I once went into a meeting to sell a company on Emergenetics, my organizational development firm. Four people would meet with me. At my request, we convened in the office of Arnie, the vice president.
I knew immediately from his office décor—stylish and eclectic with neon, multi-colored post-it notes scattered on the desk—that Arnie is a conceptual thinker, so I addressed him as a "right-brainer" whose thinking is innovative, intuitive, and global. If I had addressed him as a "left-brainer"—with an emphasis on practical, logical concerns—I would have lost his attention right away.
You can pick up many clues from someone's personal space:
• Conceptual thinkers move around a lot, so they often have a sofa for thinking comfortably or a stool they put in different places. They stimulate their brains with a view out the window, toys, and music, and use a white board for capturing ideas. If they have family pictures, they'll probably be artistic or from somewhere unexpected.
• Clear signs of analytical thinkers are credentials on the wall and shelves of reading material. You will not see an appointment book or paperwork because everything else is on the computer. There is probably an artificial plant and one intriguing toy they play with while solving problems. When they are at work, they are focused on business, so family pictures are probably limited.
• Structural thinkers have an office layout that is totally efficient. They position their desks so they can see everyone who walks in, and a sitting area for visitors is clear. On the walls you may see their certification and a perfectly bulleted whiteboard To-Do list. Their office pictures are generally group shots of awards or teams.
• In a perfect world, social thinkers would have a sofa and comfortable furniture, a table for discussions, an espresso machine, a well-stocked bar, and gentle background music. They like to decorate with fresh plants and art that is meaningful to them. Generally their desks have different items—books, reports, magazines—all stacked together. They usually have many pictures all over, often unframed because they are all up-to-date and frequently changed.
Back to my meeting. Jill entered with a pitcher of water and glasses for everyone. As the director of human resources, she did not have to be the water carrier. She immediately asked how I was and how my trip had been. These were all signs of Social thinking. I noticed Jill was wearing the latest open-toed ankle boots. Fashion forward clothing is another sign of a social thinker.
Next Sam from marketing arrived, and an executive assistant, Megan. Sam was dressed informally in a striped sweater and muted colors, which suggested he was a structural thinker who preferred clothes that can be efficiently mixed and matched. I suspected Megan might be an analytical thinker because she was dressed in classic black and white, and her clothes still looked crisp. Innovative thinkers like Arnie tend to wrinkle their clothes by sitting in unconventional ways.
I geared my presentation to my nine brain-based sales techniques and made sure it appealed to all thinking and behaving types. After I finished, there was a lot of positive energy in the room. Arnie and Jill were very enthusiastic. I let them brainstorm. I could tell they would keep the discussion going, selling themselves, and the others. At this point, all I needed to do was be quiet.
Eventually I asked a question specifically aimed at a structural thinker. "These are really great ideas, but I wonder how they would work within the organization?" Sam spoke up. He wanted to know how our programs had been implemented elsewhere, and reassurance that my solution was do-able. By the end of this part of the conversation, all three were sending me "buy" signals.
Megan gave no indication of her thoughts. I recognized that this is normal for people who have quiet, peacekeeping personalities. Before my understanding of how the brain works, I would have left the room believing I had made the sale, since the majority approved my presentation and, after all, Megan wasn't the leader.
Megan sat quietly in her chair, looking down at her hands. It appeared she was going to bring negative energy into an otherwise positive environment. A piece of me did not want to get her opinion, but I asked, "Megan, what do you think?" The other three leaned forward in their chairs.
By this time, Megan had been able to analyze all the information she had heard, and had an answer she was comfortable saying aloud. Megan replied in a muted voice, "I don't like these types of tests. Some aren't very scientific. However, based on research you sent prior to the meeting, this one seems different."
The rest of us looked at each other as if to say, "Ahhh… Megan approves!" It turned out that Megan was the decision maker—not because she had a high-level job, but because people trusted her judgment, and critical thinking skills.
Successful selling means knowing your buyer's needs. And to truly know their needs, you need to know how they think and behave.