January 2013

Dan Pink’s New Book Sells…Selling

Dan Pink’s new book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others is a glorious mess. As usual with Mr. Pink’s work, there is much here that is worth reading and remembering. Pink uses enchanting stories to make his points and delivers a multitude of useful tools for the reader to employ. However, his thesis that the world has moved from one of caveat emptor to caveat venditor, is actually just an excuse to talk about the latest research into positivity, influence, and techniques to move the 21st century, hyper-connected audience, to buy. Mr. Pink supports this thesis with a secondary thesis that the ABC’s of sales has moved from Always Be Closing, to Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. Towards the end, he posits a set of supposed new or improved skills: pitching, improvisation, and service, that salespeople must acquire to achieve success. Unfortunately, these “new skills” aren’t new. Good salesmen have always been attuned to their customers, unafraid of rejection or if fearful, willing to stare those fears down, and extremely clear about what they were pitching. Good salespeople have always been consummate pitchers, able to improvise and turn on a dime with a shift in their customer’s attention or mood. The best salespeople have always made their pitches succinct and aimed them at the unique individual or business they are pitching. So, what is new in this book? Why is it worth your time? Because parts of it are a refreshing, breath of honesty in a world of self-deception. Most of us who aren’t directly employed as salespeople don’t like to think of ourselves as being “in sales.” As Pink points out, sales is viewed by many as “the white-collar equivalent of cleaning toilets —necessary perhaps but unpleasant and even a bit unclean.” Yet he goes on, the reality is that today almost all of us are in sales. The majority of us spend, “Roughly twenty-four minutes of every hour at work,” trying to, “move other people to part with resources whether something tangible like cash, or intangible like effort or attention.” We’re almost constantly, “Persuading, convincing, and influencing others to give up something they’ve got in exchange for what we’ve got….Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention. Entrepreneurs woo funders, and coaches cajole players.” Pink observes that, in pre-internet days, a salesperson’s job was to provide an answer for the buyer/audience to solve their needs or problems. However, today anyone can access facts/answers, so the salesperson’s job has evolved. Today, an effective salesperson’s job is not to supply the buyer with answers but to aid them in better framing their questions. Salespeople who succeed uncover their customer’s real needs and problems, as opposed to their perceived ones. Then they curate the vast pool of knowledge available on the Internet in a fashion that helps the “buyer” assimilate the most useful information. In order to do this, the seller must clearly frame what he/she is trying to move the buyer to do, and succulently “pitch their point to its persuasive essence.” In other words, tell the buyer not only what to do but how to do it. Sellers according to Pink, have to learn to listen deeply and intently to a prospective buyer so that they can diagnose the buyer’s true needs. Then the salesperson must personalize their solutions to their customer’s problems, in order to close the deal. In almost a coda, Pink advocates that the 21st century salesperson replace “upselling with upserving.” Defining upserving as, “Doing more for the other person than he expects, taking the extra steps that transform a mundane interaction into a memorable experience.” Pink points out the reason to do so, is that people are much more inclined to buy experiences than things. While the later statement may be true, the notion it supports smacks of nothing more than delivering “superior customer service,” a bromide that has become shopworn. Although I wouldn’t blame Pink for espousing it. After all, there isn’t a customer in the world who doesn’t like, “service with a smile.” So why have I devoted an entire blog to a book on sales when I am all about storytelling? Because, everything in this book points to story as the only means for sellers to sway buyers. Today, in a world filled with torrents of readily available facts, it’s not the information that a buyer acquires that convinces them to buy, it is the story that wraps around the information that makes them: take their medicine, render a guilty verdict, pay attention to a lecture, write a check, or hit a home run. The problem Mr Pink’s 21st century salesperson finds their client didn’t know they had, cannot be presented as a set of dry facts; it must be wrapped in a story. Everything in this book points to the need for all of us in sales, which all of us are, to become better storytellers. The more facts at our client’s fingertips, the more we must be able to shape them into a narrative that makes them buy from us, instead of the other guy. The salesman who closed the most deals a thousand years ago and the saleswoman who closes a thousand deals today have one thing in common, they told the best story. Think about it, read To Sell Is Human, and then call me. I’ll help you tell your story so you can be Attuned, Buoyant, Clear and close your deal.        
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