Allen Guy lives in football-mad Mississippi, so when he trains sales staff at the banks where he has worked, he falls back on football analogies.
A fan of various personality schemas such as Meyers-Briggs and DISC, he has developed his own variant with familiar styles such as the quarterback and the wide receiver. "The player positions make it easier to remember and relate to," he said in an interview.
Mr. Guy, vice-president of business services at State Bank and Trust Co. in Ridgeland, Miss., and author of Playing to Win: The Sport of Selling and How You Can Win the Game, sketches the four personality types you are likely to meet when selling:
1. The quarterback (The dominator)
This person wants to maintain control of what happens through the sales process – control the information as well as the decision. The quarterback is cordial, straight-forward and focused, not liking to be overwhelmed with detail. He's the controlling player on the field and in the sales process.
2. The running back (The celebrator)
On the field the running backs celebrate with a unique dance after a successful play and this person is their workplace equivalent – someone who is the life of the party, always happy, and has never met a person he doesn't like, since he's always looking for the good in people. "The difficulty with the celebrator is that as quickly as the rain changes directions this person can change. They will jump from one idea to the other before you have anything finalized," Mr. Guy said.
3. The wide receiver (The detailer)
These people are meticulous about details, on the field running their assigned patterns with precision and catching the ball with unbroken concentration. In the sales process, they want all the facts to line up.
4. The lineman (the "whatever" player)
These people know their job and do it, heads down without much fuss. At work, this person is often an engineer or has an engineering style. They give short, yes or no answers until they get to know you well, and are hesitant to make decisions.
In banking and many other business selling situations, Mr. Guy figures that about 60 per cent of the people you call on will be quarterbacks and about 40 per cent wide receivers, with some running backs and linemen thrown in. In retail sales, lots of running backs will come in to your store.
As well as spotting the gridiron personalities of people you deal with, you must understand your own identity, and how it will mesh – or collide with – the other players on the sales field:
If you're a quarterback, the most volatile situations will be with wide receivers. Before going into the sales call, make sure you understand the details of what you're selling because the wide receiver may bombard you with questions. "The detailer wants to know everything – how is the watch made, not just does it tell time," Mr. Guy said.
When dealing with running backs, the danger is you will be focused on the next goal, while that celebrator is still enjoying the last. So make sure you aren't overly dominant and give him room to talk.
Linemen like to follow someone's lead, so they should be easy to sell to.
Running back selling
You should mix well with quarterbacks, but they will be wary of the time they give you; be focused with your information as you may not get the time you want.
Linemen want to defer to other people, but as a running back you should be good at giving them encouragement.
Be careful with wide receivers, because you are open to the world and exuberant while the wide receiver is more closed.
"If the running back doesn't provide enough details the wide receiver will tune out the running back. They'll be very cordial, but they aren't interested," Mr. Guy warns.
Wide receiver selling
Recognize that you're detail-oriented, but the quarterbacks you encounter need to control information and get to the bottom line quickly.
With running backs, you must avoid getting into too many details; they're also focused on people, so relate your facts and figures to people.
With a quiet lineman, make sure you don't seem condescending, bowling him over with details. Watch body language and check that he is still with you, asking brief questions like, "Joe, does that make sense?"
When dealing with a quarterback, indicate that you respect him and make sure you are moving forward quickly, because this type can get impatient.
With running backs, since you don't like to offend, you may be too quiet and not rein them in when they are long-winded and running all about with ideas. You must focus them on the main issue and move the sale ahead.
Wide receivers want all the information, in an organized fashion. "The lineman has a lot of factual statements. The detailer wants the proof to back it up. He won't take your word for it," Mr. Guy explained.
Next time you're on a sales call, think of the gridiron, and the lessons it provides.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter