5 Types of Decision Makers & How to Sell to Each One

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost


According to psychologists, the average person makes thousands of decisions per day.

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These decisions range from inconsequential ("Which cereal should I eat for breakfast?") to significant ("Should I hire this job candidate?").


As a sales rep, you're responsible for guiding your prospect through both big and small decisions. You can help the prospect make the decision to schedule a connect call by sending a helpful outreach email — a relatively trivial decision. You can also help the prospect identify the best solution for their needs — a much bigger decision.

Who are the decision makers at a company?

The decision maker is the individual who has final authority over the purchasing decision. During a B2B sale, the decision maker is typically a member of the purchasing company’s C-suite who can sign the check or approve the purchase.

While navigating the sales process, it is important to sell to the right prospect. After all, there is nothing more frustrating than having a prospect commit to a sale who doesn’t have the authority to do so.

To land the sale you need buy-in from the right decision maker. However, not all decision makers should be sold to the same way. Understanding your prospect’s decision making style and guiding them through their decision making process accordingly is crucial for closing the deal.

A two-year study of more than 1,600 executives across a range of industries by customer research firm Miller-Williams Incorporated revealed five distinct styles of decision making. CEO Gary A. Williams and chairman Robert B. Miller conducted the study.

Williams and Miller found 80% of sales presentations are focused on two types of decision making styles — but these types accounted for just 28% of the audience. To ensure you’re not selling the wrong way, learn the five styles and how to identify them.

1. The Charismatic

Charismatic decision makers are easily excited by new ideas. They’re energetic, talkative, and results-oriented. Because Charismatics tend to have "bright and shiny" syndrome — that is, they tend to focus on the latest proposal or suggestion — getting them to actually commit can be challenging.

Successful Charismatics have learned to "temper their initial enthusiasm with a good dose of reality." If you don’t back up your claims with facts and data, you’ll lose their support.

In addition, avoid getting caught up in their excitement. Miller and Williams suggest slightly underselling the elements of your proposal the buyer is most interested in.

"Be prepared to merely acknowledge the items that he greets with enthusiasm and discuss the risks of each of those things," they write. "This will ground your proposal in reality and strengthen his confidence and trust in you."

2. The Deep Thinker

Thinkers tend to speak carefully, read voraciously, and seek out as much information as possible. They’d rather protect themselves and their company from risk than innovate. In addition, Thinkers are highly logical and respond far better to qualitative arguments than emotional ones.

If your prospect asks a stream of questions and seems concerned with every possible angle or possibility, they’re probably a Thinker. Gain their confidence by explaining the potential obstacles of the deal, your product, or strategy.

However, make sure you don’t draw any conclusions for them. Thinkers like to connect the dots independently. You’ll be most successful if you provide them with all of the information they need and let them come to their own conclusions. 

3. The Skeptic

As you might guess from their title, Skeptics are highly suspicious — especially of anything that conflicts with their existing knowledge, experience, or opinions. Using a Challenger sale style to offer a disruptive insight and reframe the buyer’s worldview is typically effective, but it’ll backfire when used on a Skeptic.

You can identify a Skeptic by their domineering, sometimes combative personalities. They’re unafraid to speak their minds, which means you won’t need to probe for objections.

When you need to correct a Skeptic, be as diplomatic as possible. For instance, rather than saying, "Actually, doing X won’t work for Y reasons," you’d say, "I believe doing X might be ineffective for Y reasons — but is it possible I don’t have all the relevant context?" You’ll see better results if you let them preserve their ego.

Winning a Skeptic’s trust is crucial to winning the deal. Skeptics are less doubtful of people who are similar to them, so highlight your personal and professional commonalities. And if possible, get a recommendation or referral from someone in their circle.

4. The Follower

Followers are responsible, fairly cautious, and extremely thorough. They’re never early adopters; in fact, a Follower usually only does something if they’ve already seen it successfully implemented elsewhere.

For that reason, you should lean heavily on case studies, customer testimonials, and well-documented results. It’s also helpful to find examples of trusted organizations or leaders who have made similar decisions or used comparable strategies.

You might say, "Investing in an Instagram strategy is more important than ever before. Roughly 71% of businesses in the US have active accounts on Instagram."

5. The Controller

Controllers like to make decisions by themselves. They’re sensible, organized, accurate, and detail-oriented. Although Controllers don’t typically reveal their insecurities or fears, they have an intense aversion to uncertainty.

You can put their fears to rest by presenting data-backed, linear, fleshed-out explanations. Williams and Roger say Controllers "want details, but only if they’re presented by an expert," so find people within your organization or network to reinforce your statements.

Once you’ve finished, don’t rush them into a decision: Normally, this will turn a Controller against you. Give them time and space to make their decision.

You’ll be much better at leading prospects toward the right conclusions if you customize your approach to their way of thinking. Figure out which type of decision maker the buyer is and tailor your presentation accordingly.

Interested in learning more about the psychology of choice? Check out this post to learn how to make decision making even easier for your prospects.



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