North American Association of Sales Engineers

North American Association of Sales Engineers

European Association of Sales Engineers

Read the Room

By Aileen McNabb

Read the room.  Which means…read people.  Everyone says we need to do it in presales.  Why?

Everything we do is all about people.  Discovery.  Demo.  AE relationships.  Everything.  If you can’t adapt your style to another one, you risk being at odds with the majority of people you deal with. 

You answer a question in a demo with a detailed explanation that went over really well in last week’s demo.  But this time you can tell the questioner is annoyed.  Why?  Maybe you answered with a style that was just too different from his.

Social styles of behaviour is a methodology that can equip you to recognize behaviour styles and how they are likely to act or react.  Once you understand this, you’re well on your way to reading individuals and reading the room.

You may have heard of these terms:  Driver, Expressive, Amiable, Analytical.  And seen something like this diagram:

But you don’t know what it all means; and you don’t have the time (or inclination) to learn a lot about it.  Here’s a helpful hint that will get you started and get you reading right away.

This style is based on two axes:  Responsiveness and Assertiveness.  Start by learning just one – responsiveness – the x-axis.

People on the left are Indirect.  People on the right are Direct.  People on the left are also slower paced than people on the right.  And this is where to start.

Because the biggest cause of conflict is a difference in Pace.  Analyticals and Amiables like to take things methodically.  They don’t like to be rushed.  Drivers and Expressives like to get to the point quickly.  They’ll accept some detail but start with the end result.

You can recognize where people are by watching for these things:

Pay most attention to pace.  How fast do they move and talk?  Do they walk quickly?  Do they interrupt people – that’s an indicator of fast pace.  Do they seem to like detail?  People on the left do.  People on the right don’t. 

Just watch everyone you interact with and try to place them at either end of this spectrum.  Now, adapt your style to theirs.  This is great self-training.

In the example above where one day a detailed question was well-received but in the next demo it was annoying; watch your questioner. 

Did he appear methodical?  Was the question asked with some detail?  Did it take a while to get to the core of the question?  He’s Indirect/Slower Paced.

Did she interrupt you to ask the question? Have you noticed during the demo that she wanted to get to the point quickly?  When you had a break, did the questioner leave quickly – whether online or in person?  She’s Direct/Faster Paced.

For the Slower Paced questioner:  This is not a bad time for the lead-in – That’s a good question.  (Please don’t say this after EVERY question.)  Tell how you’d do what they asked about.  Maybe even show it – possibly a multi-step demo segment.

For the Fast Paced questioner:  Answer Yes or No.  Then add increasing degrees of detail.  If needed.  Sales people may tell you to never say No.  The Drivers and Expressives would like you to say it when it’s appropriate.  They think you’re avoiding or lying if you take too long to get to the No.  So even if you don’t want to say the word No, if that’s the answer, get to it. 

I was at a demo where a question was asked, and we couldn’t do it.  The  SE did what some people think all good SEs do.  She danced.  A lot.  I observed the questioner getting more and more annoyed, so I intervened (I didn’t often do that.)  I said, Bob, we don’t do that.  Chris can show you how you can achieve your goal another way.  All he said was, OK.  We won that deal.

It’s not easy to read a room.  But it can be learned.  Start with Pace.  You’ll become a good reader.

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