Accelerate Rapport-Accelerate Your Sales


Tim J. Smith, PhD
Founder and CEO, Wiglaf Pricing

Published February 5, 2003

Business developers know the importance of relationship in winning and growing business. Even in IT, sales is still a people business and most business developers and marketers have a knack for developing rapport.

Still, we’ve all encountered prospects and clients whom we wouldn’t choose as buddies outside of a business setting. It’s in these situations when it’s helpful to know that the difficulty may be due to a difference in communication styles.

Business communication styles-first introduced by Robert Bolton in his book, Social Style/Management Style, Developing Productive Work Relationships-are a reflection of how people like to process information and go about their business. We may not be able to read others’ minds, but we can observe their verbal and non-verbal behaviors-and “flex” our style (if needed) to accommodate our prospect or client. In other words, we can demonstrate how we, too, can think like them. And who among us wouldn’t prefer to work with someone who “thinks like me”?

These styles exist along two continuums. On one, those who tend to tell you what is so (speak in declarative statements or tell stories) versus those who tend to ask more questions (to be inquisitive or considerate). On the other are those who are more people-oriented versus task-oriented in business. (See exhibit below.)

In general, there are four communication styles. While most of us will exhibit some behaviors within all four styles, it’s helpful to know your dominant style in business and-more importantly-recognize how it might differ from a prospect or client with another dominant style. Then, the key is in “flexing” (emulating or mirroring the other person’s preferred behaviors) in a business interaction to build and maintain rapport.

The Four Styles
Expressives (tell/people)…are big picture people. They think out loud and talk about their vision, describing it with feeling. They have healthy egos and like an audience for their stories. They have much less of a passion for detail and process, however. As intuitive people, they go with their gut and get frustrated when people can’t see their point. (Examples: sales people, start-up visionaries, advertising people, litigators who go before juries.)

Amiables (people/ask)…Maintaining relationships is all-important. They like people and want everyone to get along. In business, they use meetings to gain consensus. They pose more questions–rather than making statements–to be considerate of others. They are intuitive with a fine radar for others’ feelings. (Examples: Interdepartmental project coordinators, human resource specialists, those in social services and not-for-profit organizations.)

Analyticals (task/ask)…God is in the details for these folks. They are very organized and work through tasks via process, policies, procedures, regulations, etc. They think logically and are more comfortable with rational processes-starting from the details up. They compare all options when making a decision and pose questions to build to a logical conclusion. (Examples: IT specialists, engineers, transactional lawyers, accountants.

Drivers (tell/task)…Their goal is to get the job done. Therefore, they are short, precise, matter-of-fact and prefer closure. Time is of value and they use it efficiently. Direct confrontation is the most efficient way to get to a decision. And, they don’t look back. When new facts present themselves, they make another decision! (Examples: Many C-level executives, those in the financial sector and military.)

Flexing to Success
Based on these descriptions, you can see how a strongly analytical style could frustrate a big picture expressive. Or how a highly amiable style might exasperate a driver who’s all about business.

When you observe behaviors different from your own inclinations, consider these tips for moving to more common ground.

With Expressives…Feed the ego. Let this person talk. Validate the vision and paint a picture (or use pictures) to show how what you offer complements this person’s gut feeling. Be passionate about your opinions and stay high-concept. A well-told story could be enough to persuade this type of prospect or client.

With Amiables…Don’t overlook the importance of establishing personal (as in non-business) rapport with every interaction. Respect this person’s need for consensus and facilitate the decision-making process by attending and encouraging meetings. Consider the impact of decisions on people and their feelings. Plan on investing time.

With Analyticals…Do your homework. Anticipate questions. These people will get you on the details! Presentations and discussions should consider all options and build to a logical conclusion. Use inductive reasoning and demonstrate a methodology, logical approach or process.

With Drivers…Keep it short, objective-driven and direct. The executive summary may be sufficient. Give this person some sense of closure with every interaction. And, stick to your guns. Even if you disagree, this type of person will respect you for it.

Staying attuned to prospects’ and clients’ communication styles can give you the vital information you need to connect quickly with a person. Acting on this information by emulating the other’s behaviors in a way that is considerate of how they like to do business will inevitably help you increase your business opportunities.

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About The Author

Tim J. Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Wiglaf Pricing, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing and Economics at DePaul University, and the author of Pricing Done Right (Wiley 2016) and Pricing Strategy (Cengage 2012). At Wiglaf Pricing, Tim leads client engagements. Smith’s popular business book, Pricing Done Right: The Pricing Framework Proven Successful by the World’s Most Profitable Companies, was noted by Dennis Stone, CEO of Overhead Door Corp, as "Essential reading… While many books cover the concepts of pricing, Pricing Done Right goes the additional step of applying the concepts in the real world." Tim’s textbook, Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures, has been described by independent reviewers as “the most comprehensive pricing strategy book” on the market. As well as serving as the Academic Advisor to the Professional Pricing Society’s Certified Pricing Professional program, Tim is a member of the American Marketing Association and American Physical Society. He holds a BS in Physics and Chemistry from Southern Methodist University, a BA in Mathematics from Southern Methodist University, a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Chicago, and an MBA with high honors in Strategy and Marketing from the University of Chicago GSB.