Salesperson, Know Thy Customer

It takes all kinds to make a world, so it's important to understand the different personality types -- and tailor pitches accordingly

By Michelle Nichols

George Bernard Shaw once said, "It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics." Well, I recently came across an amazing statistic while doing some research on applying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test to sales: Around 90% of customers don't go about buying the way individual salespeople prefer to sell. So, if you want to close more sales, getting in step with customers' different personalities is essential. Think of today's column as the sequel to the column I wrote not so long ago (see BW Online, 5/17/02, "Salesperson, Know Thyself").

In selling, as in anything else we do in life, the natural assumption is to apply the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you want to sell successfully, however, you need to adopt the Salesperson's Platinum Rule: To increase sales, sell to your customers the way they want to buy. It's not easy, but developing that skill will help to close sales -- and that should be all the motivation you need to make the effort.


  First, a little about the Myers-Briggs test, which is highly regarded by business people and counselors the world over. It was developed almost 60 years ago and has been thoroughly tested. My statistics are drawn from studies of Americans, but I'll make the assumption that they remain fairly representative of customers the world over.

As Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger point out in The Art of Speedreading People: How to Size People Up and Speak Their Language, about half of all our customers are what Myers-Briggs would classify as extroverts (E) and the other half are introverts (I). Since most salespeople are extroverts, and we naturally prefer to sell the way we like to buy, we can safely assume we are getting off on the wrong foot with half of our customers.

As you begin the selling process, consider what information your customer pays attention to. Sensers (S), who heed facts and past experiences, make up 65% of the population. That leaves one-third who are intuitive (N), paying more attention to their gut feelings about how the product you're selling will affect their future.


  When I sat down to write a recent customer presentation, my own intuitive personality led me to draft a dreamy opening. "Imagine if..." I began. Later, when I reviewed my work, I laughed. I had been proceeding on the assumption that my audience thought the same way that I did. So I rewrote the presentation to appeal to the two-thirds of any salesperson's audience that the Myers-Briggs statistics say are likely to be sensers.

How our customers make their buying decisions is the next dimension of Myers-Briggs, and a very important step for salespeople to grasp. About two-thirds of men are thinkers (T) and will act objectively and logically. Two-thirds of women are feelers (F), and they will decide on emotion, particularly the consideration of how others will be affected. If you don't have any information about a customer, you can make an assumption based on their gender. Of course, that means that one-third of men are feelers (we refer to them as "the sensitive type") and one-third of all women are thinkers.

Finally, we must consider how quickly our customers prefer to make their buying decisions. Judgers (J) feel uncomfortable until they have made up their minds. This means they are quick deciders. These folks make up about 60% of your customers. Perceivers (P), the other 40% of your customers, feel uncomfortable making decisions, so they tend to stall about signing off on a final choice.


  It's when you put all four dimensions together -- introvert/extrovert, senser/intuitive, thinker/feeler, and judger/perceiver -- and take the measure of the overlapping Myers-Briggs personality styles that the numbers really become breathtaking.

If you're a salesperson with an ESTJ profile, for example, you're going to match the personality style of only 12%-15% of your customers. On the other end of the spectrum, if you're an INTJ or an INFJ, you'll be in sync with no more than 3% of customers. My brain turns into a pretzel just thinking about all the different combinations!

There are several ways business owners and sales managers can apply these Myers-Briggs insights to growing their sales. For instance, when hiring or scheduling, you might want to have a balance of personality styles helping your customers. When planning advertising or marketing, consider whether your ads cover all your customers. With 65% of Americans known to be sensers, that explains why we see more ads pushing numbers and percentages rather than claims about how a product will make you feel. If you're a small-business owner, you might want to share this wisdom with your employees -- it may very well improve interpersonal communications and team-building, which will help your outfit sell more.


  Salespeople, I recommend you first discover your own personality type. Next, learn how to read your customer's buying style. Third, and most important of all, master the skill of selling to those with buying styles different from your own.

The title of a book I saw recently sums everything up in a few simple words. Written by Roger R. Pearman and Sarah C. Albritton, it's called, I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just Not You. Your customers aren't crazy either -- they're just not the same personality type you see when you look in the mirror. So sell to them the way they want to buy. Happy Selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at

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