Ahh, personalities. We all have them. Tendencies or propensities to certain types of behavior that are both strengths and weaknesses combined to create the unique human being we all are. Like one of my favorite sayings of all time, “Remember, you’re unique…just like everyone else.” 😂
We’ll explore some of the most popular personality type frameworks specifically within the context of a sales team and breakdown how they can help you lead your sales team best. And while “being unique just like everyone else,” is a tongue in cheek way to describe the very broad spectrum of human beings being different in so many ways, the one thing we all really do have in common, is that we are all ultimately anomalous. Similarities and patterns exist for sure, but in the end, we’re all fingerprints, no one being exactly the same. We’ve all undoubtedly discovered how much variability exists throughout our life and careers.
Managing your sales team well requires you to understand how each team member works best, so you can set them up for success. What motivates, inspires, or discourages each individual stems from their personality, which is a unique reflection of their innate drivers, social influences, trained skill set, lived experiences, and more. At the same time, everyone has personality traits in common with many others. Those shared traits have frequently been grouped and categorized into distinct personality types.
As a sales leader, you can use those personality types to better manage your sales team. Some personalities will make for better public speakers. Others will be strongly motivated by competition. Some will enjoy having direct interactions with customers, and others will prefer more behind-the-scenes work. While no one should be reduced to a personality type as if it wholly defines them, the framework of personality types can be a helpful way to organize and motivate people who bring different traits and abilities to the table.
Quite a number of different personality type frameworks exist, and in this article we’ll walk you through several of the most popular varieties, with an emphasis on how they can help you manage your sales team effectively.
- Why you should care about your team’s personality types
- 7 common sales personality types
- The CliftonStrengths test
- DISC assessments
- The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
- The Enneagram of Personality
Why care about your team’s personality types?
Identifying your team members’ personalities provides one way to understand and organize them accordingly. It allows you to place each person in the roles and situations where they’re most likely to succeed, communicate in the manner that most resonates with them, and align your motivational strategies to most effectively encourage them.
A lot of folks have the misconception that there is a single stereotyped ideal for salespeople—though their definitions may vary, ranging from the pushy closer to the schmoozing charmer to the all-talk blowhard. And unfortunately, some sales reps may feel pressured to conform to one of these stereotypes in order to succeed.
In reality, a sales team composed entirely of any one personality (no matter how supposedly “ideal”) would not perform nearly as well as a diverse team of people who are all empowered to use the unique advantages their own personality types afford.
Rather than treating your team as a monolithic group or encouraging them (whether explicitly or inadvertently) to exhibit personality traits that don’t come naturally, you can motivate them to use their individual strengths to their fullest potential. Understanding their different personality types can make it easier to respond to each person as an individual, making them all feel welcome and valued for who they are. In turn, this can increase morale, enhance productivity, improve their perception of your culture, and reduce turnover.
Knowing the personality types that comprise your team can also help inform your decisions when choosing a sales team structure, planning a sales kickoff (SKO), or creating a compensation plan. For example, if your team contains a mix of personalities that individually excel at either giving one-on-one product demos or large webinars, then you’ll likely do better with either a pod or assembly line sales team structure than an island. And if you have a lot of introverts on your sales team, then you’ll want to be sure to schedule plenty of personal downtime into your SKOs.
Finally, working with your sales reps to determine their personality types can be a fun undertaking that helps people get to know each other and form a team that works well together.
7 common sales personality types
When it comes to defining sales personalities, there’s no single authoritative list out there. Different sources will give you a variety of lists that are fairly similar with varying degrees of specific distinctions. No one list should be considered exhaustive or definitive. They simply offer an informal set of common personality types on sales teams that you’ll probably recognize when you start digging into them.
For our list, we’ve taken the additional step of assigning an animal archetype to each sales personality in order to make them more memorable, help team members identify more directly with their types, and add a bit of levity to the process. (But if animal archetypes don’t work for you, feel free to use more formal names instead. Our feelings won’t be hurt!)
Here are seven of the personality types you’re likely to find on your sales team.
High energy, sociable, enjoy novelty, comfortable with uncertainty
Butterflies are your openers. Just as their animal namesake visits a staggering number of flowers each day, your butterflies maintain a large number of leads, and they have the capacity to reach out to many of them in quick succession. They’re invaluable to have at live events, as they’ll talk to anyone and everyone without fear. And they have the innate ability to set potential customers at ease and make them want to learn more.
However, butterflies are better at making people feel welcome and learning what their needs are than following through long-term. In order to help them reach their fullest potential on your sales team, you should pair them with others who prefer developing long-term relationships with your customers.
Focused, insightful, good communicators, maintain an appropriate sense of urgency
Eagles may not initiate as many conversations as your butterflies, but once they have their target in sight, they rarely miss. They excel at investigation, and learning exactly what it will take to convert someone into a paying customer. From the moment they pick up a lead, they start moving them closer to where they need to be, and they’re experts at bringing them across the finish line.
That being said, their dedication to each lead can cause some eagles to have a harder time hitting quotas. Motivate your eagles by utilizing average deal size or close rate. Then pair a few eagles with your butterflies, and your sales team will be well positioned to move leads efficiently through the sales funnel.
Patient, persistent, undaunted, able to keep track of many leads at once
Bulldogs persevere. They keep up with their prospects for as long as it takes to close a sale. And some customers are going to take longer than others to come around. Whether it’s because the prospect is unsure of your product and needs more convincing, or because they’re dragging their feet and need frequent reminders, a bulldog will keep at it until they’ve closed a sale. They’re great to have in your sales team to pick up the leads that are taking longer than others, follow up as many times as it takes, and move them through the funnel.
However, because bulldogs are used to operating at a steadier pace, they may run out of things to do if they don’t have enough leads to follow. Have your bulldogs turn their extensive follow-up into drip campaigns, and then get other team members to contribute leads.
Intelligent, loyal, trustworthy, faithfully stick to the script
Huskies are perfectly happy repeating processes over and over. They’ll learn your scripts by heart, and rarely deviate from them when not absolutely necessary. On the one hand, this may mean they lack improvisational skills, but on the other hand, such studious attention to detail can be a tremendous strength.
You develop scripts for a reason, and sometimes it can be particularly important to follow them. When dealing with extremely complex and technical products, for example, it may be crucial for sales reps to stick to the exact verbiage you’ve laid out, or risk confusing customers with potentially misleading information. Huskies can also be great candidates for training new team members in your scripts and sales processes.
Additionally, when testing a new script, you’ll need to control all other variables in order to gauge the effectiveness of the script itself. Your huskies are the perfect sales reps to assign to such a task.
However, they may struggle to grow without clear guardrails from leadership, and they won’t be as helpful when team members look to them for support in unusual situations—or when they face unusual circumstances themselves. Give your huskies a treadmill of predictability, and watch them shine.
Intellectual, well-studied, always reading up on the latest product information
Owls are often thought of as studious and scholarly. The owls on your sales team are the reps who take it upon themselves to study up and learn everything they possibly can about your products and services. They’re able to move with confidence beyond scripts because they truly know what they’re talking about at an in-depth level.
Owls are the reps you assign to customers who have a lot of technical questions. Additionally, your other reps will tend to reach out to owls for advice when they need a bit more information about the product they’re helping a customer with. They can be a force multiplier on a healthy team. But if you haven't built a cohesive team, your owls may behave more like dragons—hoarding domain knowledge so that they can feel indispensable.
Owls are usually happy to share their knowledge with anyone who asks, but because they spend so much time learning, they may not naturally attract as much attention as other types—which means they can sometimes go unnoticed. Pay attention to who your owls are, and look for ways to utilize their vast knowledge and help them help others. You might even ask an owl to lead a session at your next SKO, or become a public-facing SME who appears on podcasts, gives interviews, and authors web articles and social posts.
Dependable, consistent, order takers, team players, get the job done
Bees are hard workers, and they’re able to take on a wide variety of tasks. When you assign a bee to a particular activity, you can rest assured that they’ll see it through, and you won’t have to worry about whether they’ve gotten distracted. They work in harmony with their teammates, putting their heads down to reliably accomplish whatever you need from them.
That being said, bees often need to be given specific directions for what to do. They’re happy to follow orders—they just need to know exactly what those orders might be. And they’ll stick with what you’ve told them to do until you instruct them to move on to something else.
Empathetic, helpful, friendly, reliably put the customer first
Dolphins are intelligent and empathic. They’re able to sense the needs of a customer, connect with them on a personal level, and make them feel like they’re talking to a friend more than a sales rep.
Your dolphins are highly attuned to the subtle things a customer does that other reps might miss, and they respond accordingly. They can adapt their pitch to a customer’s particular context, intuitively explaining how your product or service solves the issues a lead has mentioned.
They’re the best at making customers feel great about themselves. No one is better than your dolphins at creating customers who will be loyal for the long run. However, they may be so attuned to the needs of the customer that they’re unable to be assertive when it’s called for to close or advance. Have them work with your eagles or bulldogs to round out their closing ability.
Personality tests for your sales team
Moving beyond sales personalities in particular, there are a number of established but more generalized personality tests that you can use with your team. Some of them are geared toward the workplace, while others are far broader. Each of them can be useful tools for thinking about differences in how people think, feel, work, and communicate.
If approached correctly, they can help your sales reps learn more about themselves, each other, and how they can relate to one another as a team. Don’t take the individual outcomes of the tests too seriously. Some team member’s results are likely to resonate more strongly than others. But they can serve as a great starting point for conversation and collaboration.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of the most popular personality tests, and the insights they offer sales leaders: CliftonStrengths, DISC, Meyers-Briggs, and the Enneagram.
The CliftonStrengths test was invented by Don Clifton and developed by the Gallup Group. The initial version released in 1999 was known as the “StrengthsFinder” test—a name which many people continue to call it today, despite it being officially rebranded as “CliftonStrengths” in 2015. It was built by analyzing enormous datasets and is more solidly rooted in real-world data than some of the others we’ll consider.
The test evaluates people based on 34 themes divided among four categories:
- Strategic thinking
- Relationship building
Examples of the 34 themes include analytical and futuristic under strategic thinking, adaptability and empathy under relationship building, communication and self-assurance under influencing, and consistency and focus under executing.
Participants are asked a series of timed questions during which they self evaluate their own characteristics. Once the test is complete, they are provided with a list of all 34 themes ordered from most to least applicable, and this makes up their CliftonStrengths personality type.
The intention is to gain an understanding of each person’s abilities, based on their own perception of what they are comfortable doing. Managers often use this test in professional settings to help assign team members to the roles where they will most excel. For example, it’s great at identifying people who prefer internal research work versus those who want to be on the front lines interacting directly with customers—both valuable skill sets, but ones that are best suited to different positions.
Unlike the other tests we’ll consider, CliftonStrengths is an entirely proprietary and paid system. Although no free version is available, there is a less-expensive “Top 5” option. For that version, participants take the same test as the full version, but they only receive with their 5 most applicable themes, rather than all 34.
CliftonStrengths also offers reports specific to various industries and roles—including sales. Their “CliftonStrengths for Sales Report” makes the results of their test more immediately applicable by directly explaining how each of your team members’ top skills relates to their role as a sales rep, with targeted suggestions for how to help them improve and grow their skills.
Look to CliftonStrengths if you want a data-backed test that spells out how your team’s personalities can help them succeed as salespeople. It’s a good choice if you want a test that also offers useful interpretation of the results.
DISC assessments are based on the emotional and behavioral theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston, which he published in 1928. However, he never created a personality test out of his theory.
Today, multiple competing organizations offer their own versions of DISC assessments, several of which try to position themselves as the authoritative source. They range from paid assessments to free initial assessments with paid additional evaluations to fully free versions.
Despite the differences across the varying assessments, the tests mostly follow a similar pattern. Participants are presented with a series of descriptions organized into groups of four. From each group of four, they are told to select one description that they see as being most representative of them, and then another description that they see as being least representative of them. Some tests follow this up with additional self-evaluative questions of a similar nature.
Once a participant has completed the test, their results are based around the four personality traits that make up the DISC acronym:
Depending on the specific assessment, participants may be assigned percentages for each of the four traits that make up their unique profile, and they may be given expanded descriptions and characteristics. Many tests offer to take things further with additional paid upgrades, such as named profiles that their specific personality traits fall under.
Much like CliftonStrengths, DISC assessments are often used in professional environments to gain a better understanding of each team member and what roles suit them best. Because the two tests offer results in a very different format, managers may find one or the other to be more useful, depending on exactly what they’re hoping to learn about their teams.
Because DISC is not owned by a single entity, there is no “official” version to point to for sales in particular. However, some individual sales-focused reports do exist, such as the “Everything DiSC Sales Profile,” an extensive 23-page report that purports to help sales reps “explore their own sales style and how their strengths and challenges influence their selling behaviors.”
Additionally DISC offers sales teams the chance to not only understand their own personalities, but to recognize different personalities in their customers, enabling them to relate with each lead in a manner that will be best received.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most popular personality assessments, maintaining a devoted following outside of the workplace in addition to finding application in professional settings.
Mother and daughter team Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers developed the MBTI based on the findings of Carl Jung in his Psychological Types, and they published their work in 1944. Today, the Myers & Briggs Foundation owns the trademarked materials and determines official administrators of the test; however, a number of free alternatives also purport to provide similar results.
Participants answer a series of questions to determine their personality type, which is represented by a four-letter acronym. Each letter stands for one of two possibilities, as follows:
- Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
- Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N)
- Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
That makes for 16 possible combinations, such as INFJ or ESTP, each of which represents a distinct personality type. The Myers-Briggs assessment has become popular enough that each type is now surrounded by a substantial amount of lore, with types (casually) assigned to nearly any famous individual imaginable, both living and dead, real and fictional. Many books, websites, and groups are dedicated to parsing out each type in detail.
At their core, the MBTI types aim to explain how individuals perceive the world and make decisions. Knowing your team member’s types can help you understand the most effective ways to interact with and motivate them. And the added lore surrounding the MBTI can make it a particularly fun endeavor to undertake with your team—everyone can find someone famous or successful who thinks like them, and they can compare their personalities to the people and characters they admire.
If you look up “MBTI and sales,” you’ll find a lot of results that just list which types supposedly perform best as salespeople. While that can be an interesting element to consider, it shouldn’t be the focus of how you use the test. You wouldn’t want to create a bias against your sales reps who don’t happen to fit under any of the “top types.”
Instead, keep in mind that each of the types can make excellent sales people if they’re motivated properly. For example, it’s a common misconception that extroverts make the best salespeople, but introverts can play a crucial role in sales as well, particularly if they’re given a greater focus on internal elements like prospecting leads and perfecting sales processes.
For more on this, Hubspot put together a guide that covers all 16 MBTI types, suggesting ways to get the best sales performance out of each one.
The Enneagram of Personality is claimed by many adherents to have roots in antiquity, tracing back to such figures as Pythagoras in the 6th century BCE and Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th century CE; however, such connections are disputed. The personality types as we understand them today were developed by Oscar Ichazo in the 1950s and Claudio Naranjo in the 1970s.
Much like the MBTI, the Enneagram has a devoted following, an expansive background of lore, and uses in many different scenarios—both personal and professional. And because it isn’t owned by any single official entity, you’ll find variations on Enneagram personality types for all manner of specific applications.
The Enneagram also has the advantage of being more straightforward than many other personality tests, having only nine distinct personality types, with every person fitting into one of them. The types are primarily identified by their number, but each number is usually also given a name. Those names will vary depending on which version of the Enneagram you’re using, but these are some of the most common examples you’ll see for each:
- Type 1: reformer/perfectionist
- Type 2: helper/giver
- Type 3: achiever/performer
- Type 4: individualist/romantic
- Type 5: investigator/observer
- Type 6: loyalist/loyal skeptic
- Type 7: enthusiast/epicure
- Type 8: challenger/protector
- Type 9: peacemaker/mediator
Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear different suggestions for how to determine an individual’s Enneagram type. Some folks will insist that you need to bring in an Enneagram expert to talk with a person and discern their type. Others will suggest reading up on each type (which isn’t too hard, since there are only nine of them) to see which one resonates the most. And others yet provide questionnaires that can be taken in a similar manner to the other personality tests we’ve considered.
As with the MBTI, it wouldn’t be right to pigeonhole certain Enneagram types as being inherently good at sales, with others being less so. All nine types have skills to bring to the table, as well as weaknesses to be aware of. For example, type twos are often fantastic at building and maintaining customer relationships, but their people-pleasing nature may cause them to struggle when they have to communicate things that a customer won’t like.
You’ll find no end of guides and even whole books that are dedicated to breaking down the Enneagram types as they relate to sales, but to get you started, The Enneagram In Business put together a concise list of strengths, challenges, and development tips for each.
Keep your sales team motivated and on track with Performio
Whatever personality types you may find on your sales team and however you choose to structure them, you’re going to need sales data to understand how well they’re doing and to keep them on track toward meeting their goals.
With Performio, our world-class software does all the heavy lifting for you, meticulously tracking everything from the performance of individual sales reps to the team as a whole, no matter how your teams are composed. Our performance and reporting dashboards simplify complex data, pulling out crucial insights to show you exactly what you need to know.
Additionally, each of your reps will be able to see their own progress toward quotas and goals, as well as how much they can expect to earn—meaning they no longer have to resort to “shadow accounting” to track these things for themselves, and can instead stay focused on making sales.
Want to see what Performio can do for your organization? Request a demo today.