Putting your best pitch forward in a society of salespeople

Putting your best pitch forward in a society of salespeople

Daniel Pink likes to take an unexpected, if not completely contrarian, view of the universe. He carries a notebook with him at all times and jots down things he sees or hears that he might want to think about later.

So when Pink, bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind, came across statistics showing that one in nine Americans worked in sales in 2000 and that the same proportion of people worked in the profession last year, it piqued his curiosity.

“You would have thought that the internet would have disintermediated sales,” said Pink. “Doesn’t the widespread availability of broadband internet and the introduction of gadgets like tablets and smartphones remove the need to have salespeople? Why would consumers need someone to pitch or answer questions about a product or service when they can research and even buy it via a few clicks on a website?

“Go back just 20 years, and if you went to a Chevy dealer, that dealer would know more than you ever would about, say, a Chevy Malibu,” Pink, author of a new book titled, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, noted during a recent [email protected] lecture. “Today … you could arguably know more about cars, or even Chevys, than the dealer. You could be in a Chevy Malibu club that has a website with critiques and more information than [the dealer] would ever care to know.”

But sales people continue to exist – and persist, despite the fact that they often get a bad rap from consumers. “There is a stigma to being called a salesperson,” said Pink. “People in sales are viewed as bothersome.”

Pink recalled looking at a word cloud compiled from a survey of adjectives that respondents associated with the term “sales”. Among the top 25 was “pushy”, followed by such interjections as “yuck” and “ugh.” In fact, 20 of the 25 words were negative, and even the positive words, like “challenging” and “necessary,” were much milder than the criticisms.

Pink commissioned another survey to find out why people might have these negative associations with sales. That survey included 7,000 adult full-time workers. If one in nine American workers are in sales, “I wanted to know what the other 89 people out of 100 thought they were doing,” he noted. “They were not in sales to make cash registers ring, but I could see they might be in sales of a sort, too.”

He asked participants a particularly pointed question: “What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value for something you can offer?” The offering might be money or goods, but it could also be intangibles such as attention or time.

Pink found that the mean for all workers– no matter what their jobs – was that 41% of their time was spent in a “sales-like” mode. “That is a lot of time. That is 24 minutes of every hour,” Pink noted. “That is the punchline: like it or not, we are all in sales now. We spend a huge part of our jobs persuading and selling.”

Now Pink felt he was on to something. The goal of his book is to change people’s impression of sales from negative to positive in order to help them become more effective in their work – and personal – lives. “Sales are just different now. With all the information that we have, it is no longer ‘buyer beware’ but ‘seller beware’,” said Pink. “But what do we do about it? How do you get better at it?”

Sales the old-fashioned way

As an example of the old-time view of sales, Pink pointed to David Mamet’s film adaptation of his Broadway play, Glengarry Glen Ross, in which Alec Baldwin plays a character who consults with a real estate firm that is on the verge of failure. “He does old-fashioned sales training,” Pink said. “His ‘ABC’ is ‘Always Be Closing.’ It is a relentless approach to sales – bulldoze them, steamroller them.”

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