Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Pink at a local book reading (at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, CA) of his latest – To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Even though I’ve been a fan for years and have mentioned him a few times on this blog, I had not managed to go to any live events related to his previous 4 books. I came away impressed – he’s a compelling speaker who practises what he preaches about selling.
For those who may be new to Pink, his first book, Free Agent Nation, has been a longstanding favorite of mine and, of course, one of the several inspirations driving this blog. Before becoming a Free Agent himself, Pink worked in politics and government, making it all the way to chief speech-writer for Vice-President, Al Gore. You can check out a more detailed bio for Pink here.
Now, let me start by saying that I was a little put off by this book’s cover. All his previous books have featured the book title more prominently than the author name. This one does the reverse, and, not to a better effect. Anyway, I moved on from shallow aesthetics soon enough but this may be something for Pink and his publisher to take note of for future books.
The official blurb on this latest book is as follows:
His latest is To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, which offers a fresh look at the art and science of sales. Using a mix of social science, survey research, and rich stories, the book shows that white-collar workers now spend an enormous portion of their time persuading, influencing, and moving others. Then it reveals the 3 personal qualities and 3 specific skills necessary for doing it better.
This, by the way, is the niche that Pink has intentionally carved for himself – his books are almost all about the changing world of work. And, he leverages social science, custom surveys, academic research, personal stories and engaging analogies to serve up his perspectives. All of which make a darned good recipe for craftily drawing readers in and leaving them with a few carefully-revealed and actionable takeaways.
Wide Appeal to People From All Walks of Life
So, a quick little synopsis of my takeaways to whet your appetite follows. But, before I do so, a word about the kind of audience that this book will appeal to. Since Pink’s entire premise is that everyone is in the task of selling, whether you’re actually a bag-carrying salesperson or not, the book should appeal to people from all walks of life – teachers, doctors, the self-employed, actual salespeople. That said, if you’ve been selling for some time already, some of the ideas here may seem to be more rudimentary and you will be tempted, like I was, to skip sections. Regardless, I think that even veteran salespeople will get some nuggets to either re-inforce or validate their existing ouvre. But, do not approach this book as a selling how-to – Pink intentionally did not write that kind of book.
On a personal note, having engaged in Sales as a consultant in a former life, there are definitely some ideas that resonate but some seem rather basic. My bible in those days was The Trusted Advisor (another book with wider application than just salespeople or consultants, but let’s return to it another time).
We’re All in the Work of Selling
Anytime we’re trying to get someone to give up something they have and take something we have – time, money, ideas, beliefs, etc. – we’re selling. While 1 out of 9 people may be actual salespeople, per Pink’s research, the other 8 are also doing “non-sales” selling of ideas/concepts. Most people, I’m sure, accept this already. However, his survey of 7000+ non-sales people further showed that they spend 40%+ of their time trying to influence / convince / persuade others. And, of course, for the readers of this blog, who are typically self-employed (freelancers, independent professionals, small business owners or entrepreneurs), this is an even higher percentage as we’re engaged in direct selling of our products/services. So, all in all, the amount of time we all spend “selling” is quite significant.
The Old Selling Ways Do Not Work Anymore
The old-style selling approach of “Always Be Closing” and “Get them to sign on the line that is dotted” (remember Alec Baldwin in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross?) does not work in today’s world anymore because, amongst other things, the information disparity between seller and buyer has reversed. 20 years ago, a Chevy dealer had a lot more information about Chevys than the buyer. Today, the buyer can walk in with just as much information. So, we’re not in the world of “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) anymore. Rather it is “caveat venditor” (seller beware). Information technology has put unprecedented power in the hands of the buyer by making vast amounts of information about all kinds of products and services accessible in real-time.
Aggressive self-talk to pump yourself up for a sales call can actually do more harm than good. Instead of “I can do this”, try the counter-intuitive “Can I do this?” Answering this question for yourself again and again will force you to develop more specific selling strategies. And, this interrogative self-talk is more muscular than the typical masculine “I’ve got this”, “I can do this” kind of re-enforcing, which actually lulls the salesperson into a false sense of security and unpreparedness.
And, finally, contrary to popular belief, extroverts do not make the best salespeople because they typically don’t know when to shut up. Nor do introverts, of course, because they don’t know when to speak up. The people who are sort of in the middle of that spectrum, “ambiverts”, are better-equipped (or able to quickly learn) to both shut up and speak up at the appropriate times. You can test your level on the introvert-extrovert spectrum with this assessment.
A new version of ABC – Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity
Attunement is all about listening, understanding the other’s perspectives, etc. This is not a new insight, but he does give some interesting examples for how this is a learned and cognitive skill rather than just innate and based on emotional intelligence.
Buoyancy is about staying positive and upbeat – also not a new insight. However, Pink provides compelling case examples and framing how-tos to deal with rejection that are definitely worth a try.
And, finally, clarity is about helping others see their situation in fresh and more revealing ways and identifying problems they didn’t know they had through questions. Again, this may sound like old news but some of the further insights that Pink explores here will be food for thought for even the most seasoned salespeople. Certain types of questions that Pink proposes here might seem counter-intuitive at first but he demonstrates their effectiveness through some decent examples.
Selling Toolkit V2.0
The last section of the book gets into some practical tools around sales pitches and how to use theatrical improvisation techniques to keep a conversation going. To seasoned salespeople, these will not be new techniques, but Pink’s anecdotes and examples here are well-crafted enough to keep such readers absorbed.
And, finally the lofty concept of “servant selling” : the crucial idea that, in order to move others, our purpose needs to start with serving first and selling later, rather than the typical manipulation that traditional selling is associated with. The true salesperson “is an idealist and an artist” who elevates his/her purpose, beyond just selling a product/service, to somehow improving the life of the potential buyer or making the world a better place. This really forms the basis of the “human” aspect of selling in his title. As such, I am a little disappointed that it was not explored further but rushed through in the last section.
So, in the final summing, I do think this is a valuable book for people from all fields and in all kinds of jobs or businesses. Contrary to some of the Amazon reviewers, I do not believe that there was too much repetition in some areas or not enough depth in others (except for that last part on “servant selling” perhaps). As an exploration of the art and science of selling, the book has a well-balanced narrative and stands well on its own. Pink includes many, many other references for readers to dive further into should they be so inclined.
There is one aspect of selling that I wish he had addressed. In today’s era of social media and online businesses, a new kind of selling emerging. While technology greatly enables this new kind of selling, I don’t see that Pink’s new ABC skills, by themselves, work well in the virtual environment. Maybe that’s a whole different book….
During the book-signing, I told Pink that I was going to start my business this year and joked that his book was the only one on Sales I planned on reading. Of course, I got the raised-eyebrow-and-pursed-lips look. Jokes apart, selling is one of the most ancient human behaviors – we’ve bartered, traded, negotiated our way through the ages. The well-chosen handful of pragmatic approaches in this book will definitely further enhance those genuine human connections required to truly move others.
You can catch a good interview with Pink on NPR here.
What do you think? Do you spend a fair bit of your time doing non-sales selling? What are some of the skills / approaches that are working best for you? Have you mastered your pitches? Are you able to improvise on your feet when conversations start to go south? And, do you agree with the idealistic version of “servant selling”? Get the book and let me know your thoughts. Happy Reading.
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