This is an excerpt from “Lessons From the School of Sales” by Megan Senger, originally published in July–August 2011 IDEA Fitness Journal and available online in the IDEA Library.

Psychology: the study of mental and emotional behaviors.

“The great problem in sales is that we all tend to see the world through our own eyes,” says Brian Tracy of Solana Beach, California, a bestselling author of more than 50 books and 500 audio and video programs on sales, leadership and business success, including The Psychology of Selling (Thomas Nelson 2006). “As a result, we tend to treat everybody else as if they are the way we are.”

Instead, sales success lies in developing the ability to relate to all types of clients, says Tracy, who as a keynote speaker has given more than 5,000 talks and worked with over 1,000 companies worldwide. Tracy explains: “Before you begin to sell, figure out what type of person you are talking to, and then structure your answers and your presentation in such a way that it satisfies their needs rather than yours.”

We sell and speak best to those with whom we are the most alike. So how can you help someone from whom you are psychologically dissimilar decide to buy your services?

Personality Profiles

To strengthen client communications, start by studying psychological behaviors (sometimes known as “personality profile” systems). One of the best-known profile systems is the “DISC” behavioral model.

“The DISC profile illustrates the classic platinum rule: Do unto others as they would have you do,” says Abdilla, who lectures on psychological systems as part of her management consultancy. The DISC system is a framework for quickly understanding the communication preferences of the person you are dealing with, she says. This helps you deal with prospective clients in a way that puts them at ease.

Renowned for its simple, easy-to-apply principles, DISC is an acronym for four behavioral categories or psychological “temperaments”:

Extroverted, fast-paced personalities:

D: director (task-oriented)

I: influencer (people-oriented)

Reserved, slower-paced personalities:

S: steady worker (people-oriented)

C: conscientious worker (task-oriented)

Of course, people are complex creatures who don’t fit perfectly into the molds of these categories. Nevertheless, a general understanding of DISC temperaments can be invaluable in a sales situation.

Consider how you can modulate your sales presentations to each psychological and behavioral style in the DISC system:

1. Results-Oriented D-Type Dominant, Director

  • Behavioral characteristics: A natural leader and decision-maker, the D-type is notoriously impatient, competitive and results-oriented. “It’s impossible not to notice [that D’s] talk fast, might be tapping their foot or looking at their watch,” Abdilla says.
  • Typical career choices: authority and leadership roles: managers, entrepreneurs, physicians, lawyers.
  • How to present information to D-types: “Speed things up, get to the point and know your stuff,” Abdilla says. “Avoid small talk or being overly familiar. The D will be in heaven if you talk results and price, and are competent.”
  • How to mess up the sale: Appear disorganized or engage in meandering chitchat.

2. People-Oriented I-Type: Influencing, Engaging

  • Behavioral characteristics: The consummate “people person,” the I-type loves socializing and having fun. This person moves quickly, like a D, but is probably warmer and friendlier, Abdilla says.
  • Typical career choices: creative and interactive roles: public relations people, event planners, sales people, performing artists (and often fitness pros!).
  • How to present information to I-types: Be upbeat and let them talk, Abdilla says. “Don’t try to control the interaction. Making the I-type feel special and heard is the key.”
  • How to mess up the sale: Bog down the interaction with impersonal technical details.

3. Family-Oriented S-Type: Steady, Supportive

  • Behavioral characteristics: The S-type has a calm demeanor and is warm and accepting, but is also uncomfortable with confrontation and forceful sales pitches, Abdilla says. S’s are good listeners; they are dependable and highly loyal.
  • Typical career choices: caring, empathetic professions in structured work environments: teachers, nurses, counselors, service industry roles.
  • How to present information to S-types: Be a great listener, Abdilla says. “If you can show your sincerity and dependability while being warm and patient, the S will be much more at ease.” Slow down, speak softly, ask a lot of questions and focus on building rapport before talking business.
  • How to mess up the sale: Speak quickly or loudly and push the S buyer to make a fast decision.

4. Detail-Oriented C-Type: Cautious, Conscientious

  • Behavioral characteristics: The C-type has very high attention to detail and likes structure and concrete proof. C’s usually come into a decision-making discussion with specific questions that illustrate their knowledge on a subject, Abdilla says.
  • Typical career choices: technical and precise work: accountants, programmers, engineers, analysts.
  • How to present information to C-types: Focus on quality and be logical and relevant, Abdilla says. Keep emotions out of the picture. “Follow through, keep your promises, be informed, and you will win over the C-type,” she says. Take time to answer all of their questions, preferably in writing. C’s often use long pauses when speaking; resist the urge to interrupt them.
  • How to mess up the sale: Speak too quickly and generally; fail to consider the C’s technical questions as important to the sale.

Limitations and Perspective

All four categories of DISC characteristics are present in everyone to varying degrees. Some people have high tendencies in only one DISC style, while others display strong characteristics of more than one type. A person’s behavioral tendencies can change in different environments (e.g., social, family or work).

Psychological profiles offer a valuable way to focus on your communication style, but they are not a crystal ball, Abdilla says. “Typing can be a wonderful reminder to pay attention. However, any potential gain goes away if you make assumptions or try to predict behavior. For example, [don’t say to yourself,] ‘That guy is a D so he will be mean to me’ or ‘She is a C so she will never buy on the first visit.’”

Think of the DISC system as a compass pointing to a potential trainee’s communication preferences—both in a sales situation and when training in the gym (see the sidebar “DISC in the Gym.”)

With new philosophical and psychological tools under your belt, it’s time for the final course of study: how revenue breaks down by the numbers.