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Understanding the Customer - DISC

Since ages past, there have been attempts to understand human behavior, that is , what we do and why we do. Some of the works dates back to ancient civilization and some of them have been credited to the likes of Freud and Galen. With the later however, the modern way of understanding human behavior, or what we know as psychology, was established.

However, despite these efforts, there is still a strong interest in understanding behavioral styles and communication patterns, and respond accordingly to establish effective communication.

In an effort to understand human behavior and communication styles around us, and to effectively adapt to the individual style to develop a close rapport with our customers, friends and colleagues, we will look into the basics of a widely accepted model – The DISC. The DISC model was first described in Dr Martson’s 1928 book “ Emotions of Normal People “. Dr Martson, in a sharp contrast to Sigmund Freud and others of his time, was not interested in the pathology of mental illness or psychology, but a normal man’s feelings and emotions in accordance to the environment.

Following Dr Martson’s theory, people can be broadly expected to behave in a particular situation in one of four types. The application of the DISC model is in the fact, that understanding this pattern can help us to adapt to that pattern and win over the person we are interacting with , particularly our customers.

We find broadly four types of communication patterns – Dominance (dominate), Influence (influencing others), Steadiness (Stability), and Compliance ( or cautious). The second picture above would give you an idea of the communication pattern of each of the four patterns. Based on this we can say the following –

The first person (D) has a dominant behavioral style. This is because in a particular situation he feels his environment is unfavourable and difficult. Yet, he wants to win. A person of such behavioral style is only motivated by his success, more so being perceived as a winner, a champion. The typical traits of a person of this style would be always in the middle of action, more often he will be impatient, and always be in hurry. Personal relations do not matter to a person of this style, as he is only motivated by success. In a group meeting, such people demonstrate their dominant style with close proximity to the microphone. You will hear his voice more. In a pressure situation they are impatient.

How do you adopt to a person of such a behavioral style. Be short, precise, and come directly to the point. Give him room to speak and do not take the control of the discussion from such behavioral styles. The last thing a person demonstrating such style wants, is to loose control on things around him. During a discussion, show your customer, how your product can help him to be more successful, and win more patients. Be specific and short/crisp.

However remember, a person can show different behavioral styles in two different situations. The boss seems to be dominant in the meeting room, but as he meets his boss outside, he may show any of the other three patterns that we are going to look into, going forward.

The second person in the picture shows a happy, go-merry attitude. Usually these people show an overtly friendly style of communication, talks a lot and enquires about you and your family. In the OR or in your daily routine job, you may have met customers who ask a lot about his peers. According to Dr Martson, people who demonstrate this style of Influence (I), regard their environment as favorable and think that they can overcome any situation by merely building relationship and persuading people. While the (D) styles are motivated by success and 'win', the (I) would be more motivated by ‘recognition’, or how people perceive them. Their style of winning is not by force or power, but by building rapport and influencing people. In customer interaction, you may have seen a customer who gets very friendly with you, talks a lot, gives you a lot of time, and has a lot of facial and hand- body movement. However, most of such styles are limited to superficial discussion and they would not go deep enough in your product discussions. A little bit of information is adequate for them, otherwise you can loose them in a sea of technicalities. Again, the biggest fear of such people is loss of reputation. In a challenging situation they may often look disorganized. Punctuality may not be a word available in their dictionary. The question that you may expect from them is “Who” or “Who else” owns this technology.

Such styles deserve to be given more room. Again like (D), never interrupt such people when they talk. In your discussion with the surgeon on product, keep matters simple. Share peer reviewed studies, but it is more likely that a customer demonstrating a communication pattern of such sort, may be more motivated by his peers. Such customers also may be the first to jump to buy a new product to stay ahead and get recognized by his peers that he owns the latest in technology. Often they turn out to be the low hanging fruits in a new product launch, but establishing a product with its clinical relevancy, is a long distant away from such styles.

This brings us to focus on the third behavioral pattern, the (S) or the Supportive/steady. The people of such behavioral style often feels the environment as favorable and do not intend to change the status quo. As you can see from the expression from the picture, such people are contended with what they are doing. They hate to adopt many sudden changes. Such people try to keep the status quo by convincing others , and may see change as a challenge, until and unless they are reasoned well enough that the change is for their own benefit. A typical communication pattern displayed by such people are friendly, yet less expressions and hand-body movement (unlike the I). Such people are very reflective and would take their own time in taking a decision. When pushed and put in a challenging situation, they may become stubborn and resistant. The question that you may face from him is “How” or how does this technology benefit me.

In sales, do take a step by step approach to such customers. You may need to take baby steps towards your ultimate goal. The advantage with such customers is that, while they may not be the first doctors to adopt to your new technology merely for the sake of owning it, they are the ones who would be married to the product ones they have been sufficiently convinced of the efficacy of the product and would not move to the competition. Beyond the early adopters of technology, a large mass of consumers of (S) behavioral styles would ultimately contribute to the success of the product.

The last behavioral style are people who are typical ‘rule book ‘ followers. Such people would view their environment as un favorable (like the D), but unlike the D would not believe that they can change things. Hence they, like the S are fond of maintaining status-quo. Such people would try to argue against change by showing many clauses and rules. They are data oriented and would love to swim in a sea of facts and figures. They may be of little smile on the face ( leading us to confuse them as D sometimes), and would always ask questions like “WHY”.

As you meet such customers, do your homework well. Keep your data, facts and figures ready. Keep a pool of scientific studies with you, and quote them in discussion. However, like your approach towards the (S), do not force them to take quick decisions. For they are reflective like the (S), and need sufficient time in taking decision. Remember, they are status quo lovers. However, the beauty of such people is that, if you have won them, you have won them by heart.

As a last word, such styles are not permanent and people generally are adaptive to their environment. You may have known a person to be very dominating, but may show an entirely different style one fine morning. You may need to recognize that, and play your cards accordingly. And above all, learning the DISC and adapting to different behavioral styles may not be a very effective option when dealing with mother-in-laws. So use your Emotional Intelligence.


originally written and published in the WeekEnd Readings with special focus on medical instrument industry. Feedback or log on to to drop a note.



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