These letters are the results of the personality tests I’ve taken at three different employers.
Personality tests are not new. Plato and Hippocrates both wrote about the four “humours” or “moods.” In the 1920, the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed, and more than two million people take the test each year. It's based on Carl Jung’s research that there are four main areas of personality preferences: introverted/extroverted, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving.
The test reveals which of each dichotomy the person is dominant in, and it supposes that this combination should reveal things that help a person decide on a career path or build better relationships.
The DiSC system provides a similar framework, though it uses four types: dominance, influencing, steadiness, and compliance.
At HubSpot, we have day-long training sessions where people are taught how to work with others of another DiSC personality profile, with specific tips and role-playing exercises on motivating, providing direction, delegating, and managing. This helps team members become better managers and employees.
It's all about building awareness that people are different, which creates empathy -- a key ingredient in relationships.
“People make decisions,” said Bob Sanders, president of Sanders Consulting Group. “People hire agencies, and people fire agencies for a wide variety of reasons, but almost all of them are about the relationship, whether they trust, like, or can work with you or not.”
This focus on the people sitting on the other side of the table is a key part of the new business training Sanders Consulting Group provides. It’s about chemistry, and to have chemistry, you have to understand the personality of the person you're speaking to and working with.
“I get agencies every day that call me up and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem.’ I say, ‘Tell me about it.’ They’ll start describing the problem, and I say, ‘I don’t care what the problem is. Tell me about the person that you have a problem with. Then, I can tell you how to solve the problem.’”
Bob and his father developed a set of four client personality profiles based on how people make decisions, what motivates them, how they process information, and how they communicate. With this information, agencies can alter their approach during a new business pitch or change the way they collaborate with an existing client.
Sanders emphasized that this is not about manipulating or trying to trick anyone. Agencies are in the business of providing services to clients. You can produce the most creative work, but no one will hire you if your attitude is repellent. (OK, maybe other difficult people will, but I doubt the relationship last long.) Your job is to help clients make better decisions for their brands, and sometimes that requires a bit of psychoanalysis.
Existing Profiling Models Are Too Complex
Sanders and his father Stuart learned of the Meyers-Briggs test. Initially, they thought they could apply this existing model to the agency-client relationship and define a systematic approach to creating chemistry.
After combing through texts and guides though, they realized that remembering if someone was an ESTJ or an ISFP was too confusing and convoluted for their purposes. And who was really going to get a potential or existing client to take a 93-question assessment?
They needed something that was easy to remember and applicable to their situation. This last part was key: even if you made potential clients take the test, the results wouldn’t tell you how to present to one type of personality, whether you should accept a cup of coffee, or where you should sit when you meet a certain personality type.
They knew that these seemingly insignificant things could solidify or break a budding connection.
Luckily, Stuart had led hundreds of pitches and worked with hundreds of CMOs and decision-makers. He knew the quirks and ticks that signaled a problem or a potential win.
Stuart founded Sanders Consulting Group in 1985. He was known as “guru of new business” -- potentially a self-nominated nickname. Either way, the fact remains that he consistently grew every agency he worked at before launching his own consultancy.
Bob got his start in new business when he was 7 years old. His father pulled him onto a pitch team -- he was the “cute kid” prop during the presentation.
Bob worked for his father throughout high school but took a break to be a “long-haired hippy freak” as he says. He joined the Marines and graduated from University of Virginia, and eventually, he found himself back in ad land at an agency in New York. He eventually launched a consultancy as well, working to restructure, re-engineer, and redesign large, multi-national agencies. He rejoined his father’s consultancy full-time around 10 years ago and is now the president of the firm.
It was while Bob was in college, around 1987, that he and his father established the four client personality types. This was more than 25 years ago, and while many, many things have changed in the industry, the archetypes remain relevant. We're not quite as complex as we like to believe we are.
The Four Types of Client Personalities
You’ve heard that opposites attract in relationships.
This only applies to romantic relationships, and Bob clarifies, typically first marriages. For those that make it to round three, they usually find someone who belongs in their own personality quadrant.
However, in business we tend to gravitate to people like us because different personalities create conflict. This conflict works in TV and movies because the tension between different types of people makes for great drama. It’s not a great formula for office harmony.
As a memory cue, Bob uses the main characters from Seinfeld to describe the four personality types of clients.
The Headline - Elaine
The Headline is focused on results -- and getting them as quickly as possible. They thrive on making decisions and have little patience for those who have trouble narrowing down the options. They can be forceful and direct, so this isn’t the type of person you can expect a lot of “thank yous” and compliments from. If they are paying, they are happy.
Body Copy - Jerry
The Body Copy type is defined by their love of processes. You know this type of person. He has a color-coded Excel spreadsheet outlining everyone’s role at the Christmas baking party. He is updating the process document as new processes are being discussed. This person cares about data, details, and facts.
They don’t want to make decisions. In fact, they will avoid them at every opportunity. This type wants to see tests done before they commit because they believe the facts will determine the winner.
Logo - George
Logos are warm, caring individuals – the ones who plan team lunches and have a reserve of birthday cards in their desks. They make decisions slowly and rarely do so without the consent of the group or their close advisors. They want everything to feel involved and invested in a decision. This type of individual is good at playing the internal politics game because they can be on both sides of a debate.
They are also loyal employees, which means many CEOs (and other members of the leadership team) are Logos.
Illustration - Kramer
The Illustration is your idea person. They love being the center the attention. When they see creative concepts, they think, “This will do well in the market, and it might even win an award.”
They love taking risks -- trying something new. And they love processes, but it is not an innate skill. This client might drive you crazy with his last-minute changes of direction and requests, but if you can figure out how to implement processes for him, he will take creative risks with you, challenge your limits, and be your biggest advocate.
If the Seinfeld analogy doesn’t provide a frame of reference, test out the concept with Sex and the City or Star Wars. You can even apply it to presidents: President Nixon was a headline. Carter was a Body Copy. President Reagan was a Logo, and well, I think you can guess Clinton is an Illustration.
The “Would You Like a Coffee?” Test
The key of this approach is defined by: How do people make decisions?
It’s not perfect, but Sanders says this is systems thinking -- basically approaching a problem by considering the relationship between different elements that influences the larger issue. It gives you the tools to prepare to pitch because you can understand the ecosystem of the room.
Here’s a situation you should know well:
You’ve just gotten a call. A potential client -- the CMO, her vice president of marketing, and the creative director -- wants to meet with you.
After you do a little jig in your office, you start to panic. The meeting is tomorrow.
You do need to study up on the brand and pull together some materials. But really, this meeting is about how well you and the people from the client-side click. They called you. They know you can do the work. Now, the question is: Do they want you to be the one to do it?
If the decision-maker is a Logo -- the more inclusive type -- you can easily figure out how to make her comfortable in the meeting to make the most of the conversation. With personality profiling, you can plan the perfect meeting:
You’ll have coffee and make small talk for the first 20 minutes or so. You’ll want to book a room with a round table. You need to make an effort to involve everyone in the conversation. Don’t just focus on her because she’ll ultimately ask her colleagues for their opinion. She won’t want an in-depth presentation. She’ll share more information if the conversation feels informal. But her vice president is a Body Copy, so you’ll want to pepper in some facts and numbers during the conversation.
This approach is completely wrong though if the client is a Headline.
In this scenario, you are meeting a Headline at her office. She welcomes you and begins to walk back to her office. You exchange a few words before she asks you if you would like a cup of coffee – a typical pleasantry. Before even hesitating, you answer, “Yes, that would be great.”
She stops, turns on her heel, and heads back to the kitchen. The tension is discomforting. She throws things around, makes a mess, and finally hands you a cup of coffee. You don’t dare ask for sugar.
The Headline is about business. She wants to know what you can do for her company, how you can do it, and how fast she can see results. You actually lose points by trying to engage her in traditional relationship building tactics.
And the Illustration? Bob says you better get this person out of the office and off to Starbucks for a non-fat, half-caf soy latte.
Recognizing these patterns is how you win pitches. You understand how people make decisions. And in a competitive situation, it really comes down to this.
“If we can check off all the business boxes, we check off all the attribute boxes, and we can check off all the capability boxes, then we’re left with, ‘Look, any agency can work for just about any client,’” Bob said. “All agencies have the same type of skills, the same set of leads. Everyone says, ‘We’re a full-service, highly creative, integrated marketing communications company.’ It comes down to: We got all that checked. Now, it’s which one do I [the client] want to work with?”
Maintaining Chemistry Is the Real Challenge
Once you win the pitch, the real work begins.
Now, you’re “married.” And the relationship is a bit different.
You’re delivering work on time, producing great creative, and meeting all the other line item expectations, but the client suddenly stopped returning your phone calls and emails.
They must be unhappy. You don’t want to lose this client, so you add more people to the account. You keep calling. You ask to take her out to lunch.
If you know this person is a Body Copy, you might approach this relationship issue differently.
You would analyze the processes in place. Is something missing? Can we optimize the communication channel? Do we actually need to do more research on the result of the campaign, not come up with more ideas? More often than not, this will be the result of the client’s frustration.
You need to meet the client’s needs from both a functional and personal perspective.
“If you really want to understand this business, you don’t study marketing or advertising,” Bob said. “You study folklore. You study sociology, psychology, religion, and acting.”
Another example of the value of personality profiling in client relationships can be seen in the review and approval process.
You find yourself stuck in a negative feedback loop. You’ve made the logo bigger, then smaller. You cut the copy and added it back in. You changed the photo. You’re basically just moving things around at revision No. 44.
Why does this happen so often?
The problem is the agency is working with a CMO or decision-maker who is a Headline – someone who likes making decisions – but the point of contact is a Body Copy. The agency sends the Body Copy two versions of an ad. The Body Copy, who likes to filter and remove options, chooses one to bring to his boss. The Headline sees the option and because there are no decisions to make, his brain starts to create options. Instead of choosing between A and B, he is finding fault with the one option so he can make a decision. The Body Copy takes this back to the agency, and the agency again creates two different versions based on the feedback. The versions are filtered, and the entire loop begins again.
Bob calls this Agency Hell. And without a solution, the agency soon finds itself facing an account review.
Personality profiling using these four types can be applied in many different situations -- from personal relationships to collaboration with colleagues to communicating with your boss or employees. You need chemistry for any relationship to work. And sometimes, that spark can be created by making an effort to better understand the person sitting next to you.
“We’re simple people when you peel back all of the different layers and gobbledygook that we all toss around,” Bob said. “When you get down to it, it’s the lizard brain that motivates so much of what we do.”