You may not need a degree in psychology to have a career in sales, but you have to know how to read people -- and how to adjust your approach accordingly.

When you’re initially pitching a new client, for example, the first thing they’re probably thinking about is not just your company or the products they may be buying. They’re probably also forming an impression about you, and it could affect everything that happens afterwards one way or the other. 

They may be wondering (consciously or not), “Do I want to do business with this person?” It’s a fair question, because over the course of the sale they may be looking for insight as well as a product, and they need to decide if they can trust you. 

They'll also have to discuss sensitive issues like pricing, and any additional customization or support that could be necessary to achieve their business objectives. If they don't mesh with you on a personal level, this could all become difficult. 

This is further complicated by the fact that no two people are exactly alike. People might be considered extroverted or introverted, for instance, but these aspects of their personality may change based on the circumstances in which they find themselves. 

Our personalities, like our business needs, have a lot of nuances. 

There’s no magic formula for dealing with different client personality types. To some extent, salespeople also need to feel they can be themselves, too, and not act a certain way just to close a deal. With that in mind, consider the following do’s and don’ts:

Do: Focus on the qualities that every customer wants

The old adage about getting to know someone by walking a mile in their shoes may seem overused, but it's popular because it's true. It's akin to the Golden Rule: to treat others as you would want to be treated. 

In a salesperson-customer context, this boils down to a couple of key elements: 

  • Customers want someone friendly -- smile, be ready to focus your attention, listen and try to show you’re recognizing any commonalities you share.
  • Customers want someone knowledgeable — it won’t matter if you have similar or vastly different personalities if you don’t come to the table having done your homework about the client's firm, and all the necessary details about your products. 
  • Customers want someone honest and reliable: Some clients will be the kind of person with whom you’d become friends in a non-business context. Others won’t be. Either way, they’ll expect you to get back to them when you said you would, and deliver what you promised. 

These are all parts of acting with professionalism, and don’t have a lot to do with your personality or that of your clients’. That's why you should start here. 

Don't: Fall into personality type generalizations

There’s a risk in making snap judgements about a client's personality just after you first get to know them. You can find all kinds of articles online about how to “deal" with those who are considered assertive, amiable, expressive or analytical, but don’t base everything on a generalization. 

Remember that it usually takes time to really get to know someone. If they seem withdrawn or terse during your first encounters, things could change a lot after you’ve continued to nurture the relationship and demonstrate a commitment to making them successful. Suddenly the terse or assertive person becomes more amiable. The analytical person becomes more expressive. 

You’re not there to diagnose your client’s personality. You’re there to sell them something that will bring them value. 

Do: Co-create an ideal customer experience

Instead of focusing on what you assume about your client’s personality type, you can lay the groundwork for a better relationship at the beginning by asking smart questions. 

Find out early on, for example, about the way they like to have information presented to them and the channels they prefer for followup. 

They might be quick to tell you whether they want a deep-dive into a product or just enough information to pass it on to their boss. 

They’ll definitely have opinions about whether they want to continue the conversation in person, by phone or email. 

Don’t: Discuss previous sales representatives

Sometimes clients may even volunteer information about other salespeople they've dealt with in the past — usually it will be the ones wish whom they clashed. They might mention salespeople who were too aggressive, or seemed to disappear after an initial meeting or who changed the purchase conditions at the very last minute. 

This is where it may be tempting to score points by putting those other salespeople down. Instead, make it clear that you've heard them and that you’ll be focused on providing a different experience. You shouldn't base your approach on simply offering an alternative to a salesperson who rubbed someone the wrong way. Your focus is on becoming the best version of yourself. 

Do: Use data to dispel the differences

The best thing about using CRM to take a more data-driven approach to selling is that empirical data has nothing to do with the personality of the person who uses it. 

Facts are facts — and although you can always experiment in how you share them, you can’t really argue with them if they're true. If you don’t gel with your client on a personal level, you can keep things professional by arming them with data to make the best possible decision. 

Although we talk about “managing" relationships with clients in sales, it’s really a case of building relationships, even with clients whose personalities are vastly different from our own. Data is the ultimate building block, and it can help establish the trust you need to improve any client relationships over time.