Closing the sale: How to match your sales tactic to your customer

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was one universally effective sales tactic that would work on every buyer? Unfortunately this does not exist, otherwise everyone could sell! Effective sellers must determine which of several sales tactics matches each buyer’s current needs. 

But how do you know what sales tactic to use when? Luckily, research finds that most buyers fit into three categories: 

  1. Task oriented
  2. Self oriented
  3. Interaction oriented

And different sales tactics work best for different buyer orientations. This post will teach you how to determine which type of buyer you are working with, and which sales tactics best meet their needs. 

Specifically we will first discuss how to identify the three main buyer orientations (task orientation, self orientation, and interaction orientation). Then we will explain how to apply the three categories of sales tactics to most effectively influence them to buy your product:

  1. Rational Influence Tactics (information exchange and recommendations),
  2. Emotional/Relational Influence Tactics (ingratiation and inspirational appeals), and
  3. Coercive Influence Tactics (promises and threats)

As always, we have reviewed over thirty articles on adaptive sales, sales influence tactics, and buyer-seller interaction from social psychology, cognitive science, and organizational psychology to ensure these tips are backed by empirical research.


Determining buyer orientations as a sales tactic

Decades of research examine effective influence tactics that salespeople have at their disposal when trying to convince potential customers to buy their product. But not everyone is convinced by the same tactics to improve performance. Instead, if you want to increase your sales performance, your sales tactic should match each customer’s particular orientations.  

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In terms of buyer orientations we typically make a distinction between three types of buyers: task oriented buyers, self oriented buyers and interaction oriented buyers. So your first step is to gauge what orientation your customer may have. 

Task oriented customers. Buyers with a task orientation are goal oriented and purposeful. Their goal is to accomplish their purchase as efficiently as possible. Ask yourself:

  1. Does the customer like to focus on the task at hand? 
  2. Does the customer like to make our sales interaction as efficient as possible? 
  3. Is the customer highly goal oriented?
  4. Is the customer purposeful in accomplishing his/her purchasing goals?

Self oriented customers. Buyers with a self orientation tend to be primarily concerned with their own welfare and personal interests. Ask yourself:

  1. Is the customer more interested in him/herself than what you have to say?
  2. Does the customer usually dominate your conversations?
  3. Does the customer try to impress me with him/herself?
  4. Is the customer more focused on talking about him/herself than my products?

Interaction oriented customers. Buyers with an interaction orientation feel that forming strong interpersonal relationships is the most important part of the transaction. They are interested in socializing and creating personal connections. Ask yourself:

  1. Is the customer easy to talk to?
  2. Does the customer like to socialize during your sales interactions?
  3. Does the customer like to talk to people?
  4. Is the customer interested in me as a person, not just a salesperson?

While buyer orientations tend to be stable, buyers are not limited to one orientation. One study for instance found three clusters within their sample. One cluster held a predominantly task orientation, one existing of both task and interaction orientation, and the last one a combination of all three orientations.

It is also important to note that, as with all personality characteristics, the amount of influence one’s orientation has will differ from buyer to buyer. So continue to pay attention to your customers and their responses, and adjust your sales tactics accordingly.


Matching your sales tactics to your customer’s orientation

matching your sales tactics

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Sales tactics are defined as strategies that have the goal to gain compliance to reach desired actions (i.e., make a sale). They typically rely on alternative means of communication outside of the product that is being sold. 

The sales influence tactics framework identifies three distinct groups of sales tactics: rational tactics, emotional/relational tactics, and coercive tactics. We’ll discuss how to apply these sales influence tactics for different types of customers.

task orientated buyers

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Use rational approaches for task orientated buyers: Information exchange and recommendations

Because task oriented buyers aim to accomplish their purchase as efficiently as possible, they are intolerant of anything that is inefficient, non-goal oriented, or unrelated to the current task that they are focusing on. People with a task orientation tend to be mechanistic in their approach to sellers and want to make the best decision for themselves or their organization by focusing on the task at hand. They are therefore less focused on building a relationship with the salesperson.

So in terms of sales tactics, when encountering task oriented buyers, it is best to focus on rational approaches that convey the merits of your product and how it will help the buyer achieve their own, or their organization’s objectives. The task oriented buyer should feel that the product that you are selling is appropriate and congruent with their value system. 

Specifically, use information exchange and recommendations, as they attempt to convince the buyer by presenting facts and logical arguments. 

Information exchange. Very simple. This means asking questions to determine customer needs, preferences, problems, and so forth, without making any specific recommendations to influence the perceptions of what you are trying to sell. The goal is to educate the buyer about your products and services. 

For instance, you may give product demonstrations or provide fact sheets while gaining information from the buyer about any needs or problems that they (or their company) are experiencing. 

Recommendations. In contrast to information exchange, recommendations consist of arguments used to try to convince a customer that your products and services will be beneficial to the buyer and/or their organization. This may include comparisons with competitors’ products or services, conducting cost–benefits analysis, overcoming buyer objections, etc. 

While recommendations can serve as a strong influence tactic, you should take note to only use it when it either is solicited or in line with the buyer’s initial impressions. Unsolicited recommendations, especially when ones that contradict the buyers initial impression, can backlash and lead to intentional contradicting behavior.

High information exchange enhances the buyer’s knowledge and enables them to evaluate different solutions, whereas high recommendations help to compare and contrast different solutions efficiently.

self orientated buyer

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Promises and Ingratiation for the Self Orientated Buyer

For self-oriented customers, meeting personal needs outweighs the desire for task effectiveness or accomplishing organizational objectives. Neither efficiency nor personal relationships are particularly rewarding for the self-oriented buyer, unless they contribute to the buyer’s  self-esteem, status, or other personal gains.

Promises. As self-oriented buyers are focused on their own agenda and interests, they are likely to be responsive to tactics that involve compliance. Instead of trying to change the desirability of your product or service, compliance tactics try to change behavior through the use of rewards and additional perks (or sanctions). These tactics are most effective when the buyer is either reluctant, or won’t act unless the buyer will personally benefit from the transaction. 

Promises are perhaps the most effective compliance sales tactic for self-oriented customers. Promises are simply pledges to provide a specific reward or benefit when the buyer agrees with your request. For example, a seller might offer a price reduction when an additional product/service is bought, or provide a discount for recurring purchases to help sway self-oriented customers. 

Threats are compliance sales tactics too, but should be used with caution. Threats are implied or stated negative consequences or sanctions that could be asserted towards the buyer or the buyer’s organization if the buyer does not comply with your request. In many retail settings, however, dealers and manufacturers have very little power over customers. Threats therefore are likely to misfire as customers can turn to other suppliers. When dealing with self oriented buyers, your best bet usually will be to work with promises instead. 

Ingratiation. Another tactic that may work well with self oriented buyers is ingratiation. Ingratiation involves the use of certain behaviors that enhance your attractiveness to the buyer. The goal of this tactic is to improve rapport with the buyer. An example of this may be praising, or complimenting a buyer for his or her achievements, or expressing how you share some of their interests or preferences.

Ingratiation is considered an emotional/relational tactic, but can be effective for self-oriented customers when it supports their sense of importance. Because self oriented buyers like to receive positive attention, it can be effective to provide them praise and validation.

interaction oriented buyer

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Build rapport through ingratiation and inspirational appeals with the Interaction Oriented Buyer

Customers with an interaction orientation emphasize the relational elements of the transaction, rather than the specifics. Hence, these buyers tend to be very responsive to tactics that rely on identifying personally with the salesperson. Tactics that target identification are inspirational appeals and ingratiation, where the goal will be to build rapport with the buyer. 

Ingratiation. As with the self-oriented customer, giving praise and compliments can be helpful.  But the goal is not simply to flatter the potential buyer but also to try to make a true personal connection. When you try to use the ingratiation tactic the goal will be to be friendly and discuss shared interests and hobbies, aligning yourself with the goals and the values of the buyer.

So be sure to spend time getting to know the buyer and identifying any commonalities. Ask questions about work, hobbies, family, and background. Try to connect on a personal level by expressing communalities between you and the buyer or discussing shared interests.

Inspirational appeals. Buyers with a high interaction orientation also prefer sales tactics that emphasize emotional features and values that go beyond typical product features and benefits. An inspirational appeal is a tactic that seeks to elicit an emotional response such as enthusiasm for what you are offering. This usually includes appeals to certain values or ideals that appeal to the buyer. 

The idea here is that positive emotions lead to more positive expectancies, and therefore higher levels of compliance. The inspirational tactic will not only help attach emotional relevance to your product or service, but also elicit excitement and other positive emotions with regard to you and/or the product or service that you are selling. This overlaps with the “how do I feel about it” heuristic found in consumer decision making.  

Inspirational appeals can go beyond the personal interest of the buyer and target higher-order psychological needs, such as doing something for the greater good. For example, an inspirational appeal could focus on how wearing a watch will make you feel dapper, or how buying an eco-friendly product will help the environment.


Recap of Closing the sale: How to match your sales tactic to your customer

When selling a product or service, it is important to know who you are selling to. Adapting your sales tactic to your customer’s buying orientation can increase your chance of success. So next time you are dealing with a potential buyer, start by assessing their customer orientation. Then pick the science-backed sales tactic that is most likely to match. 

If you feel that the customer is trying to accomplish their purchase as efficiently as possible (Task Oriented), try to focus on information exchange and recommendations.

If you feel that the customer tends to be primarily concerned with their own welfare and personal interests (Self Oriented), try ingratiation and promises.

Lastly, if you feel that the customer is interested in socializing and creating personal connections (Interaction Oriented), try to engage with the customer through ingratiation and inspirational appeals.