One characteristic that distinguishes Sales Leaders is their chameleon-like ability to adapt to differing personalities. You don't have to be born with this trait to possess it, but if you seek to rise to the top, you'll want to learn. Otherwise, you could end up like Jeff.

Jeff is a sales star in the making who oozes schmooze. Normally this serves him well, but during a recent day of coaching, I noticed he turned on the charm when he should have been more reserved. One call went particularly awry.

Jeff had made assurances that a delivery would be handled expediently, promising the goods would arrive in "three to four weeks." That prompted his client to ask, "Which is it?" Jeff made matters worse when he said deliveries "usually occur within three weeks, but sometimes it's four. It's safer to assume four." When we left, Jeff was able to realize the guy was annoyed but couldn't tell why.

Had Jeff been familiar with research on personality styles, he would have understood this was a situation in which he was dealing with an analytical personality type. In that case, Jeff should have explained the exact procedure for ordering, production, and delivery scheduling from the customer's dock. Even though the result would have been the same–i.e., delivery in three to four weeks–his customer would have become comfortable knowing the details of the order and adapted to the situation.

The psychologist Carl Jung pioneered theories of personality types 90 years ago, creating what has become a cottage industry of personality profile tests, particularly the Myers-Briggs and DISC. Most tests identify four types of personalities: Driver, Influencer, Social, and Analytical. Each requires a separate sales approach.

Drivers seek control and results. They're demanding, impatient clients who frequently wear frowns. Your conversations should be crisp, with facts and assurances of results. Give them control by offering options you can fulfill. Surprisingly, when conflict arises you should at times hold your ground. Drivers thrive on conflict and make decisions based on intense and speedy evaluations of the facts.

Influencers seek competitive advantage. Their offices are messy and uncontrolled because these are not detail-oriented people. They are big-picture thinkers with an ego to be stroked. They seek a competitive advantage over others. Provide innovations that keep them ahead of the Joneses while promising to handle the details.

Analyticals seek detail and guarantees. Recognize these types by their calm demeanor and lack of emotion. They want facts and data to make decisions and are influenced by "social proof"–particularly testimonials and case studies. They are willing to deal with difficult situations, but dislike surprises. They evaluate every variable in the decision-making process. The biggest mistake salespeople make with this type is to inject new ideas into the sales process. That confuses the decision-making process.

Socials seek validation and security. While this type is rarely in charge of businesses where merit is the only metric, the construction supply industry has its share of nepotism. Thus, it is essential to recognize insecure decision-makers who will require empathy and a calming word in order to validate their decisions. These people want to please everyone, including salespeople from your competition.

Top Sales Leaders deal with these personality styles. It's a skill worth learning.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., an LBM advisory firm specializing in sales management training. He is an international speaker and author of Strategic Sales in the Building Industry, a BuilderBook publication. 773.769.4409. E-mail: