The 4 most important customer types
Dealing with the customer, the salesperson’s daily bread, is not always easy. It’s only human that we’re good with some, less good with others and can’t manage some at all. In most cases, however, a salesperson can’t afford to deal only with people they like – flexibility is required, and in sales everyone would be well advised to get to grips with a little sales psychology. As well as understanding the superficial tips and tricks in the manipulation toolbox, you will find it is fun and more interesting if you also understand the foundations on which they are based.
From the late 1990s, fuelled by progress in brain imaging research, it became increasingly clear that rationality was far less important than emotions as the driving force of human action. Sales, brand management and the like by their very nature are a broad field over which to implement these findings in consumer research, which is why there are numerous practical models based on these results today.
Emotional System vs. Hierarchy of Needs
There are models from a number of neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and other researchers, often named after their developers, and these are always undergoing revision. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, for example, originated in the USA in the 1950s and is still often referred to. In it, human needs are arranged in a hierarchy in order to derive the effects of satisfaction or non-satisfaction of those needs.
From this, salespeople have learned, for example, that a deal is in jeopardy if the customer feels he has been pushed into a corner, or that he will not follow the sales discussion if he is thirsty. Too simple? Be honest now, how often during a day filled to the brim with meetings do we forget to offer a glass of water to a customer who just got out of a taxi on a hot summer’s day?
Whilst in the 1970s researchers tended to investigate external influences on the needs of the individual, as can be seen from the Milieus of the Sinus market research institute, newer models look into the brain of the individual. For example, the article by German psychologist and university lecturer Hans-Georg Häusel in his publication “Think Limbic!” postulates three major emotional systems that determine human behaviour in addition to basic physiological needs:
- Balance (or the need for security, stability, order, social structure)
- Dominance (or the pursuit of power, status, assertion, gain)
- Stimulation (or curiosity, hunger for experience, striving for reward and recognition)
Depending on individual factors, the system can identify up to seven or more distinct marketing personas. These can be sub-divided further, but we can leave that to theorists and brand management experts.
For everyday sales, it is sufficient to differentiate between the 4 most important customer types in order to be better prepared than most for any sales discussion.
1. The Doer
The doer doesn’t like half measures. He is direct, demanding, has little or no time and wants everything, and wants it immediately. It is not hard to see that he is striving for dominance in the form of power and assertion.
How do you recognise a doer? Pretty quickly by his appearance in most cases. His gaze is firm and direct, he doesn’t spend long on polite greetings, gets straight to the point. He wants to lead the conversation, asks questions so that you realise that you are his supplier. Doers don’t have much patience. They know what they want and won’t stay long if they don’t feel that this is exactly what the meeting is about.
Tedious explanations, multi-clause sentences, dubious information, putting them off until later, any kind of banal conversation about the weather, uncomfortable ‘Ahs’ and ‘Hms’ are definitely out of place.
- Crossing your arms in front of your chest signals a defensive attitude and will only challenge him to more of the same – so don’t do it.
- Don’t fiddle with buttons, fingers, pens.
- When seated, do not cross your legs, do not twitch your feet rhythmically.
- Maintain eye contact – to avoid excessive staring, look at the root or bridge of the other person’s nose.
- Stand or sit with your back straight, your legs shoulder-width apart on the floor and your arms open but close to your body.
- Make explanations concentrated and in concise sentences.
- Make suggestions with an alternative to the choice on offer and leave the decision to the customer.
- Never correct this customer and do not make him think that he is wrong. If he is actually about to make a wrong decision, put it this way or something similar: “Most people have always done it this way (“your alternative”), but I am sure you have good reasons for (“his alternative”).“
Doers make for good customers as they enjoy making decisions and are prepared to pay good money for good service. This means they are very receptive towards sales arguments based on quality. However, doers also see it as sport to exploit any wiggle room they sense. This means that you need to be clear and precise in your pricing.
2. The Expert
This type of customer is particularly common amongst technicians, financial controllers and scientists. Every decision is investigated down to the smallest detail. This can take quite some time. They strive for dominance, but this is expressed more in terms of expertise and goes hand in hand with a need for balance (mainly in the sense of security and avoidance of mistakes).
How do you recognise the expert? Being a thorough analyst, he will drive you up the wall with questions. He likes to leave out unnecessary pleasantries, and he has done his homework thoroughly. He is keen to let you know this from the very beginning.
- Avoid appointments with these kinds of customers if you are not thoroughly prepared.
- Don’t make comments that you cannot support with depth information or facts.
- Don’t get involved in a “who’s smarter” battle, because if you win the fight, you lose the customer.
- Be willing to provide further information and have info sheets ready. This type of customer actually reads technical descriptions and is keen to devour anything that helps him improve his assessment.
- Ask him technical questions. When talking to people like this it is worth obtaining feedback on your own and competitors’ products.
- Praise his expertise and ask him for details such as prices, service or support. He will willingly share his knowledge and enjoys these kinds of conversations.
- Be punctual and be assiduous about keeping deadlines, appointments, promises
The expert can also sometimes come across as not very polite, a bit of a know-it-all or tedious as a customer, but with the right approach he is always useful for you as a salesperson. With this customer you can score points with small differences to competitor products, which others won’t even understand, and also achieve a higher price. And even if he doesn’t buy, his feedback on competing products and your own presentation is useful.
3. The Loyal Networker
The loyal networker exists in all industries. He is firmly convinced that it is to his advantage to belong somewhere. He builds on lasting, proven relationships and takes great care to nurture them. He is driven by his need for balance in the sense of stability and reliability, whilst at the same time he strives for stimulation in the sense of new contacts which he would like to integrate into his inner circle.
How do you recognise a loyal networker? The easiest way is the fact that he talks about suppliers and business partners with possessive adjectives and knows them all by name: “my IT consultant”, “my hardware dealer”, “my press agent”, …
- On no account criticise anyone in this customer’s network – even if he does it himself and even if the criticism is absolutely justified.
- He will always defend his network against attack and exclude you if it really comes down to it.
- Help the loyal networker with what he loves: being part of something. Whenever possible, involve him and let him participate.
- Invite him to subscribe to the newsletter, provide him with frequent updates on decision-making processes, get his opinion, even if you don’t really need it.
- Introduce him to people when the opportunity arises and recommend experts from your circle to him, whenever it seems appropriate.
- Feel free to drop the names of contacts that you have in common, but to be on the safe side always do it without evaluation.
The loyal networker is, if kept in a good mood and satisfied, a grateful and loyal customer. The routine tasks of customer care fall on fertile ground with him. He will recommend you to others and will willingly give you feedback on the performance of your colleagues and employees.
4. The Socalizer
The Socialiser, like the loyal networker, loves to get to know people, find out new things, make contacts and make friends. He’s often the life and soul of the party. However, he is more fickle when it comes to maintaining his contacts, and he will often make his purchasing decision based on liking somebody or the appeal of the new. His main drive is stimulation, he is curious and always on the lookout for the next big thing or the latest industry gossip which nobody else is in on. His striving for dominance often comes across as vanity and he wants everybody to think he’s a great guy.
How do you recognise a socialiser? Small talk flows effortlessly with him and conversation can stray far from the subject. He is a good listener and is interested in you, even if he may have forgotten your name.
- Never come at this type of customer with too many technical details, facts or product information.
- Don’t give him the impression that you are only interested in closing the sale, or you will quickly lose him.
- You have to sell yourself to this customer before you do anything else. He’s all about the relationship, not the purchase.
- He responds well to compliments and likes to earn recognition.
- The new trend of storytelling is well aligned with this type of customer. Tell him a story about your product, about its inventor, how they came up with the ingenious idea – anything that entertains the customer and makes your product interesting, unique and personal.
- It is also worth noting down personal things and using them in conversation: his golf handicap, car, family, culinary preferences, …
This customer will also remain loyal to you and recommend you to others as long as you remain interesting for him and he enjoys talking to you. If he appreciates you as an interesting business contact, he will also be less price-sensitive; entertaining conversations are worth more to him than discussions about price.
Conceptual Models vs. Reality
So these are the 4 most important customer types as far as our article is concerned. As I said, there are much more finely graduated models, but no matter how many types we differentiate, each typology will always be a simplification. This helps us to find a communication style that will not hinder the possibility of a successful sale, and at its best will even boost it.
But just as the whole discipline of sales psychology is only one of many varieties of applied science, a sales discussion reveals only a few facets of the human personality. We cannot judge how the same person is as a family member, spouse, employer or travel companion, nor can we judge the external circumstances that currently prevail. There are no patent recipes. So make use of what is in the sales psychology toolbox and get to grips with the theory a little. Then you will not only enjoy the challenge of the sales discussion more but are sure to also improve your social skills just as much as your close rate.