Beyond the Number

Why The Four Tendencies are your Sales Secret Weapon

Jade Makana's Avatar

Jade Makana

Director of Content Marketing

Salespeople are basically psychologists, minus the couch. Like Freud and Marx, the success of a salesperson lies in their ability to understand their patients….err, prospects. In order to be successful, salespeople need to understand what motivates their prospects, what turns them off, and what what makes them tick. So how can you as a salesperson better understand and connect with your prospects? For today, we are going to skip the Id, the Ego, and even The Challenger Model, and go to a newer source: a book by professional Habits Researcher Gretchen Rubin, which features a framework called The Four Tendencies. (Hint: Check out the Tony Robbins podcast where Tony interviews Gretchen on this very topic!) 

 Like DISC or Meyers-Briggs, The Four Tendencies are a framework for unlocking human behavior by characterizing people into archetypes. Here are the four types in Gretchen’s book, and how you can apply them to your sales prospects for amazing results.

Tendency #1: Upholder Sales Prospect


According to Rubin’s book, an Upholder accepts rules, whether they are self-imposed or imposed by someone else. An upholder is the person who meets deadlines, follows doctor's order, and keeps their New Year's resolution rather than falling off the wagon in February like  a normal person some of us.

How to Identify the Upholder Sales Prospect: To identify an Upholder, pay attention to cues in their behavior. Are they always right on time for a discovery call? Do they mention solo activities like going for a run at lunch or writing a novel in their spare time? Do they have perfect spelling in their emails and always respond with the follow-up info they said they would send? Do they constantly say things like “If you want something done, ask a busy person” in reference to themselves? If so, you may have an Upholder Sales Prospect.

The Challenge of the Upholder Sales Prospect: There is plenty for a salesperson to love about the Upholder Sales Prospect. First of all, an Upholder will never ghost a demo and will rarely even reschedule. Their word is their bond, and they take pride in keeping it. Because of this though, Upholders are often more hesitant to commit to obligations. Once they sign up, they know they’re on board, so they are less likely to agree to a meeting or call in the first place. What’s a salesperson to do?

How to Motivate an Upholder Sales Prospect: Number one, honor what’s important to them. Upholders value punctuality and upholding appointments; you need to do the same. Do not be late to the demo and do not reschedule. Do not be flaky in other ways. Take diligent notes on every call. If you ask them the same question or forget something they’ve already told you, this behavior will be frowned upon. The positive side of an Upholder is that they are dependable. The negative side is that they are judgmental of people who don’t seem as organized or together.

Lastly, appeal to their sense of responsibility. Messaging such as, “I know if I ask you to do it, it will get done,” or “I’m not worried about waiting to hear back from you; I know you always keep your word,” will validate the qualities they pride themselves on, which will create rapport.

Tendency # 2: Questioner Sales Prospect


 According to Rubin’s book, “Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense and meets their own inner standards — so they follow only inner expectations.”

How to Identify a Questioner Sales Prospect: Questioners are motivated by logic and reason. They tend to be information junkies. Does your prospect often reference Wikipedia? Do they go to pub trivia? Do they read their car manual cover to cover? Do they provide a lot of detail in their own answers?  Do they ask even more questions than this? If so, you might have a Questioner on your hands.

The Challenge of a Questioner Sales Prospect: You know those demos where a person asks a question and then loses interest after two minutes of your explanation? That would never happen with a Questioner. Questioners are almost impossible to bore. They love learning the why behind the why, the history, the context and geeking out on the intricate details. With Questioners, there is a much bigger risk with not going deep enough versus the contrary, which can be refreshing for a salesperson who loves their product and has to hold themselves back from getting into the weeds.

How to Motivate the Questioner Sales Prospect: These prospects are motivated by their own sense of logic and reason. If something makes sense to them, they’ll do it. If it doesn’t, no amount of pushing will budge them. Lightweight explanations or over-simplifications will make them suspicious. If your ask is not sufficiently explained, it may feel arbitrary; arbitrary reasoning is is the death knell for a Questioner.

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 Tendency #3: The Rebel Sales Prospect


According to Rubin’s book, a Rebel flouts rules, from outside or inside. They resist control. Give a rebel a rule, and the rebel will want to do the very opposite thing.

How to Identify a Rebel Sales Prospect: This type of prospect is an interesting one. A Rebel may be late to a demo and not apologize. They are the type of people who boast about not having a Facebook account or not watching tv. They are spontaneous. They are rarely part of organized groups like sports or charities, preferring to play football if  they feel like it but not because there’s a team practice Sunday at noon.

The Challenge of the Rebel Sales Prospect: It is in the salesperson’s DNA to follow up, but the more you chase a Rebel Sales Prospect, the more they will resist. They prefer self-motivation and despise being pushed. Rebels tend to be a lot of fun. They are refreshingly honest. They are the person in the meeting who says the thing everyone is thinking, and when they do accept the demo, you know it’s because they really want to, not because they feel obligated. So how do you actually book the meeting?

How to Motivate a Rebel Sales Prospect: It’s counterintuitive but true: the worst way to get a Rebel to attend a demo is to schedule a demo. Rebels hate outer expectations and prefer to march to their own beat. A calendar invite is a looming expectation that feels like a manacle of doom. But all hope isn’t lost.

If you want to reach a Rebel, match their spontaneity with your own. Call them or email them and say “Any chance you’re in the mood for a demo right now? If you’re not up to anything, I’m around and would love to chat.” This puts the ball in the Rebel’s court and gives them a choice. Rebels respond well to choices. They like to feel autonomous and in control. 

Quick side story: While it may seem counterintuitive, Rebels love receiving accolades for their rebel-ness. As a marketer, I can attest to this myself. Many digital marketers fall into the Rebel category. I once  worked as a Corporate Storyteller at a brand new startup. My job was to get buzz and attention for the new company. I tried to apply for a bunch of awards, but we couldn’t qualify because we were too new and didn’t yet have results. Still, I was on the hook to get our name out there, and generate links, engagement, and other signs of life. So what I ultimately did was create our own award, and here’s the interesting part: this framework didn’t exist at the time, but I applied a similar concept. I know a lot of digital marketers pride themselves on being rebels and independent thinkers. So I created an award called “You Can’t Say That in Digital: The Most Politically Incorrect Digital Marketing Posts of the Year.” The awards got a ton of traction from A-list digital marketing influencers, and I was indeed able to get my lil startup a bunch of link love, comments, and shout outs. Now I guarantee you if I had called it The Best Digital Marketing Posts of the Year, it would never have taken off. So you see, this  Rebel psychology works.

Ok, back to our regularly scheduled programming. We still have one more tendency to cover.

#4: The Obliger Sales Prospect


According to Rubin’s book, an Obliger accepts outside rules, but doesn’t like to adopt self-imposed rules. Therefore, accountability is an essential component of their success. This person is the polar opposite of a Rebel. 

How to Identify the Obliger Sales Prospect: Obligers tend to be highly social. Is your prospect just coming from a friend’s baby shower or on their way to a team birthday happy hour? Do they mention family obligations, Weight Watchers meetings, or other events with an accountability component? Do they run late because they were listening to a coworker’s breakup story? If so, you might have an Obliger Sales Prospect.

The Challenge of the Obliger Sales Prospect: Obligers tend to be fun-loving, likable people. The challenge is that they hate disappointing people, which can lead to Obligers telling you what you want to hear, even if it’s not totally sincere. They are the type to say yes to a demo on the discovery call and then later cancel by email. They also are easily influenced so even if you get an initial yes, the second their boss or superior gives the veto, they can swing the other direction. What’s a salesperson to do?

How to Motivate the Obliger Sales Prospect: To work well with an Obliger Sales Prospect, you need to qualify the lead for true enrollment. Make it easy for them. Say things like “Are you totally sure what I just said makes sense?” or “I know you said yes, but I just sensed a little hesitation in your voice. If there’s anything that’s holding you back from being one hundred percent on board with booking a demo, I’d love to know about it. You won’t hurt my feelings at all.”

When you do book the demo, if the Obliger is not the decision-maker, make sure you’ve armed the Obliger with an arsenal of tools to overcome objections their decision-maker might have. Arming them with tactful responses will keep them from catapulting to peer pressures at a critical moment. 

Have you put the Four Tendencies to use in your sales prospecting? Let us know how it went in the comments!

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