November 29, 2007

Four Types of Decision Makers: How to Reach Them

It takes all kinds. That goes for decision makers, too.

The problem is that sometimes their kind isn't our kind. And if we don't consciously make an effort to adjust our style to match theirs, we're likely to communicate to the one audience we really understand: ourselves.

Here are guidelines for communicating persuasively, in person or in print, to the four most common types of decision makers.

Four Types of Decision Makers: How to Reach Them

People are different, of course. But there are some guidelines that can help us deal effectively with certain types of decision makers. Some of these guidelines are based on research into personality types, and some of them are based on research into communications theory. Either way, if it helps you get your message across.

Pragmatic decision makers:

Pragmatic decision makers are focused on the bottom line. They value feeling in control and become irritated by inefficiency or indecision. In your presentations and proposals, they mainly want to know what will it do for me, how soon, and at what price? The delivery style they prefer is concise, focused, and objective. If you make them uncomfortable, they become bossy, assertive, or aggressive. Sometimes they just shut down completely and don't return your calls.

Your key strategies:

  1. Show that you support their business or technical goals and objectives.
  2. Keep the relationship businesslike.
  3. Focus on facts, not feelings.
  4. Be precise, efficient, and well organized in your writing and presenting.
  5. Provide a few alternatives and indicate their probability of success.
  6. Always show how your recommendations will help achieve the decision maker's objectives.

Visionary decision makers:

Visionaries are entrepreneurial. Geoffrey Moore, in Crossing the Chasm, calls them "the early adopters." They value intelligence, creativity, imagination, flexibility, and energy. They are likely to listen to what you say and immediately transform it in terms of their ideas or goals. They need to know how your products or services help them achieve their goals. In your presentations and proposals, they react favorably to high energy, excitement, commitment, focused interest, and sensory stimulation. Detail, routine, and boring processes are a turn off for these people, and once they decide you're not the person they want to work with, they will turn against you, become sarcastic or disruptive, and may even attack you or your ideas.

Your key strategies:

  1. Support their ideas.
  2. Don't argue with them, especially regarding details or factual points.
  3. Keep your presentations fast moving, interesting, and concise.
  4. Don't pressure or hurry the decision maker.
  5. Get their agreement and commitment to details and deadlines in writing.
  6. Use humor, ingenuity, color, splash, and dash in your proposal and presentation.
  7. Use testimonials and success stories from successful, high-profile clients to influence the decision process.

Consensus-seeking decision makers:

Consensus seekers are sincere and care about the feelings of others. They tend to get lost in technical details. They value close working relationships and want to know that you are dependable and that what you are recommending will be beneficial for all concerned. They want you to be pleasant, trustworthy, and reliable, so they are upset by insensitivity, self-interest, or pressure. Oddly enough, when they become uncomfortable, they are likely to give in and agree, then later become obstructive or resentful.

Your key strategies:

  1. Support and respect their feelings.
  2. Demonstrate personal interest in the project and decision maker.
  3. Proceed informally and carefully, building rapport and clarifying goals.
  4. Practice "active" listening, particularly feeding back what you hear them say.
  5. Back up recommendations with personal assurances of your support.
  6. Minimize risk for the decision maker.
  7. Base your persuasion at least in part on the positive consequences your solution will have for the people involved.
  8. Gently keep meetings and presentations on track, but allow time for personal talk.
  9. Establish mutual deadlines, schedules, and objectives, but indicate flexibility.
  10. Document key decisions, commitments, and action steps.

Analytical decision makers:

Analytical decision makers think that they can't decide anything until they know everything. They want lots of information and will examine it closely. They value being correct, so they want you to be accurate, precise, and logical in your proposals and presentations. They want to know how your solution will work, how it will be implemented and supported, and how they can logically justify it. They hate surprises and unpredictability, and will demonstrate their discomfort by withdrawing from the task and the relationship even to the point of avoiding you.

Your key strategies:

  1. Show patience and support for their thoughtful, organized approach.
  2. Demonstrate your competence.
  3. Provide solid, tangible, factual evidence for what you claim.
  4. Remember that accuracy is a primary virtue for this decision maker.
  5. List the advantages and disadvantages of your recommendations or plans; give priority position to the advantages.
  6. Allow the decision maker time to verify what you have said.
  7. Follow up personal contacts with written communications.
  8. Be systematic, exact, organized, and well prepared.
  9. Base your persuasion on accuracy and logic; avoid gimmicks and emotion.
  10. Provide guarantees and factual evidence that your solution will work.

Remember: If you don't understand your audience, you end up writing to yourself. And your chances of being right are no better than one in four!

To learn more about reaching your customers efficiently and effectively, visit us at

November 16, 2007

Sales Productivity: Where Do Sales People Spend Their Time?

Sales productivity is one of the hot topics of recent years. Unfortunately, there's generally been more heat than illumination.
But George Smith used the principles of total quality management to analyze sales processes. He found out where the "average" sales person is spending time and how to eliminate some of the waste. We've summarized his findings in the accompanying message. How do you think his numbers compare to your sales team?

Sales Productivity: Where Do Sales People Spend Their Time?

How do sales people spend their time? How many hours do they work and how much of that effort is productive?
In Sales Productivity Measurement, published by ASQC Quality Press, George A. Smith, Jr. summarizes research from a variety of sources. He found that the average sales person works 47 hours a week, but the majority of that time was spent on non-selling activities. In fact, Smith suggests that 50% might be a conservative estimate of non-selling time.

A typical distribution of effort looks like this:

  • Face-to-face selling: 25%
  • Telephone selling: 15%
  • Waiting/traveling: 22%
  • Proposals, presentations: 12.5%
  • Order preparation: 10.25%
  • Administrative tasks: 6%
  • Internal paperwork: 6%
  • Order follow-up: 3%

These numbers suggest that only 40% of a typical sales person's time is spent in direct customer contact.

New technology may eliminate some of the need for traveling. Using Internet-based presentation systems, sales people can make presentations in real time, talking with one or many prospects over the telephone while everybody has the same information displayed interactively on their computers. (For example, visit for an example of this kind of technology.)

But for many sales people, travel will always be necessary. It's going to be difficult to sell a big ticket solution without some face-to-face contact. Instead, the big gain will come from eliminating or slashing the amount of time spent on labor-intensive activities, particularly the creation of proposals and presentations.

In fact, I think in a few years it will seem as silly to do proposals and presentations the old-fashioned way, cutting and pasting and writing by hand, as it would be to go back to typewriters.

To learn more ways to improve sales force productivity through automation, visit us at

November 7, 2007

Shortening the Sales Cycle

My favorite sales experience involved a national company based in Chicago. I got a call late one evening from a member of the sales vice president's staff. "Do you have proposal automation software?" he asked. "Would you be willing to demonstrate it to us next week?" Yes and yes.

The next week we were in Chicago. I was about fifteen minutes into the demo when the senior vice president of sales leaped up and said, "That's it! That's exactly what I envisioned. Get it." And with that he left the room. Ten days later we had a signed contract and a check.

Unfortunately, most of our sales cycles aren't that short. How about yours? If you'd like to shorten the sale cycle, this is a good message for you. It focuses on how effective follow-up communications can reduce the length of the sales process.

Shortening the Sales Cycle

Bringing a deal to closure can seemingly take forever. It may be even more difficult today than ever before. Think about the characteristics of selling in today's markets.

Often you are selling not to an individual, but to a team. And that team is composed of people with different, sometimes conflicting views of what your solution should do and how it should be judged.

Typically, you're under severe cost pressure. And the analysis of costs goes much deeper than merely acquisition price.

Finally, you're expected to demonstrate positive business impact. Your decision team is looking for a solution that will improve their operations, their bottom line, their use of technology--all at the same time probably!

So that's a lot to handle. No wonder it takes so long to close a deal.

Here's a little secret that one of the largest high-technology companies in the world found several years ago:

Backing up sales calls with good written communication reduces the selling cycle by as much as 86%!

This is an insight that has also been offered by some of the leading sales training organizations. In fact, the Solution Selling curriculum emphasizes the importance of putting every step of the sales cycle into writing.

Why does it work? And how can you take advantage of this insight to reduce your sales cycle?

It works because good written communications eliminate ambiguity. That's very important in a situation where you're selling to a team, because people often listen with filters on their ears. They hear what they expect to hear or what they want to hear. Sending a document that summarizes the key points of a meeting, identifies responsibilities, establishes the next steps, confirms a timeline, and so forth, clarifies the content of the call and confirms the decisions the team has made.

It works because good written communications reinforce your selling message. Even if the communication is simply intended to confirm the date and time for a meeting, it gives you a chance to demonstrate competence and reliability. And you may be able to slip in a sales message, too. At the very least, a written message extends your "mind share" and helps the decision team remember you.

The best way to take advantage of the power of written communications is to automate the creation of the types of documents you need most often. Be careful not to use boilerplate text or static "templates." Those will actually do more damage than good, because they smell like complacency to the customer.

Instead, implement an automation tool that enables you to build a compound document that contains client-centered, unique content each time.