Your Fast Swimmers May Not Be Closing Sales

My sales career began with no formal training.  I was given a desk, phone and basic office supplies in a sink or swim, commission-only opportunity.  The reality of having no income was motivation enough to learn how to swim and swim fast.  If you have fast swimmers in your organization, chances are you have at least one salesperson (likely more), who is working hard and failing to close closable deals.  Does that sound familiar?  The sad truth is that some people are born underachievers, but most are created by simply believing that being a fast swimmer will bring success.

Early on, I made a memorable sales call.  Armed with samples, brochures and product knowledge, I proceeded to inform the customer how many ways we could be of service.  I actually thought that that my prospect would be impressed.  Instead, of generating enthusiasm, my efforts were returned with polite ho-hum and vacant eyes.  I drove a fair distance to meet for a half hour and left with absolutely nothing.

In subsequent review, my sales manager asked me one question.  What do you know about the prospect?  I had to admit that I spent so much time making the presentation that I failed to get to know the person, who was asking me for help.

In competitive swimming from local swim clubs, to college teams and to Olympic athletes there are four strokes.  Success in the pool requires proficiency in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and of course freestyle.  Swim only freestyle and the world of competitive swimming has no place for you.

Having a single approach for making a sales presentation is similar to having the ability to swim only one stroke in the pool.  Unless the event is strictly freestyle, the final result will always be the same.  Swim the event to exhaustion only to find a disqualification card raised at the end of the race.  Yet somehow, we continue to believe the next race will be different. We win some and lose more without really knowing why.  We try harder until burnout occurs and come to believe sales is not a viable career.  That is truly tragic and avoidable.

So, what does a salesperson do to quickly create a medley of strokes that will win the race and eventually win the championship meet in a sink or swim context.  The secret of highly successful salespeople is the ability to assess the personality of the customer and to adapt their style of communication throughout the sales cycle, sometimes instinctively on the fly.  Only then will the salesperson be able to adequately determine the pain points that drives the customer’s request for help to find a solution that satisfies their need.

If that sounds like you need a degree in psychology, don’t worry. The hard work has already been done for you.  Many psychologists have expressed in various ways that people can be divided into four basic personality groups.  This blog will present a summary of a method known as the DISC assessment. Links to other helpful sites will be provided below.   Although some highbrow academic types find fault with DISC, I like it because it is easy to understand and quickly put into practice.  You don’t need a college degree.  What may not work for a psychologist, works just fine for a salesperson.

Four personality divisions create the acronym DISC: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance.   Essentially, everyone is on the spectrum somewhere and always in a unique combination of these four attributes.  These are your four swimming strokes.  Use them and experience an increase in sales.

Dominance – “D” types are strong-willed and want to run the show.  These tough customers will be demanding and test the salesperson before buying to determine if the vendor can meet expectations. They often come across as cold.   They don’t take a lot of time to make decisions and often become very loyal customers.  There is nothing wrong with a Type “D” person.  These are good people.  Get to the point, and offer a solution that makes sense and you may leave with a signed proposal.  Attempts to engage in chit chat or dwelling on details that are not requested by a Type “D” will reduce your chances of getting the order.
Summary Type "D" - Task Focus, Active

Influence – “I” types like to talk, and they want to be socially accepted.  These are the types that become enthusiastic about something and want to tell everyone.  They will assume optimistically before you begin the presentation that your solution will be perfect.  They want to like you, and if you are equally energetic, positive and sociable in return, they will want to do business with you forever.  Moreover, they will tell others and recommend you because they thrive on social recognition.  Failure to engage in lively, mutually affirming chit chat will not be helpful in getting a signature on the contract.
Summary Type "I" -Active, People Focus

Steadiness – “S” types are calmly careful.  These are the pleasers, listeners and cooperative team players.  They may be into feelings and want to know how things will proceed.  Laid-back people need to live in a comfort zone and to have warm rapport.  One indicator of an “S” type would be modest dress and quiet speech.  They are highly considerate of others.  Explain how your solution will benefit others and they will trust you.  Give them plenty of time to ask questions.   If you approach an “S” type with high energy, and aggressive enthusiasm, if you move too fast and leave out details, they may likely view you as a huckster and move on.
Summary Type "S" - People Focus, Reflective

Compliance – “C” types follow the rules and ask a lot of questions.  The sales presentation must be precise with an analytical approach.  Details are important.  Leave emotions at the door.  They deal in facts and prefer written documentation to logically support your formal, methodical presentation.  If you engage in small talk, they just want to get to the facts.  Type “C” people are motivated to quietly analyze a problem, develop a systematic approach for solving that problem, putting a detailed plan together and then implementing it to perfection.   The salesperson who will work with a Type “C” person in this manner will not only get the purchase order, but will enjoy repeat business after a successful well-coordinated installation.
Summary Type "C - Reflective, Task Focus

Understand that people are complex and unique.  Everyone has some of each of these four attributes in their personality. One is not better than another, just different.  For example, some people are a high “D” and medium “C” combination.  While your next appointment may be with someone on the cusp between “S”  and "I", displaying shades of behavior of both types.

Be aware and begin assessing where the prospect may fall on the spectrum from the first communication all the way through the sales cycle.  Actively monitor yourself and adapt your style to fit the uniqueness of each situation. Be prepared to change your approach at any time.  Even the most consistent personalities can move on the spectrum as a result of private issues or just how they feel on a certain day.  Remember that most people are a combination of all four types in various strengths.  Appreciate that such diversity is a good thing that makes us stronger together than as a group of homogenous individuals.  Practice DISC and they are all equally "sellable".

Your job as salesperson is to meet the prospect as they are and to serve them accordingly with a solution.  That means presenting that solution in a manner that is meaningful to the customer.  You are not being fake or disingenuous.  You are communicating with the customer in the best way for them to fully understand and appreciate what you propose to help them.  They want your assistance, otherwise they would not have agreed to meet with you.  You want the sale.  Using the DISC assessment is an honest technique of respecting the customer for who they are and providing them with what they want in a style that is meaningful to them.

These are your four swim strokes to win the race and to swim with the sharks.  Understanding the four personality types is equally valuable in residential sales as well as in commercial sales.  The successful salesperson must certainly be organized, confident and have command of product knowledge.  There is no substitute for listening to the customer and being absolutely sure that you fully understand their points of pain by asking well formulated questions.  You will communicate effectively from day one according to your assessment of the customer’s DISC profile.  Rest assured, if you are tuned in, the customer will instinctively provide you with verbal and non-verbal feedback to guide your dynamic DISC assessment all through the sales process.   Bottom line, problems are resolved.  Needs are met, and everyone, including you, is mutually happy.

If you would like additional information regarding DISC and personality assessment, here are some websites with more detailed information.  We have no financial interest in or endorse any of these sites.  They are provided only as an aid to your valuable understanding of DISC.

Good selling!


DISC Assessment Wheel - Basic

DISC Assessment Wheel - Detailed

What Is a DISC Profile?

What is DISC?

DISC Profiles in Selling

How the DISC behavioral model helps you sell


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