Arthur Miller created the archetype of the insecure, self-deluded traveling salesman in his Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Death of a Salesman. I have my own Willy Loman story.
When I was in high school, I earned extra money by lugging around a sample case of candles and selling door to door. There were, of course, the easy marks; my parents and the next-door neighbors. Beyond the comfortable confines of my immediate neighborhood, it was a teenager’s view of hell – doors slammed, fingers wagging no from behind lace curtains, and the one-hour pitch that led to “I’ll have to think about it.”
Like most Americans, I have a rather dim view of salespeople. In fact, it is usually ranked among the most distrusted professions along with stock traders, politicians, dentists, and lawyers.
Which is surprising, because Dan Pink, the author of the new book, To Sell is Human; the Surprising Truth About Moving Others was a lawyer. Pink, the author of such best sellers as A Whole New Mind and Drive takes a fresh and engaging look at the art and social science of selling. In fact, his thesis is that in one way or another, we are all salespeople.
Pink begins with some provocative statistics – the result of his study with Qualtrics, a research and data analytics company. The study, What Do You Do At Work?, revealed “that people are now spending 40 percent of their time at work engaging in non-sales: selling – persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a wide range of professions, we are devoting roughly twenty-four minutes of every hour to moving others.”
The book makes a compelling argument that “we are all in sales now” because while the existing data show that 1 in 9 Americans work in sales, the new data reveal so do the other 8 in 9.
In all of his books, Pink (Like Malcolm Gladwell) uses behavioral economics and science to illuminate a subject – in many ways, counterintuitive to what many of us believe.
For example, he cites a 2008 experiment where researchers simulated a negotiation over the sale of a gas station. (I assume this was before the great financial meltdown.)
“Like many real-life negotiations, this one presented what looked like an obstacle: The highest price the buyer would pay was less than the lowest price the seller would accept. However, the parties had other mutual interests that, if surfaced, could lead to a deal both would accept.”
Pink continues, “One-third of the negotiators were instructed to imagine what the other side was feeling, while one-third was instructed to imagine what the other side was thinking. (The remaining third, given bland and generic instructions, was the control group.)”
The result? The empathizers (feeling) struck many more deals than the control group, But the perspective takers (thinking) did even better: 75% of them managed to fashion a deal that satisfied both sides.
The authors of the study, Adam Galinsky, Joe Magee, M. Inesi and Deborah Gruenfeld and another study by William Maddux showed that “Empathy…was effective but less so, and was, at times a detriment to both discovering creative solutions and self-interest.”
Pink also dispels the myth that extroverts make the best salespeople in today’s economy and that the “Ambivert” – someone who is somewhere between an extrovert and an introvert is the rising star in moving people.
If you’re familiar with the classic Alec Baldwin uber-salesman scene in David Mamet’s Glengarry, Glen Ross you’ll know that the ABC scribbled on the chalkboard means, “Always be closing.” (For movie fans, Mamet wrote that scene for Baldwin and is not in the original play).
Pink has rewired and rethought the ABC of the new world of selling and it’s Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. Like his other books, he complements each idea with relevant case studies, strategies and a number of insight exercises.
He offers six successors to the standard elevator pitch. Shows you why problem finding may be a smarter strategy than problem solving, and how skills in improvisation can dramatically improve how to move people.
All of which makes To Sell Is Human – a delightfully useful read. Essentially, Pink is reframing what “selling” is all about. We are all salespeople because everyday we are selling ideas, positions, and strategies to other people. I highly recommend it.
I know Dan personally and marvel how there are very few pictures of him without a purple shirt and he doesn’t disappoint in To Sell Is Human. So, I requested a preview copy and bought my own Kindle version as well.
I first met him at a book signing at BIF (Business Innovation Factory) and what impressed me is that he didn’t simply sign books; he had short, meaningful conversations with everyone. I think he’s a reluctant salesperson. Dan is more interested in sharing information and ideas than selling you a product or service.
And ultimately, that’s the foundation of the new age of sales – how to move others, by moving yourself.
Finally, for anyone wishing to sell candles door to door, the Praying Hands cylinder candle was a big hit.
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