Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Soft Sell

Today’s guest blogger is Adam Halpern. He’s President of Soft Sell, the company he created to train non-sales, “customer-facing” employees to generate sales from every customer interaction. His recent trip to California is actually an adventure in reverse psychology, so I asked him to create a post about it…because everyone (especially a consultant) needs the occasional reminder about how to sell better. His story:

What do you get when you mix sumptuous wine and sarcastic sales people? This sounds like an opening line of a bad joke, but it’s how I spent the last 48 hours of my life: as a keynote speaker for a high-tech software sales conference in Sonoma, CA. The topic of the presentation was Behavioral Styles and Selling – what I like to call “Why do people think salespeople are obnoxious?”

My session was the last one of the day. I had the pleasure of following a riveting 1½ hour session on database modeling. My challenge was to engage an audience that knew I was the only thing standing between them and free food and alcohol.

I opened the presentation with a few thought provoking questions. Why do salespeople seem so irritating? Were they born that way? Is there a “how-to-be-an-annoying-salesman” school that produces people like this? And could their prospective customers have something to do with it?

These questions got their attention. In fact, I told them, a little bit of all these things are true and there is scientific data to back it up. Once you understand the psychological dynamics involved in a salesperson or an overbearing co-worker – or your slave-driver boss – they become less unbearable. And, who knows, you might even start to like them.

People have different preferences in music, automobiles and ice cream. They also have preferences when it comes to interacting with people. These biases are a normal part of defining who you are as a person. The same holds true for communication and behavior styles.

The four types of behavioral styles can be summarized with the acronym “DISC.” DISC assessments are a widely accepted psychology instrument used for quickly analyzing and describing behavioral styles. Let me summarize.

“Dominant,” or “D” behavioral-style individuals, are results-oriented. These people get in your face aggressively when selling. They thrive on solving problems and making quick buying decisions. These individuals are fast-paced and like to be in charge. They become impatient with people or situations that hinder them from accomplishing their goals. So they’re more task-oriented than people-oriented.

“Influence,” or “I” behavioral-style, individuals are frequently thought of as “people persons.” These salespeople talk your ears off until you buy. They’re enthusiastic and upbeat, enjoying the interaction with others in a humorous, lighthearted way. They appear to be the eternal optimists, seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. They are quite persuasive about things they’re passionate about.

“Steadiness,” or “S” behavioral style, is also people-oriented – but at a much slower pace than the “I” style. “S” persons don’t like to be forced into making changes or quick decisions. They’re patient, loyal and calm, making them excellent listeners and peacekeepers when conflict breaks out. Their focus is on cooperation.

“Conscientiousness,” or “C” behavior, is quality-focused, slow-paced, methodical and task-oriented. “C” people focus on the details and are primarily concerned about doing things the “right” or “correct way.” They are analytical and frequently set higher standards for themselves than others.

When I do a seminar at a sales conference, 49% of my audiences are usually D style and 49% is I style. The other 2% are C or S types: they don’t realize they probably should not be in sales. This means most of the people I am presenting to either want me to hurry up and finish, or are ignoring me because they are thinking about the party later that night.

The key to winning over this audience mix is to keep it “edutaining.” Keep the jokes coming. Keep a fast pace. The nice thing about D and I types is that they are not shy. If you do a good job, they have no qualms about telling you so. Of course, the converse is also true.

The presentation was met with a loud round of applause. Selling ideas at a sales conference is no different than selling widgets. Interacting with different customers (and people inside your own company) in the style they like instead of the style you like is the key to making yourself easier to work with and therefore more successful.

People prefer to do business with people they like. The most effective salespeople adjust their communication style to match the behavioral styles of their prospects, customers and associates. The most obnoxious ones don’t.

The trick is staying mentally flexible and adapting accordingly. Learning how to interact more effectively will put you far ahead of the competition. Good luck and good selling!

My thanks to Adam and all the salespeople at the Sonoma conference.


Adam Halpern said...

You know what they say.... behind every great sales trainer is a tall generous man with excellent editing skills.

Anonymous said...

And, behind both those guys just might be a blonde who can get the factual info sales people need to sell to the RIGHT people and that good copywriters need to deliver a message that resonates with those RIGHT prospects.

Who said shameless self-promotion is dead?

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Shameless self-promotion is not dead, Anonymous. Signalwriter is a blog designed to help me market (i.e., promote) my services to prospects and customers…to entertain them…even make ‘em laugh. Sometimes, all three things happen at once. Besides, PT Barnum famously said, "I don't care what they say about me as long as the spell my name right." He’s dead.