Our industry thrives on relationships.
By definition, our job in sales is to influence other people’s opinions and behaviors: the people we work with, the people we’re selling to, and the people who work for us.
The problem is that we’re all hard-wired differently. We all have different strengths and tendencies, and those differences can make it difficult to understand one another.
Jim Jacobus, a veteran consultant, speaker and sales trainer, describes it this way: Imagine your world consists of four categories of people, and each of those groups speaks its own language. Now imagine that you’re tasked with communicating with each group, but you only speak one of the languages.
How will you communicate with the 75 percent of people who don’t speak the same language you do?
DISC Improves Communication
DISC profiling enables us to understand the four different languages people speak and to communicate with each group in its native language.
DISC profiling measures a person’s tendencies or behaviors using a series of questions to determine things like:
- how the participant responds to conflict
- how the participant solves problems
- what causes the participant stress
- what motivates the participant
The DISC profile distinguishes four different categories of behavior.
D= Dominance (how you handle problems)
I = Influence (how you influence people)
S= Steadiness (the pace at which you do things)
C=Conscientiousness (attention to detail or willingness to follow rules)
“DISC is a great tool for understanding communication styles, and for understanding how people go about doing things, how to manage them, and how to motivate them,” Jacobus said. “But if I’m going to understand your communication style I have to fully embrace and understand my own style. Once you understand what that looks like, then we can help you identify the style of the client.”
The value of DISC in serving the client has to do with understanding where the client is coming from, Jacobus said. It’s learning how to deliver the part of the product or service the client is most interested in. If for example, a client is a high D and you’re talking to him about how a product was made, you’re going to lose his interest because he’s more concerned with the bottom line and big picture.
“Once you’ve identified your client’s preferences, you can shift gears and present the product more effectively and communicate more effectively,” Jacobus said. “If I’m focused on selling what I think is cool all the time, 75 percent of the world couldn’t care less.”
The reality is that, with behavioral selling, there are all kinds of built-in conflict, because each profile approaches the world, and the sales industry, differently. There really is no right or wrong way to do it, Jacobus said. Rather it’s about identifying your strengths and learning to leverage them. Additionally, though, it’s about understanding the challenges of your style as well. If you’re a “my way or the highway” kind of person and the client is a consensus builder, the result can be conflict.
Highly technical personalities, for example, tend to be less relational. Talkative, outgoing personalities may not be great listeners. Each profile has its own challenges, but people can be trained to overcome their natural tendencies.
“I just love how understanding the different styles helps me better connect with my clients,” Jacobus said, “but not in a way that’s chameleon-like. I’m not seeking to manipulate them. I want to serve them better than the competitors do.”
He points out, too, that though people bristle at the idea of manipulating others, the entire sales industry is built on the premise of influencing other people’s opinions and behaviors.
Jacobus said he isn’t concerned with whether people think his behavioral approach is manipulative because he’s comfortable with his own motivation: to better serve clients and to better manage sales reps.
“If I care about you more than I care about my back pocket, them my back pocket will take care of itself,” he said.
DISC Improves Sales Effectiveness
The burning question, then, is how will DISC profiling help you make money?
From the management side, Jacobus said, your job is to sell your employees on doing what’s in their best interest and what’s in the company’s best interest. Understanding how to communicate effectively with the people you manage is a huge step in the right direction.
From a sales standpoint, Jacobus referred back to the four languages metaphor: If sales reps can learn to speak all four languages, it makes them four times more effective and creates a multiplier of four in terms of the ability to connect with and sell to the client.
“People want to buy from folks they can relate to,” he said.
So what if you’re cold-calling and you have no idea what category the client falls into? Popular opinion says that you should always default to the D personality type, but Jacobus prefers a more even approach.
“If you get an email from me or a letter from me and I don’t know your style, it will include one statement that hits all four personality styles,” he said. “It’s going to say ‘Jim Jacobus’ programs are step-by-step processes used by many of America’s top organizations to get results while attendees have a blast.’ ‘Step-by-step’ is technical, ‘used by many of America’s top organizations’ is a third-party endorsement for the high S, ‘gets results’ is for the high D, and ‘have a blast’ is for the high I.”
He explained that it’s possible to write a similar general statement for any business, but he pointed out that if he knows your specific profile, he’ll tailor his communication to your preferences. In the case of a client whose profile you aren’t sure of, Jacobus suggests shifting your focus.
“I am going to make sure right off the bat that you understand that I am here to bring you value,” he said. “I want to make sure we can exceed your expectations and that you can bring good value to our organization. I think communicating the fact that you intend to bring value to that organization is even more important than hitting the right style.”
Despite Jacobus’ enthusiasm for DISC assessments and their benefit for people in sales, he does not believe the tests should be used to determine whether a candidate would be successful in sales. He said that despite using similar tests in the past to assess candidates, he still found himself hiring candidates that looked good on paper but that were unsuccessful in sales.
“DISC does not, cannot, will not predict performance,” Jacobus said.
DISC and Practical Applications
He recalled being in a meeting with a high-D personality who halted Jacobus’ presentation to ask about the bottom line and the company’s ultimate return on investment. Jacobus recognized that the guy was a high D, and responded with the same kind of direct, decisive response that his personality type responds well to.
“I knew sooner or later he was going to do something like that and I knew I was immediately going to snap right back at him and go straight to the numbers and give him a good example of how I knew we were going to be able to do it.”
Every personality type has a different need that has to be met. Jacobus explains that when he does training for CPAs, for example, their technical backgrounds and IT experience require a different kind of training.
“If you and I go out and have dinner together, I’m going to be trying to figure out your style so I can more effectively relate to you while we’re at dinner.”
Jacobus said he finds the most reward when someone does a DISC assessment for the first time and begins to understand who they truly are.
“If you think about it, whatever quadrant we’re in, 75 percent of the world is telling us we’re doing life wrong,” he said. “All of the technical people say we should be more organized and be more detail-oriented. The high S people want us to be more laid-back. Maybe for the first time ever you look at that and see, ‘That’s who I am.’”
Jacobus said that he loves the personal transformation that happens to people even more than the sales improvements that often result from DISC assessments.
He said that DISC training transcends the work world and that he has effectively used it in marriage retreats and other settings.
“I love it when people accept how they were created; with strengths and with challenges,” he said. “I love it when they embrace how they were created and start trying to figure out how to get the most out of that.”
Jacobus said he has tremendous respect for professional salespeople who do their jobs well.
“I’ve bought stuff in the past I didn’t need because sales reps did such a great job.”
Jacobus recalls the time he took his wife and son to the boat store to buy a boat for the family. At the first two stores, the sales reps did the same thing: they talked about the selling points of the boat and all the reasons why the boat would make a great purchase.
The third salesman, Mike, was different.
“‘Jim, I’m going to get to you in just a moment,’ he told me. And then he turned to my wife and asked her what she was looking for in a boat, and proceeded to answer her questions for about 30 minutes. Then he did the same thing with my son. And I said to myself, ‘That’s my boat.’ That guy was a real pro.”
The DISC model originated with Dr. William Marston in 1915. After discovering a correlation between blood pressure and honesty, Marston built a device that would measure a subject’s blood pressure while the person was being questioned. This early polygraph gained the attention of the federal government, the courts, and the public at large.
It was Marston’s work in personality and human behavior, and specifically his study of consciousness, colors, and emotions, that led to the DISC model. Although Marston did not develop an assessment based on his findings, others did, because Marston failed to protect the work he had done as intellectual property. The DISC model is based on the 1928 book Emotions of Normal People.
The DISC questionnaire presents users with a series of phrases or statements to which they will register their agreement, disagreement, or indifference. Rather than measuring aptitude or values, it seeks to measure human behavior in specific situations.
The test identifies a total of four styles, which are the pattern of typical responses expected from a person. Each person is a combination of the four styles, and your DISC profile can change as you age and gain new experiences in life.
D profiles emphasize results and tend to be direct or blunt. They accept challenges, focus primarily on the “big picture,” and exude confidence.
I profiles emphasize influencing or persuading people. They are enthusiastic, optimistic, and they thrive on collaboration.
S profiles emphasize cooperation and dependability. They tend to be sincere, calm, supportive, and steady.
C profiles emphasize quality and accuracy. They are detail-oriented, independent, and they value expertise.
Each person is a combination of the four categories: higher in some and lower in others, Jacobus explained. Within each behavior profile is a midpoint. If your results fall above the midpoint, it reveals something different about you than if your results fall below the midpoint.
D above the midpoint handles problems head-on and tends toward a “my way or the highway” approach.
D below the midpoint favors building consensus and tends to be more cautious or reserved.
I above the midpoint prefers to use their own outgoing personality to influence people
I below the midpoint relies on facts, figures, data, and logic to influence people.
S above the midpoint moves more cautiously through tasks.
S below the midpoint moves quickly through tasks.
C above the midpoint values compliance with rules and attention to detail.
C below the midpoint believes in “close enough for government work,” and places less value on attention to detail and rule-following.
Ideal DISC Profile for Sales
No single DISC profile represents the ideal salesperson, partly because there are numerous factors that determine success or failure in sales: types of sales interactions, experience, type of industry involved and other variables.
In fact, it’s more accurate to say that every DISC profile has advantages that lend itself to success in sales, and challenges that make success a struggle. A salesperson who needs to generate buzz about a new product will rely on the I-style. In order to demonstrate sincerity, he will rely on S-style. To make a compelling argument, C-style will suit him best. It is suggested then, that salespeople exhibit multiple DISC styles during the course of a sales cycle.
Furthermore, individual clients will respond differently to varying DISC styles. Some clients don’t like the sense that they are being “sold to,” and others resent the hard sell. Those individual client issues will necessarily determine what style the salesperson uses throughout the course of the sales cycle.
It is important to note, too, that because DISC profiles can change over the course of a career, a salesperson’s experience and background will also impact his effectiveness.
What’s most important, then, is to match the salesperson’s selling style with the buyer’s buying style.
For a Toyota salesman in the 1980s, that meant doing things differently than everyone else.
Instead of high-pressure tactics, he refused to pressure his clients. If his customers had a specific need or want, he worked to get it no matter how difficult or time-consuming the process. Meanwhile, his co-workers laughed at him.
Within months, those same clients began dropping by the dealership just to check in. New clients dropped in having been referred by previous clients, and he was named Best Salesperson numerous times. Eventually, he became the sales manager and was eventually promoted to corporate headquarters to teach others in the company about effective sales.
By viewing his relationship with his clients as a long-term collaboration instead of a one-time event, he built partnerships. He matched his selling style to the clients’ buying style and he created a win-win situation.
There’s an anecdote about DISC profiles that goes like this:
Imagine you’re in a room with four people, and an open window is allowing a cold draft to blow in. Each of the four people represents one of the four DISC profiles.
The D profile will simply close the window. The I profile will convince someone else to close the window. The S profile will put on a coat to avoid changing the status-quo and the C profile will try to determine the rule that regulates closing windows.
While the generalization helps to explain the tendencies of each profile, it fails to consider that each of us is made up of all four of the profiles, with a high tendency toward two or three of them.
We may assume, for example, that managers are usually D or I profiles who are dominant and influential. The reality, though, is that many equally successful managers are steady and compliant. It is possible, too, that many managers who demonstrate tendencies toward the D or I profile have learned to operate well outside their natural tendencies, so they may not fit neatly into our preconceived notions of manager profiles.
Identifying the Least Comfortable Style
Very often, too, we find that it is easy to identify which style is most comfortable for a person just by interacting with him. We quickly identify him as a D or an S based on his obvious behaviors.
The truth about our DISC profile is that each of us is a combination of the four styles. Most of us are higher in two or three of the styles and lower in at least one. That means that at least one of the DISC profiles is well outside of our comfort zones.
In the case of people with blended styles, it may be more difficult to identify their primary profile, but that doesn’t have to be troublesome. Instead, we can try focusing on the style that seems to be least comfortable to that person.
In other words, though we may not be able to readily identify which of the styles she is most comfortable with, we can identify the one she is least comfortable with and avoids the interactions that appeal to that profile. If for example, she seems least comfortable with the D style, we can improve our communication with her by avoiding that style.
In short, we can avoid the behaviors that drain the most energy from those around us and engage in the behaviors that best meet their personal preferences.
DISC Profile and Generational Change
In previous years, the largest segment of the American workforce was made up of Baby Boomers, who were more likely to be S profile types on the DISC assessment. They tended to be steady, reliable, and loyal: the kind of employees that stayed in one job for 30 years or more.
After them, Generation X, born between 1965 and 1983, is largely the C profile type. Marked by a self-reliant and practical approach to life and work, this generation is more educated than the Baby Boomers and it tends to dislike micromanagement and structure. Gen X reflects a shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and it is the first generation to grow up with computers.
The Millennial generation, defined as those born roughly between 1983 and the early 2000s, make up the largest group in the American workforce, about 34 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Millennials tend to be I profile types, which account for more than 40 percent of the group. (In comparison, 27 percent of Baby Boomers tend to be I profile types.)
Millennials are tech-savvy and energetic and they love to collaborate. They have embraced the idea of using technology to work from anywhere, and they tend to exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit. Millennials get bored easily and value fun in the workplace.
So what is the result of three generations and four DISC profiles in the workplace?
Author Hillary Pearl calls it style-flexing, and she says that recognizing the personality traits of each generation and respecting the DISC style of others around you is the key to bringing generations of workers together. Especially in cases where Millennials find themselves in managerial positions, it is important for everyone involved to learn to adapt and adjust to others around them. It’s also important to note that while the younger generation has much to learn from its predecessors, it also has a lot to offer them as well.
DISC and Team Building
Very often, in the context of the workplace, we assume that any group of people can function as a team. Faced with the need for a team, we often round up those with buy-in or anyone who might have something to contribute to the issue at hand.
Unfortunately, when we fail to address personality differences within the team, we unwittingly diminish the likelihood that the team will be successful. On the other hand, creating a team with the four DISC styles in mind greatly increases the odds of success because doing so acknowledges the natural allies and adversaries in any group. It’s also worth noting that different DISC styles function better in different parts of the team’s life cycle.
Choose the right leader for the team. Choose a leader whose DISC profile will complement the people you envision serving on the team. Choose someone the team will trust and follow willingly.
Determine the team’s size. Be intentional in your choice of team members, realizing that larger teams may function better because of more diverse skill sets, but they may also struggle in the face of different DISC profiles.
Create a Collaborative Environment. When team members appreciate and understand each other’s differences, they will be more willing to listen to other viewpoints. Everyone’s opinion should be valued and heard.
DISC and Worldwide Marketing
Bill J. Bonnstetter, Dave Bonnstetter, and Ron Bonnstetter, Ph.D., put DISC to work to analyze similarities and differences among ten countries: USA, Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, France, and Italy.
Their study’s aim was to foster awareness of our cultural diversity and to encourage collaboration through a better understanding of our differences. Their findings were that different countries had different profile breakdowns among DISC results.
The results demonstrate that the notion that each segment makes up about one-quarter of the population was false in every case.
- Russia had the largest percentage of D at 23 percent, while China had the smallest at 11.
- The UK had the highest percentage of I respondents at 40. Russia and the Netherlands tied for the smallest percentage with 33 percent.
- The Netherlands had the highest percentage of S response at 35. Russia had the smallest at 24 percent.
- Russia had the largest percentage of C respondents at 20, while Australia and the Netherlands tied for the smallest at 12 percent.
They discovered in their study that even among the DISC descriptive words, different countries preferred different descriptors. The U.S. participants, for example, preferred “aggressive” and “challenger” as descriptors of the D personality while Russian respondents preferred “self-reliant” and “independent.”
The takeaway, then, was that comparing a U.S. workforce to a similarly-positioned workforce in another country is inaccurate, as the workforces are notably different across the world. Furthermore, understanding the responses of a target audience in the context of the country’s own norms is much more powerful than simply knowing the individual respondent’s preferences, because it allows for better message differentiation in product marketing.
Why It All Matters
Sales isn’t an individual effort. In fact, a 2015 study found that collaboration significantly improved success for sales groups. More specifically, the study found that teams with one-time collaboration saw 55 percent of their members make their quota, while teams with an information collaboration saw 59 percent meet their quotas. Among teams with formalized, ongoing collaboration, 76 percent met their quota — a 21 percent increase over the ad hoc crew.
It stands to reason, then, that avoiding collaboration likely means leaving some measure of quota attainment on the table.
Even better, research shows that buyers will close the deal 82 percent of the time when the seller’s personality type matches their own. In contrast, only 18 percent will buy when the salesperson’s personality type doesn’t match their own, making it well worth your while to modify your own approach to align with the buyer’s needs. As an example, 74 percent of buyers indicate they would be more likely to buy if the salesperson would stop talking and simply listen.
Acknowledging personality differences, then, can lead to better sales, more successful collaboration, and potentially long-term relationships with coworkers and clients.
Famous DISC Profiles
Even if you have never, ever wondered which famous people occupy the same DISC profile you do, it’s interesting to think of others who share your personal style.
- Michael Jordan
- Hillary Clinton
- Donald Trump
- Oprah Winfrey
- Robin Williams
- Bill Clinton
- Laura Bush
- Michelle Obama
- Mother Teresa
- Bill Gates
- Clint Eastwood
- George Washington
An (Overly?) Simplified Way To Understand DISC
At least one online author suggested that perhaps an easy way to understand DISC profiles is by way of something we all understand: cars.
A D profile would likely choose a car that makes a statement about power. Most CEOs fit this profile, and a stereotypical sportscar would typically be the car of choice.
An I profile would typically choose a car that meshes with his social nature and his concern about what people think of him. Think Mini Cooper S.
An S profile would stick to the tried-and-true cars, and would typically avoid change. A perfect example is a classic car from the 1950s.
A C profile would likely choose a car that satisfies his analytical and practical preferences; something like a Volvo, which is safe and functional.
DISC and Commercials
Another writer suggested that understanding the different DISC profiles can help you identify the marketing techniques advertisers use to reach their target audience.
National Car Rental’s commercial titled “Mix Business With Business” leads with the line “You are a business pro.” The ad features images of businessmen on the golf course, scenes at a business conference, and portrays a businessman who edges his way into a coveted golf game.
The driver in the commercial can “choose any car and go,” and can even choose a large car while only paying for a medium one.
Chinet’s commercial titled “Rediscover the Lost Art of Getting Together” features a woman at a Lost Art Exhibit, walking wistfully through a display of family and neighborhood get-togethers safely protected behind a glass shield. A voice recalls a time when doorbells rang more often than cell phones, and “neighbors were more neighborly.”
She absent-mindedly runs her hand along the glass and eventually finds an opening in the glass that allows her to step into the scene where she’s handed a plate of food by a friendly woman.
Ancestry.com’s commercial titled “Box: Gemma Woolard” opens with a wooden box in a cozy looking living room. The box opens to a visual of a growing vine, budding with evidence of a family’s historical documents. The narrator recalls that her ancestry tree helped her find her way when she was lost.
The ad is full of historical images and retro-looking family photos with an audible reminder about coming home.
Apple’s ad introducing Siri features multi-tasking joggers, a driver seeking information about traffic, a woman checking the forecast prior to a trip, a woman seeking measurement conversions for a recipe, and a blind woman texting a friend.
All of them are using Siri to keep information at their fingertips.
Obviously these commercials are listed in order of the DISC profiles, but hopefully, the target audience for each ad helps you understand how marketers craft their message to the four DISC styles.
Allow DISC to Change How You Do Business
If you’ve never thought of conducting business this way, using DISC to change the way you interact with people may require a fundamental shift in your thinking. Instead of conducting a transactional business that focuses on a single sale, you’ll shift your thinking to helping clients solve problems. You’ll become a consultant and a problem solver who understands your clients’ needs.
The payoff is increased awareness of your own strengths and challenges, and possibly a dramatic improvement in your sales productivity.