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How to identify a prospect’s social style

Understanding a prospect’s specific social style allows sales reps to better communicate.

The foundation for any long-term personal or professional relationship requires trust and credibility in order for it to be successful and mutually beneficial. Let’s think about this in terms of a sales environment. Typically, effective sales professionals develop trust with their prospects by demonstrating a sincere interest in solving an issue, along with an unwavering commitment to delivering on their promises. However, getting to the place in the sales process where you’ve earned the right to gain insights about a prospect’s business needs or have been deemed credible enough to present a solution, does not happen easily. It requires that the rep is thoughtful about communicating in a meaningful way with their prospect.  


Why social styles are important in a sales team

“Good” communication requires that the sales rep has a clear understanding of what makes it “good” for the person on the receiving end. The funny thing about this is that the rep may have a very different definition of “good” based on their own unique needs.  Social styles, a simple framework focused on an individual’s pace and focus, can help a rep understand and adapt their communication style in a way that allows them to be on the same page as their prospect.  

Consider the two key parameters related to the way people communicate:

  • Assertiveness (the way people put forth information)
  • Responsiveness (the way people take in information)

If you have a highly assertive prospect, they will tend to be faster paced in their communication and decision-making. Prospects with lower assertiveness tend to move at a slower pace in both of these areas. Your prospects that fall high on responsiveness typically will show a strong orientation toward people, while their less responsive counterparts, will be oriented towards tasks.

The different types of social styles

As you observe the pace and the focus of your prospects, you will be able to understand the four quadrants of social styles: 

  • Controller: Results-focused and fast-moving, able to make decisions readily while being clear and forthcoming about how they’d like to proceed.
  • Expresser: Conceptual, big-picture thinker who is enthusiastic and passionate, with lots of ideas and little interest in details.
  • Cooperator: Friendly, helpful, and steady; easy to work with and conflict-averse, typically seeking consensus.
  • Analyzer: Detail and fact-oriented, slowly assesses situations and thinks before responding in a reserved, and risk-averse manner.

Managing different social styles during the sales process

Developing trust and credibility early in the sales process is powerful. It requires knowing the prospect’s social style, but more importantly, it requires an ability to apply this knowledge in an actionable way.

Take the Controller, for example. Prospects that exhibit this social style are highly results oriented, and will base their decisions solely on your ability to help them meet their goals. They do not want to waste time, so efficiency and a direct approach is crucial. Be sure to give them options, as this will provide them with the control they want in order to make a decision.

The Expresser, on the other hand, will rate situations and circumstances based on testimonials, happy clients and your ability to make them look good. They will want you to handle the details, and like the Controller, efficiency is critical.

The Cooperator is all about harmony and the relationship, so it is important to be pleasant, friendly and supportive when working with this social style. They will respond well if you take the time to get to know them and help them make decisions that minimize any risk.

The Analyzer has little need or interest in pleasantries. These individuals will need to know that they have all the facts and that the information is accurate. Be precise and prepared to offer proof to back up your statements, and leave them with plenty of time to think things over.

Identifying and paying close attention to social styles provides reps with a roadmap to guide them in tailoring their approach to communication effectively with their prospects.  This paves the path for trust and credibility to develop, and begins a strong and mutually beneficial relationship.

Learn how to build a powerful sales force with our blog post, Building a galaxy of sales superstars.


Thad is a senior marketing director at PI.

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