thrown your way. The more you know about someone, the less apt you are to lose your patience, your temper or a potential client. As you become better equipped to handle different communication styles, you’re in a better position to avoid conflict and deal with just about any personality. So armed, you can more easily broaden your customer base.
Training consultants generally differentiate three or four, and sometimes five or more, distinct communication styles. They tend to focus on motivation, behavior, personality characteristics, decision-making habits, approaches to problem solving, verbal and non-verbal cues and even the uses of time that typify each group.
Here are some of the ways consultants think about different types of communication styles:
What’s the toughest personality to work with?
“There is no one difficult style,” says Lawrence A. Williams, cofounder of Williams Leslie Group, a business training and consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. “The most frustrating person to work with is one whose style is opposite to yours.” If you have a controlling personality (assertive, but reserved, structured and results-oriented), he adds, your biggest challenge will probably be in dealing with a facilitating type—someone who is receptive, responsive, cooperative and people-focused.
Williams offers some non-verbal tips for discerning personality and communication styles:
Clearly, there’s no one definitive approach to pinning personalities to a grid. While most of us probably fall predominantly into one quadrant or another, people are complex and resist strict categorization. The fact is that many of us likely have at least some characteristics of each distinct type, even if one style dominates.
While these categorizations are useful in appreciating different personalities and communication styles, they’re just a start. You still have to take every client as he or she comes, and realize that the client is unlikely to change, no matter how good a salesperson you are. That said, you stand a much better chance of closing a deal the more you understand your customers’ behaviors—and the more you adapt your own conduct to their styles.