Sheila Ward, a designer at Harrell Remodeling, in Mountain View, Calif., had as clients a couple doing a whole-house remodel. The wife was a perfectionist, Ward says. “She was conscientious and wanted the perfect design.” The husband was formal and traditional. Both husband and wife were very busy. They had already dismissed two designers from two other firms — “a red flag,” Ward says. A familiar scenario from which some companies would walk. Harrell Remodeling didn't. Three years ago, the company began using a profiling tool that has helped its staff understand and communicate with clients in a new way — in a way that the client wants to be communicated with.

Martin O'Neill

It's not a new idea — Hippocrates characterized people as choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, or melancholy — but understanding how to talk to a client in his or her own language can be difficult for business owners and salespeople used to the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That paradigm no longer holds true. You want to do — in this case, to communicate — unto others in the way that they best communicate. “If you speak in a language that a person is used to hearing, it enhances communication, builds rapport, and makes them feel relaxed,” says Rebecca Morgan, a San Jose-based management consultant, speaker, and author who likens this form of communication to “learning how to say ‘hello' and ‘thank you' in a [foreign] language when you travel. It enhances the experience.”

LEARN AS YOU GO Most people do informal profiling with everyone they meet. For a service company, that informal process begins with the initial phone call. At many remodeling companies, prospects are qualified right away by someone with a competent, warm voice developing a conversation while asking focused questions from a lead sheet. That's how it is at Harrell Remodeling.

“If someone has done a remodel before,” Ward says, “we ask, ‘How did it go?' Sometimes they didn't have a good experience. Those people may appreciate the products and services we provide.” With the lead sheet, Ward and owner Iris Harrell can determine whether a lead is a good fit. “If the [prospect] says, ‘I used a handyman service to rebuild my second story, and it was great,' they may not value [our] quality craftsmanship or high-level customer service.”

Once a prospect becomes a client, insightful strategies on communication become even more important. That's where profiling can really help.

Recently, Harrell Remodeling began using a particular type of DISC profile to gain insight into clients. Based on the 1928 work of psychologist William Moulton Marston, DISC — the letters stand for dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness — is a four-quadrant assessment tool that looks at behavioral styles and preferences. About a decade ago, a Finnish company brought its version, Extended DISC — a 12-question tool that helps a profiler perceive the profilee — to the U.S. “Clients use these tools to understand who they are, and [they] use that as a starting point to be more effective with other people,” says Markku Kauppinen, president and CEO of Extended DISC (

Once Ward began working with the couple who were embarking on the whole-house remodel, she and Harrell Remodeling's sales manager, Lisa Sten, answered the DISC profile questions. “We wanted [the wife] to be comfortable enough to get to the next step of the design process; she wasn't feeling like she could do that,” Ward says.

It was through Sandler Training (, a sales and management training and consulting firm with many remodeling company clients, that Harrell Remodeling learned about Extended DISC. Accessed online, the respondent answers questions about another person, the responses are evaluated, and suggestions for communication techniques are offered. Dave Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training, says the profile “allows people to pre-plan how they can interact with a person. It's especially helpful in design/build between sessions one and two.”