The Pulse

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The U.S. Bureau of Statistics says one in nine Americans work in sales. But is that figure accurate? In his new book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, influential business thinker Daniel Pink argues that in the modern workplace more people than ever are in sales, whether they realize it or not, and it’s time we take a second look at how we’re tackling the task.

Though there are still salespeople who cold call and pound the pavement every day, there is a large segment of workers who spend their day doing “non-sales selling,” pitching ideas to others and attempting to convince them to invest resources in specific projects.

There are still negative connotations associated with sales, but the act of selling isn’t like it was a few decades ago where the seller had more information – and therefore, the upper hand – over the buyer. We knew this as caveat emptor, or buyer beware.

Today, with information about any product or service easily accessed by a click of the mouse, the relationship between buyer and seller has become more balanced. This has created a new dynamic which Pink describes as caveat venditor, or seller beware. If a seller mistreats customers, it doesn’t take long for the news to go viral, thanks to social media and blogging.

“Whether you’re in traditional sales or non-sales selling, the low road is now harder to pass and the high road – honesty, directness, and transparency – has become the better, more pragmatic, long-term route,” he writes.

Pink admits he used to believe in the “natural salesperson,” that either you had the skills to sell or you didn’t. But now he realizes there’s no such thing and the concept is a myth. We all possess the instinct to sell, he says, therefore we are all able to master the art of moving people. It’s time to toss the old “ABC” of selling – Always Be Closing – out the window and embrace new qualities: Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.

  1. Attunement. The ability to bring your actions and emotions into harmony with the person you are working with, or to be “at one” with each other. You must be able to reduce your power and control levels and see things through their eyes. Use your head and heart, and mirror the actions of the other party to enhance your own effectiveness.

  2. Buoyancy. The ability to maintain a lightness or resilience of spirit, or how to stay afloat amid an ocean of rejection, says Pink. There are three essential steps. Before your sales effort, practice interrogative self-talk. During your meeting, balance your positivity ratios by staying upbeat and injecting three positive thoughts for each negative mentioned. After you wrap up, review the conversation in a positive mindset to find ways to improve next time. Linger on the positives but be sure not to gloss over the negatives.

  3. Clarity. The capacity to help other people identify problems they don’t know they have. Today, rather than merely gathering information, the strongest salespeople are skilled at curating facts to present the most relevant data. It is important to frame things in comparison to alternatives, which helps to clarify the virtues of the best way forward. Spending some time improving how you ask questions can help, along with ensuring you ask the person “Why?” at least five times in a conversation to get to the heart of their hidden problems.

Improving your improvisational skills can also prove to be an asset, as the days of canned sales pitches are over, says Pink, who suggests a variety of exercises – even reading books about improv theatre – to fine-tune your skills. He also recommends moving away from the elevator pitch, instead encouraging the development of six others, including the one-word pitch, the question pitch, the rhyming pitch, the subject-line pitch, the Twitter pitch and the Pixar pitch, based on the six-sentence format the movie-making giant uses in their storytelling format.

Finally, it is essential to make your sales approach personal and purposeful, helping people to solve their problems and improve their lives. Your clients are real people, not just a source of commission. Instead of attempting to upsell someone, focus on upserving them by finding ways to offer them more value. Make sure you are exuding genuine comfort and warmth.

Selling is more than just doing business – at its core, it is crucial for our survival and our happiness. As Pink points out, it has helped our species to evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. It is part of who we are. And with some effort and practice, it’s possible to bring out the natural salesperson in all of us.

“Among the things that distinguish our species from others is our combination of idealism and artistry – our desire both to improve the world and to provide that world with something it didn’t know it was missing,” writes Pink. “Moving others doesn’t require that we neglect these nobler aspects of our nature. Today it demands that we embrace them. It begins and ends by remembering that to sell is human.”

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