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Dan Pink is the NYT bestselling author of one of my favorite books: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (notes here.)
His phenomenal TED talk has over 4 million views:
His latest book is To Sell is Human, where he dives into the science of sales and explains how we can all learn to be better at influencing others.
The full interview was over an hour long so for brevity’s sake I’m only going to post highlights here.
Subscribers to my free weekly newsletter get access to extended interviews.
We’re all in sales now
So you start off To Sell is Human saying that now we’re all in sales. Can you describe how that came about?
Well, for starters, one of the things that I looked at was this belief out there about disintermediation, that salespeople are being disintermediated by the Internet. You have Expedia, you have Auto Trader, you have Amazon, so we don’t need salespeople anymore. If you look at the numbers, as you know, it’s just flatly not true. You’ve got one out of nine people in the U.S. workforce. Their job is to get someone else to make a purchase. Their job is to sell you a computer system, sell you a new suit. Every time there’s a presidential election, I go and get a new suit, so I did my quadrennial new suit this afternoon. The guy there, he’s in sales, too. People selling wheels, whatever. That’s a very significant number of people. That’s one thing I really wanted to make clear. This idea that the Internet is obliterating salespeople is just not accurate. It’s obliterating some salespeople, but in terms of the idea that it’s going to decimate the profession, it turns out to be factually untrue.
The other thing is, I had a suspicion, as you know from the book, that more and more white-collar workers are spending their time in this thing that I call non-sales selling, essentially persuading and influencing and so forth. There really aren’t any kind of data on that. I went out and tried to test the proposition. I went out and did this survey, as you know, of 7,000 adult full-time workers. We basically found people spending 40% of their time in this thing, making the exchange, influencing and persuading.
I think it’s kind of an insight in that most of us think that sales is sort of passé, that we don’t need them anymore. What I’m saying is, on the contrary, one out of nine is still in sales-sales, and the rest of us are in non-sales selling. This is actually a bigger deal than we think. As for how it came about, as you know, it’s the three E’s. I’ll take them in reverse order. Ed/Med: If you look at the numbers, again, all the growth in jobs in this country is in education and health care, which are ultimately about changing other people’s behavior. They’re ultimately about influence.
The second one, and I think this is the most interesting of them of all is the idea of Elasticity… It’s the idea that, in stable and predictable business conditions, segmentation of function inside of a firm actually makes a lot of sense. You do marketing, I do sales, she does accounting, he does strategy, stay in your lane, everything’s working, that’s all great. But when it’s unstable and unpredictable, it doesn’t work very well. The segmentation doesn’t work. The opposite of segmentation is elasticity. As you stretch across these boundaries, you almost always encompass some form of sales.
Why sales is getting less sleazy
The reason why people hate sales so much isn’t about the act of selling. All that view of sales as sleazy and so forth is really a view about information asymmetry. It’s not about the act of convincing and making an exchange. I think what’s happened is that it’s inevitably forced us to the high road. I was talking to a friend of mine two days about this, about the ethics of all of it. What I was saying is, like, okay, I just think as a pragmatic fact, this information parity is pushing more people to the high road. They might not have taken the high road…The idea is that this information parity forces people to the high road. It’s not that people have gotten better; it’s just that the low road doesn’t work.
Glengarry Glen Ross and the new ABC’s of selling
Can you break down the ABCs?
Yeah. Well, the old ABCs are Always Be Closing, A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing…
So that kind of steamroller approach is actually not bad pragmatic business advice when buyers of anything don’t have a lot of information, don’t have a lot of choices, and don’t have a way to talk back…
Boom! Run them over. That doesn’t work now. It’s now Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity, A-Attunement, B-Buoyancy, and C-Clarity.
Attunement: Seeing the world from someone else’s POV
Attunement, as you know, is perspective-taking, seeing the world from someone else’s point of view… There are some studies about how basically perspective-taking is more of a kind of cognitive skill than an emotional intelligence skill. Really interesting, and this is the kind of thing that you might groove on, there was one study that I write about where basically it was a negotiation. They instructed half of the people to concentrate on what’s the other side feeling, and the other one was to concentrate on what the other side is thinking. Okay? So concentrate on what the other side is feeling and what their emotions are; concentrate on what the other side is thinking and what their interests are. It turned out that that second group, the one that focused on thinking and interests, did better. It did better for both sides of the negotiation, so it’s actually a little bit more muscular skill than that. I’ve actually written about empathy in another book, and I realized like, hmm, these things are kind of different. It’s really perspective-taking. That’s really the key, to understand where someone else is coming from. It ends up being a much quieter capability than the traditional suite of stereotypical sales skills, sort of the glad-handing, back-slapping approach.
“Buoyancy”: How to overcome rejection
Beyond selling, I think it’s just really good life advice. Ask yourself seriously, is this personal? Is the reason that the setback was entirely your fault? In most cases, it’s not. Is this pervasive? Does this always happen? People say “Oh, this always happens,” but you have to ask yourself more analytically, “Does this always happen?” It usually doesn’t. Then, is it permanent? The number of things that are permanent, that would ruin everything, are relatively small. That’s a very helpful way to recast setbacks for people.
Clarity: Why problem finding beats problem solving
This idea that when the client, the customer, whoever, knows precisely what their problem is, they can probably find the solution on their own. It’s when they don’t know what the problem is, or when you can surface the problem, or realize that the problem that they think they have isn’t the problem they have. That’s incredibly valuable. That’s an artistic skill, this idea of problem finding.
Seligman and his colleague, Goetzel, I think his name is, did a lot of research on who were the best artists. This move from problem solving to problem finding, from problem solving to problem identification, is huge. I write about it. I think there’s just a sentence in there, but one of the things that really stuck with me was a survey of American school superintendents and then business executives. “What’s the most valuable skill today?” The school superintendents’ number one was problem-solving. The executives had problem-solving, I was amazed, at something like seven or eight, and their number one was problem identification. It’s a big deal. This is what entrepreneurs do. Entrepreneurs find problems, they surface problems, and then come up with a solution to them.
How to pitch
Basically, these two scholars, they started studying Hollywood pitching. They did a very exhaustive study. Basically what they found, which you know, I’m sure, from your screenwriting days, is that pitching isn’t about convincing somebody, pitching is essentially about inviting them in.
That’s essentially their view. That changed my view on it a little bit. I think pitching is like, “Are you with me?” and actually that’s not the way to do it. The way to do it is, “Here’s the pitch. What’s your contribution?” When the other side contributes, it actually builds something, and it’s usually a little bit better, but also the other side is more invested in it and so forth. The idea of pitching is to begin an engagement with somebody, not to necessarily convince them right there. Then I outlined the six successors to the elevator pitch which are all I think really interesting, backed by some of the social science.
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