Selling to all kinds of people


Anyone can buy things, but selling doesn’t come naturally to everyone. That’s perhaps why 97% of home owners in Western Australia use a real estate agent to sell their home. No doubt it’s also because the agents have the experience and expertise to sell houses. It’s what they do, after all. The average person only gets to sell their house (usually via an agent) every 7 years or so.

After 13 years in teaching, I ended up running my own business and was immediately thrust into the nip and tuck of direct selling. To real estate agents! It did not come naturally to me, but I found it easier if I just acted as natural as I could. I found I could actually make sales. Some days I was better than others. But at least I could do it. I learnt new things every time I tried it.

Wind on almost 20 years and I came to work with the expert sales trainer Mark Wilensky (High Mark Systems), who is based in Maryland, USA. He taught me and my team the importance of understanding who you are selling to using something called the “BOLT” personality types.

It’s gold. And it works.

There are four main personality types, says the theory, defined by how open or closed the person is, or how direct or indirect they are. Each personality needs to be approached in a different manner, if you want the best outcome. (see Diagram above.)

BOLT stands for Bulls, Owls, Lambs and Tigers, each of the four main personality types. Everyone can be a mix of a couple of these, but tend to be more dominant in one of them, and this gives us clues as to how to interact with them…

BULLS … are DIRECT/CLOSED. Typical examples: CEOs, GMs & BDMs.

They are the classic ‘Alpha Males’ (used in the non sexist generalist sense, I have experienced females who are also very alpha). There’s not a lot of subtlety here. Bulls are direct, and closed. So they don’t give away much (closed), but if they don’t like you or what you’re saying, they’ll say it to your face (direct)!

They like the bottom line, and hate time wasters. They will ask direct questions, and want straight answers with no waffle. They hate long winded answers, so give short answers and say “would you like more detail?

They like you saying “let me cut to the chase” and “here’s the big picture”. They see things in black and white, have courage and confidence, so express these qualities when you walk in. I came across a lot of Bulls in real estate, I can tell you.

OWLS … are INDIRECT/CLOSED; typical jobs include CIOs & CFOs.

Like Bulls, they are closed (so you have to do the work), but unlike bulls, are not direct with you.

They are probably thinking “how can you prove it?”. Owls want data, proof, information. They hate “most of our clients do this” (too woolly, salesy), “probably”, “most likely” and fakery. They are risk avoiders.

They like you saying “let’s walk before we can run” or “My job is to provide you with enough information so you can make an informed decision.” If you don’t know the answer, admit it. If you’re usually enthusiastic, tone it down, slow it down. Most decision-makers within the organisation will be Owls. They have direct control over the purse strings.

LAMBS … are OPEN/INDIRECT; typical jobs include librarians, nurses, social work.

Lambs avoid conflict, so they find it hard to say no. They will drag you along for ages (indirect), so you need to cut them loose early. They will do your head in with delays, and it’ll be hard to shut them up (open).

Say things like “Let me know if you’re not convinced that we are a perfect fit.” (allows them to say no). Speak slowly, as they can get intimidated easily. You need to show them how the majority will benefit – this they like.

TIGERS … are OPEN/DIRECT; and can usually be found in sales, mid managerial roles.

They have a short attention span. Meetings are fun (open), but they’ll be quickly onto the next thing (direct). Don’t throw in too much detail, or be boring. Keep it moving, entertain them.

They like “we’ll take care of the detail, so you won’t have to.” They like dreams and big wins. “What will you do with your wins?” (they’ll tell everyone).

As a general rule, people who are strongly in one personality quadrant find it difficult selling to those in a diagonally opposite quadrant; so Bulls find Lambs very frustrating, and Tigers similarly find it hard dealing with Owls, and vice versa.

How do you spot a Bull from an Owl from a Lamb or Tiger? Listen to them.

Say your person is running late to a meeting, and you’re there at their office on time waiting. You get them on the phone. Here’s what each might say…

  • OWL I’ve been stuck here for 17 minutes, I’ll be with you in 6 minutes, maybe 8 or so.
  • LAMB I’m sooo sorry… I feel awwwful, how terrible of me to be late, are you OK? … etc etc
  • TIGER It’s crazy bud! Heh, sorry mate, I’ll be there as soon as I can! I’ll make it up to you.

The secret is to turn off your auto-pilot (selling to everyone in the same way) and pay attention to who you are selling to. Adjust your delivery, script and manner according to the personality. Stop the patter and listen.

Oh, and know thyself. I’m a classic Owl (analytical), with a few Tiger (stage performer) tendencies.

For more on BOLT personality types:


2 thoughts on “Selling to all kinds of people

  1. Excellent Charlie, thanks for sharing. I wish everyone was taught to sell in school, selling is a most important skill, even if one is just selling one’s self into an opportunity. I tried to encourage my boys to do door-to-door sales but no luck 🙂

  2. Yes indeed Ashley; I ended up teaching business, before I was even in business (!), but did my best to impart some ‘wisdom’. If I went back into teaching now, I’d be far better. Selling is hard. Not many people are natural at it.

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