Keeping Customer Types in Mind

Sales is business meets friendliness. But one brand of friendliness does not fit all when it comes to customers, who can range from chummy and laidback to difficult and downright rude. Sales is a P2P (people to people) business. Being outgoing, knowing a lot of folks and being open to getting to know more is at the core of who you are. Great. We’ve got you down. Part of your job is to quickly assess the different customer types you encounter as you’re out in the field hoping to generate more business.

Think of it as going to a party. The guy holding court with the lamp shade on his head is going to laugh at your jokes; the woman browsing the bookshelf while the party bubbles around her is probably not going to be opening up to you any time soon.

But unlike a packed party, you encounter customers at separate times, individually. Use your instincts, your intuition, your gut response—whatever you want to call it—to read your customers. If you’re really in tune with that small, soundless voice inside you, you can hone in on a type within the first seconds of meeting them. Or it might take a few minutes. Point being, reading people is a quick-turnaround transaction, so concentrate and pay attention to what your instinct is trying to tell you. Intuition is not an add-on—every human being comes with it. But salespeople are probably in closer contact with theirs, especially if they’ve been in the business for a while.

These “tell-all” signs will help you when attempting to get an accurate read on a customer:

  • Tone of voice
  • Pitch
  • Voice inflection
  • Eye contact/lack thereof
  • Rate of interruption
  • Facial expression
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Handshake (was it quick? was it absent? did it feel like a dead fish?)

Reading the customer is your best tool for building a rapport and for knowing whether you’ll be able to transact further business. Sometimes the answer will be no—they’re the proverbial “tough customer” and you will not bridge the gap and transact a deal with that individual. Fine. Good to know. Now you can take your skillset and move on.

We’ve outlined some typical customer types and how to act around them for optimal results.

The Friendly Type: They’re outgoing, high-energy individuals. Often they’re the ones to initiate small talk. Tilt back your mood recliner to the laidback setting, as they have, and meet them halfway with your energy level. In other words, go with the tone they set, getting into the fun banter with them.

The Business Oriented Type: These folks will have a neutral, serious tone. They’ll dispense with the banter quickly because they’re all about getting around to business sooner rather than later. Tune in to the station in your personality radio that’s not all about how you watched TiVo’d episodes of “Sister Wives” on Friday night, went to a party on Saturday night and spent Sunday checking off items on your honey-do list. The Business Oriented type does not want to hear it. Yes, build rapport, but don’t attempt to BFF this gal or guy. Keep the chitchat to a minimum in favor of getting to the point when the customer indicates that it’s time for that.

The Reserved Type: A calm, quiet demeanor typifies this individual. He or she may or may not open up on a personal level—of any kind—so don’t foist “How was your weekend?” on them. In “Star Trek,” this’d be your Vulcan. Show your enthusiasm for your products and their product needs as a way to engage the Vulcan with talk of your solutions. They expect that. These people are pretty straightforward, so verbal feedback is what you want to pay attention to: His or her words will let you know if what you’re saying is or is not logical for them. Only then will you live long and prosper around the Reserved Type.

The Cautious, Skeptical Type: Shooting the breeze with this type of customer only backfires. Your trained ear will tell you that their tone is ultra-serious. They want to get down to business even faster than a dog goes for a ham bone. And similar to how a dog with a bone might growl to protect it, right out of the gate the Cautious/Skeptical type may raise an objection. Whereas the Business type likely has an open mind about your solution, the cautious customer is a skeptic by nature; some are even know-it-alls. Dial-back your energy level to moderate and, no matter what they spout as far as know-it-all-ness, you must maintain a positive, neutral tone if you want to get anywhere with them. Their tail will not be wagging, but with the right approach you can do business with this type.

When assessing who you’re dealing with customer-wise, keep an open mind to other possibilities as well. This isn’t a scientifically mapped personality test we’re talking about, just common sense from years in sales. Certain individuals will fit into more than one category. Be careful not to misread someone as a Business type when, in actuality, they might be the Friendly type—they just can’t relate to the Monster Truck recap you were hoping to bond with them over. Find the right topic of interest to them.

Anytime, whether on the phone or in person, use your intuition to assess who you’re dealing with, and then create a comfortable atmosphere for them. It’s called people smarts, and it goes a long way in this P2P world.