Buyer Behaviour

Frank Atkinson
Ventus: 2010

The author begins with a simple statement: "If you want to sell more, you need to understand how people buy things." Each consumer has their own, individual, process for making purchasing decisions, and these decisions vary even in a single individual for the different items they buy. Understanding this behavior is critical to selling.

(EN: It's clear from the onset that this booklet is about buyer behavior in the sales situation, not as an academic study, and not for general marketing, which is a very specific niche.)

1: Introduction

Traditional sales training is based on techniques, instilling the salesman with a "trick" that can be used to close the deal in a particular situation. More recently, sales training has begun to take a different approach: to consider the sales encounter as a method of influencing behavior and capitalizing on the motives the buyer brings to the negotiating table.

The easiest way to accommodate behavior is to accommodate it: to give in to the buyer's demands for unreasonable accommodations, or to simply accept the buyer's decision not to purchase from you. But this will not lead to a successful and profitable relationship with a customer: it's a matter of negotiation to ensure that your needs, and those of your company, are served as well.

Some of the ways in which "salespeople get it wrong" are listed:

To be successful over the long term, the salesman must take a broader perspective. One valuable consideration is what the salesman would do if he owned the business. Would he pressure the customers to buy things they don't want or need? Would he damage a relationship with long-term customer to make an immediate sale? Would he sacrifice profitability to unload inventory?

The author describes his theory of learning: awareness, understanding, practice, and action. (EN: he goes into detail, but it's a common pattern in crisis management and therapy for the treatment of drug addiction.)

He also suggests that our own patterns of behavior are ingrained and it may be difficult to change practices with which we are familiar and comfortable. Accept that it will be a slow and gradual process - an amusing metaphor: "How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time."

2: Behavioral Analysis

In the sales situation, there are two parties to consider: the customer and the salesman. The behavior of each must be considered separately before considering how the two different styles interact with one another in a negotiation.

Assertiveness and responsiveness

The author considers a four-square scheme in which behavior "types" are defined in terms of two parameters: assertiveness and responsiveness.

Four Basic Buying Styles

He mashes these two together to define four different customer types:

Dealing with the Four Styles

Analytical. Provide information that demonstrates you understand how the product meets his needs, sticking to facts and avoiding grandiose claims, and be honest about the shortcomings of your product. Plan to spend considerable time on the sale, but count on a regular customer if you succeed.

Amiable: Focus on relationship-building with this individual, even to the point of discussing personal interests and family. Be patient and attentive to their fear of risk, even though they may seem like a pushover. Focus on agreement, and making the person "comfortable" with the decision.

Expressive: Consider that they are driven by emotions, so guide the discussion towards feelings about the product rather than facts. Use testimonials and inspirational success stories. Summarize and reiterate often to compensate for their short attention span.

Driving: Provide this buyer with facts and options. You can disagree with the facts, but do not dispute his opinion or pose any threat to his authority and sense of control over the negotiation. Avoid emotional sells, or using testimonials, as the only opinion he cares about is his own.

Identifying your preferred style

Salesmen are successful dealing with customers who have the same style as their own. However, few consider what their personal style actually is. To this end, the author presents a brief quiz - about two dozen questions, to plot themselves on the four-square grid.

(EN: I won't reproduce the quiz - there are various personality type assessments, some of which are more extensive and insightful than this blunt instrument - but the point is well taken that self-assessment is a valuable exercise.)

How to be more assertive

Assertiveness is valued in salesmanship - it's inherent to the negotiation that the salesman is pursing the customer, wants something from them, and must work to get it. A few tips are given to help salesmen who have an innate tendency to be passive:

Personal and organizational needs

Research done by Xerox into buying behavior found that people purchase to fill needs, whether rational or emotional, and they are broken into two categories of needs: organizational and personal.

Six personal needs are identified:

Organizational needs are:

Identifying the need that the customer is motivated by enables a salesman to properly pitch his product. (EN: The author does not elaborate much, but this seems self-evident.)

3: Buyer Tactics

In their role as buyers, people consciously or unconsciously seek to use specific tactics. They may have been taught these tactics by someone, or they may stumble upon them by trial-and-error.

The author asserts that using tactics in negotiation is "a matter of personal choice." (EN: I disagree: you may make a conscious decision to use a specific tactic, or you may use a tactic without much consideration - but in the latter case, it is still a tactic.)

Of particular interest to salesmen is that the same tactics can be used by either party in a negotiation. When you understand a tactic, you can use it more effectively, and if you recognize it as a tactic, its effect can be reduced or eliminated.

A list of tactics is provided:

(EN: These and other tactics are covered in greater detail on sources specific to negotiation.)


Selling to people is more effective if you spend some time analyzing the specific person you are trying to sell: their personality, their motivation, and their negotiation tactics will indicate the approach you must take to most effectively appeal to them.