Personalities: Match Yourself to Your Client

You must adapt to fit your prospects' distinct personality styles.

November 1, 2004

Michelle, a high-powered executive eager to buy a house, expects her salesperson’s communications to be the same as those of her staff: fast and bottom-line oriented. That way, she can make quick, unemotional decisions. She wants to know about room sizes, condition, price, and taxes. If the house has what she wants, she’ll put in a bid pronto.

But her salesperson wants to lay the groundwork for a warm, cozy relationship. He starts by describing the neighborhood—when it was settled, who’s lived in each home through the years, and when the fall leaves are at their peak colors. Before he gets to the listing’s specifics, the executive has mentally switched salespeople.

What went wrong? The salesperson went on autopilot, failing to adapt to fit the prospect’s distinct personality style.

There’s a fairly easy way to learn to adapt: Use a personality assessment, such as the DISC Personality Profile, to understand your behavioral style as well as that of those you meet. Obviously, you can’t test prospects—but you can try to match them to a type using your knowledge of the test.

That’s just what broker-owner Barbara Brown, GRI, with Realty Executives Excel in Tampa, Fla., has done. Over the last 11 years, she has become a staunch believer that salespeople should be able to recognize the four types of DISC personalities and adjust their sales approach accordingly. She instructs her 31-member sales staff in the DISC system and trains them to heed her spin on the golden rule: “Treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way you do. Don’t change the ideas you present, but change the way you present them.” Here are her recommendations:

Understand the underlying traits of the four main types, but know that most people are a combination.

“D’s” are direct, dominant, demanding decision makers who are self-assured, value results, like to stay in control, and can be blunt. “I’s” are influential, intuitive, inspirational, emotional, and natural-born salespeople who value people involvement. “S’s” are sweet, steady, soothing, family-oriented people who crave stability and security. “C’s” are conscientious, conservative, cautious perfectionists who seek accuracy and order.

Pick up on clues when you meet prospects.

Study body language. Do they face you directly? Analyze their handshake. Is it firm or fishy? D’s will look you in the eye and tell you what they want to buy or what their goals are in selling. “They tend to be talkers, as do I types. C’s and S’s listen more,” Brown says.

Attire can be another indication of type: I’s tend to dress brightly, even flamboyantly; D’s dress professionally—they’re also into status symbols; and S’s and C’s are conservative dressers who favor gray and blue tones, Brown says.

Deliver what they want at every stage.

S sellers, while sweet, also want you to give them their needed sense of security by spelling out in writing the services you’ll offer, walking them through your marketing plan, and arranging for photos almost before you’ve bid good-bye. In contrast, C sellers are more cautious. They want you to spend more time explaining how you arrived at the listing price and even show calculations to prove you’re correct, says Brown, who tries to allay a C’s anxiety by explaining her prior work for detail-oriented attorneys.

As buyers, C’s tend to be concerned with the purchase price, taxes, and long-term appreciation. Even when the deal seems done, they want to go over the details again. D’s, however, will tell you what they want—type of house, how soon they need to move in, what’s most important in a salesperson—and expect you to deliver information and service accordingly. Once they make a decision, they want to get the keys to their castle lickety-split. And they want to spend less time chatting than the I’s do, she says.

Protect them from their fears.

Because D’s fear a loss of control and being taken advantage of, Brown helps them feel they’re in charge by expressing admiration for their professional accomplishments and by answering their “what” questions: What are you doing to sell my house?

With I types, who worry about personal rejection and loss of social approval, she keeps the conversation upbeat, lets them know she enjoys their company, and is ready to respond to their “who” questions: Who are the people who’ve liked my house?

Since S’s are most worried about a loss of security and sudden change, she aims for consistency and predictability, minimizes conflict, and answers their “how” questions: How are we going to ensure that we market the house properly?

For C’s, who often are paralyzed by overanalysis and who fear criticism of their performance, she explains her thought process so that they know she’s accurate. She’s ready for their “why” questions: Why are we charged this amount for the closing?

Adjust to couples.

When partners reveal different traits, Brown fine-tunes her approach so that each person feels acknowledged, she says. If the wife is more dominant and the husband more cautious, she’ll give him facts and figures and let her run the show. But she’s careful not to slight him.

By adjusting her style and encouraging her salespeople to do likewise, Brown finds she’s better able to foster teamwork with consumers and reduce stress levels. “When we understand where consumers are coming from, we all accomplish what we want in a more pleasant way,” she says. She hasn’t quantified the results of this effort in terms of increased listings or sales, however. “That’s not my personality type,” she says.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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