Communicate With Style

By Heather Baldwin

It’s an age-old challenge for sales managers: You’ve got a certain number of hours you can spend training your sales reps. Do you focus on product training? Or do you work on some of the softer sales skills such as reading body language and handling indecisive customers? A new study suggests time spent teaching reps to connect with different styles of communicators can pay big dividends.

The study, by Wilson Learning Worldwide (, found that versatile salespeople – defined as those who can adapt their communication style to individual prospects’ preferred styles of communicating – can be 50% more successful than their less adaptable counterparts. The study was rooted in decades of research that have shown people are divided equally across four primary communication styles, which Wilson Learning calls driver, expressive, amiable and analytical. Because we naturally connect only with people who communicate like us, it means reps only really connect with about 25% of their prospects. Wilson Learning, which works with organizations to boost their competitive advantage through human performance improvements, wondered what would happen if sales reps could learn to connect with the other 75% of their customers.

To find out, researchers divided a pharmaceutical company’s 40 high-performing salespeople into two groups – a normal control group and a versatile sales group. The control group received only the regularly scheduled training on products and sales skills. The versatile group, in addition to the regular training, received instruction on how to identify customers’ social style and adapt their sales approach accordingly.

Prior to the study, the groups were performing about equally. In the first quarter after training, the normal control group’s market share dropped 26%, due in part to the introduction of a new product by a competitor. The versatile group, however, not only avoided the market share drop, but increased its market share by 11%. Compared to the normal group, the versatile group’s market share was 54% higher, and it continued to climb for the next six months. The results are compelling. “As salespeople apply their versatility skills, they perform better and better,” says Michael Leimbach, VP research and design at Wilson Learning. “So one, two or more years after training, sales versatility is still increasing your company’s performance and profitability.”