Published on June 10, 2009

In our first article on hiring, we looked at the sales candidate’s value system and will to succeed. Now it’s time to gain an appreciation of how he or she is likely to go about selling. There are many models used for classifying behavior in this area; the model we will be referring to here is known as the DISC model, which was initially developed by Dr. Carl Jung and Dr. William Marston. The DISC profiles we use in our practice were developed and supplied by TTI Performance Systems.

The acronym DISC refers to the four basic communication styles evaluated in this model: Driver, Influencer, Steadiness, and Compliance.

The Driver mindset reflects the person’s ability to act assertively in dealing with problems. The higher the Driver quotient, the more likely the person is to take an active or aggressive approach to challenges; the lower the Driver quotient, the more likely one is to accept challenge in a conservative manner and avoid conflict.

The Influencer mindset reflects the person’s willingness to be outgoing in dealing with other people. The higher the Influencer quotient, the more likely a person is to be chatty and take an active role in a conversation. The lower the rating, the more likely someone is to take a withdrawn approach. People with low Influencer quotients are sometimes perceived as being aloof, skeptical, or heavily reliant on logical skills.

The Steadiness mindset has to do with how a person deals with change. A high Steadiness quotient means the individual is likely to actively resist change and prefer a slow pace. A low quotient in this area means the person will seek out change, and is likely to thrive in a fast-paced environment.

The Compliance mindset connects with the way an individual responds to rules, procedures, and constraints. A high quotient in this area means the person is likely to follow the rules and regulations set by others. A low quotient in this area indicates that the person is likely to try to establish his or her own rules.

Different types of sales situations require salespeople to act differently. Certain candidates will impress you as having strong initial tendencies in some areas, while others may not. Depending on the sales situation, sometimes a lower rating in an area is more preferable than a higher rating. Which type of ratings match up best with which categories of selling? The following breakdown will help you match the applicant with the setting in which you hope to see him or her succeed.


To sell major accounts, a salesperson should ideally show mid-range Driver characteristics — the ability to move things forward without being overly aggressive. He or she should show a mid-range Influencer mindset, without coming on too strong in this area; the salesperson will need to feel comfortable in building rapport and relationships. The successful major account salesperson will have strong Steadiness tendencies, as befits a loyal team player. And this person’s reliance on the Compliance mindset is usually somewhat below average; the individual will have a fair amount of respect for the rules, but will not instinctively operate as though hamstrung by regulations.

To develop territory and build new markets, a successful salesperson needs a low Steadiness quotient, because this job involves a lot of change, and requires the ability to act in a fast-paced environment. The Driver quotient will be somewhat above average, signifying a higher level of aggressiveness, and the need to drive business ahead relatively fast. The Influencer outlook is also above-average, leading to strong rapport-building skills, but usually not as pronounced as the Driver characteristics. The Compliance outlook is below average.

To service and maintain accounts, a successful salesperson needs above-average Steadiness and Influencer tendencies, because continuity and rapport-building skills are essential in this kind of sales situation. The Driver tendencies are below average — the need here is not to close sales aggressively, but to keep the status quo intact. The Compliance outlook is average.

To take orders — that is, to succeed in a reactive or inside-sales situation — an individual is likely to have few if any Driver tendencies. (Aggression is definitely not the name of the game here.) The Influencer tendencies are average or slightly below average; this person is pleasant to speak with, but does not have to be well liked. (After all, the customer called him or her!) The Steadiness tendencies are quite high, as is the Compliance outlook; continuity and “playing by the rules” being hallmarks for success in this area.

Make sure — for your sake and the applicant’s — that the behavioral style of the person you’re interviewing matches the type of selling for which you’re considering the person.

A few years ago, my firm was asked by a telecommunications company to provide a behavioral (DISC) profile for all its outside sales representatives in a particular region. We produced the profiles and compared all the graphs of the top performers against the graphs of the low performers.

In the top performers, we saw some intriguing commonalities. All were above average in the Driver and Influencer measurements, and below average in the Steadiness factors. The low performers, on the other hand, were consistently above average in the Steadiness area. This led me to ask management one question: “Were most of the low performers promoted from customer service?” The answer: “Yes!”

That was their problem. They had tried to move people who excelled in customer service (maintaining relationships in an environment that was stable and had little change) into a sales situation that was full of change and uncertainty. Cold calling was certainly not likely to be seen by such a person as part of a stable work environment. No wonder these people were floundering!

This is not to say that you should never promote good customer service people to outside sales positions. But you must make sure a given candidate has a good chance of adapting to the selling situation he or she will face!

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