How to Leverage Styles of Behavior for Software Sales

By Geoffrey James
Back when techies made all software purchasing decisions for most corporations, selling software was relatively easy. All software sales reps had to do was convince the technical gurus that their firm had the most features and functions and a sale was virtually guaranteed. Today, however, almost all software purchasing decisions are by committee, with strong participation from line managers, key employees, human resources and others.
Because of this, selling software requires more subtlety than it did in the past. To make a sale today, it’s necessary to adapt your message and sales approach to decision makers who come from differing backgrounds and have varying concerns and perceptions about what your software is supposed to do. It’s not the sales rep with the best technology who makes the big bucks, but the sales rep with the best understanding of customer psychology and how to use it to move a sale forward.
Noted sales guru Ron Willingham, author of Integrity Selling for the 21st Century (Currency, 2003) teaches a conceptual model that’s both easy to understand and quickly applicable to software sales situations. Willingham categorizes customers into four basic Behavior Styles™ based on their tolerance to risk (recognition vs. security) and attitude towards work (goal-oriented vs. process-oriented). These four basic styles are as follows.
1. Doer (results oriented, needs recognition). Tends to make decisions quickly, prefers brief presentations and deeply resents any person who wastes time.
2. Talker (process oriented, needs recognition). Desires social approval and thus will avoid making a decision until everyone is happy.
3. Controller (results oriented, needs security). Highly logical and analytical and generally looks for what’s wrong with any situation.
4. Supporter (process oriented, needs security). Seldom looks at the bottom line but instead is more concerned with getting the job done.
According to Willingham, customers tend to have a primary and secondary behavior style. For example, a CEO might be a Doer when dealing with underlings but a Talker when dealing with fellow CEOs. Similarly, a bank manager might be a Controller when it comes to writing loans, but a Supporter when it comes to working with top management. What’s most important for software reps is the ability to determine the style the decision maker applies during the software sales process. 
When interacting with a customer contact, watch and listen carefully for clues about the customer’s behavior styles. A Doer, for example, often will wear flashy or distinctive clothing and is likely to communicate in short bursts. Similarly, a supporter will tend to dress conservatively and use catchphrases such as the way things are done here or the powers that be.
Once you’ve determined the customer’s primary behavior style, adapt your sales approach to that style. For example, when selling to a Doer speak quickly and get right to the point. By contrast, when selling to a Supporter take the time to explain in detail how what you’re selling fits the status quo.
It also helps if you’re aware of your own natural behavior style. If you have a technical background and tend to fall naturally into the Controller style, you will need to become a Doer with a more authoritative air when calling on a CEO. Top sales reps can intuitively sense a customer’s behavior styles and find the corresponding behavior in their own character that best matches that of the customer.

The above is based on a conversation with Ron Willingham. He can be reached at Integrity Systems, Inc., 1850 North Central Avenue, Suite 1000, Phoenix, AZ 85004. 800-896-9090; Note: Behavior Styles and the Behavior Styles model are registered trademarks, used by permission of Integrity Systems Inc.