One in nine of us works in sales, according to the U.S. government. The other eight in nine of us work in... sales, according to Daniel Pink. We just don't sell it as such. "They're not stalking customers in a furniture showroom, but they — make that we — are engaged in what I call ‘ non-sales selling,'" writes Pink in his newly released book, "To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others." "We're persuading, convincing and influencing others to give up something they've got in exchange for what we've got."
Forty percent of our time at work is spent engaging in non-sales selling, Pink discovered through a survey he commissioned, titled "What Do You Do at Work?" that tapped nearly 10,000 respondents. We're pitching manuscripts, projects, strategies, theories — none of which involve anyone making a purchase, but all of which involve the art of selling.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
"Across a range of professions, we are devoting roughly 24 minutes of every hour to moving others," Pink writes.
Pink's previous titles, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" and "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future," spent week upon week on the New York Times best-seller list. His business and technology articles appear in Wired, Fast Company and The Harvard Business Review. His work has been translated into more than two dozen languages.
In other words, people want what he's selling.
In "To Sell is Human," he offers a roadmap to help the rest of us guide our own pitches to a desirable conclusion.
"Selling in all its dimensions — whether pushing Buicks on a car lot or pitching ideas in a meeting — has changed more in the last 10 years than it did over the previous hundred," he contends. "Most of what we understand about selling is constructed atop a foundation of assumptions that has crumbled."
In its place, Pink offers a new foundation drawn from social science, workplace data and consumer-habit research. Here are five things we gleaned.
• ABC no longer stands for Always Be Closing.
A young Alec Baldwin canonized the original sales truism in his famous scene from 1992's "Glengarry Glen Ross." Pink calls Always Be Closing "a cornerstone of the sales cathedral" and explains it thusly: "Every utterance and each maneuver must serve a single goal: pushing the transaction to a conclusion — your conclusion — and getting the person across the table to sign on the line which is dotted."
He also calls it "as dated as the electric typewriters and Rolodex cards that dot Mitch and Murray's office." (Mitch and Murray being the fictional real estate office in "Glengarry Glen Ross.")
The new ABCs, Pink contends, are skills required to move a 21st century audience: Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.
"Attunement is the ability to bring one's actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you're in," he writes. "Think of it as operating the dial on a radio. It's the capacity to move up and down the band as circumstances demand, locking in on what's being transmitted, even if those signals aren't immediately clear or obvious."
"Anyone who sells — whether they're trying to convince customers to make a purchase or colleagues to make a change — must contend with wave after wave of rebuffs, refusals and repudiations," Pink writes. "How to stay afloat amid that ocean of rejection is the second essential quality in moving others. I call this quality buoyancy."
"Clarity (is) the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn't realize they had."
• Jeff Bezos really is a genius.
"He's reshaped the retail business," Pink writes of the Amazon.com founder. "He's become one of the 30 wealthiest people on the planet. And with far less fanfare, he's devised one of the best attunement practices I've encountered."
At every important meeting, Bezos places an empty chair among the gathered executives, marketing mavens and software gurus.
"It's there to remind those assembled who's really the most important person in the room: the customer," Pink writes. "Seeing it encourages meeting attendees to take the perspective of that invisible but essential person. What's going through her mind? What are her desires and concerns? What would she think of the ideas we're putting forward?"
Pink urges us to give the empty-chair thing a try.
"If you're crafting a presentation, the empty chair can represent the audience and its interests. If you're gathering material for a sales call, it can help generate possible objections and questions the other party might raise. If you're preparing a lesson plan, an empty chair can remind you to see things from your students' perspective."
• Nobody cares that your plane is late.
Well, somebody probably cares. Particularly if somebody is meeting you at the airport. But that doesn't mean you should tweet about it.
Twitter is most definitely a medium for pitches. (The University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business even requires its MBA applicants to answer an essay question in 140 characters or fewer.) Might as well tweet something people actually want to read.
Thankfully, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon, MIT and Georgia Tech recently took a look at "microblog content value," whereby they invited Twitter users to rate 43,000 tweets as worth reading, not worth reading or neutral.
"The types of tweets with the lowest rating fell into three categories: Complaints ('My plane is late. Again.'): Me Now ('I'm about to order a tuna sandwich'); and Presence Maintenance ('Good morning, everyone!)," Pink writes. "Readers assigned the highest ratings to tweets that asked questions of followers. They prized tweets that provided information and links, especially if the material was fresh and new. And they gave high ratings to self-promoting tweets — provided that the tweet offered useful information as part of the promotion."
• You don't need to be an extrovert.
Extroverts — those sociable, assertive, lively souls — have long been assumed to make the best salespeople. Not so, writes Pink.
"We've overlooked one teensy flaw. There's almost no evidence that it's actually true."
Better, he says, to be an ambivert — not too hot, not too cold.
Research from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School found that sales representatives who fall near the middle of the introversion-extroversion spectrum far outearn their counterparts who live closer to either end.
"Extroverts … can talk too much and listen too little, which dulls their understanding of others' perspectives," Pink writes. "Introverts … can be too shy to initiate and too timid to close."
Ambiverts find a balance.
"They know when to speak up and when to shut up. Their wider repertoires allow them to achieve harmony with a broader range of people and a more varied set of circumstances. Ambiverts are the best movers because they're the most skilled attuners."
• You do need to be agreeable.
Knowing when to speak up is great, but knowing what to say is even greater. And you should start by saying "yes."
Pink borrows a practice widely used in improvisational theater classes, in which actors are urged to follow each other's comments with a "yes and" of their own. He recalls an exercise he observed while studying Cathy Salit, a Manhattan-based actor who teaches improv skills to businesspeople.
"One person begins with a proposition — for example, 'Let's have our high school reunion in Las Vegas,'" Pink writes. "Every subsequent comment from both participants must begin with 'Yes, but.' It usually unfolds something like this:
"Let's have our high school reunion in Las Vegas."
"Yes, but that's going to be too expensive for some people."
"Yes, but that way only the people who really want to be there will attend."
"Yes, but some of our classmates don't gamble."
"Yes, but there's more to do there than play blackjack."
"Yes, but even without gambling, it's still not a great place for people to bring their families."
"Yes, but reunions are better without all those kids."
"Yes, but if people can't find child care at home, they won't attend."
This continues on and on with no ideas embraced and no plans made.
"Then participants take an alternative route," Pink writes. "Where the undermining conjunction 'but' is replaced with its more inclusive sibling, 'and.'"
"Let's have our high school reunion in Las Vegas."
"Yes, and if it's too expensive for some people we can raise money or organize road trips."
"Yes, and if we start early, we could reserve a block of rooms at a hotel that offers volume discounts."
"Yes, and for families with kids and for people who don't gamble, we could organize activities during the day."
"Yes, and if we have enough people, we might be able to pool our resources to pay for babysitters so one night some parents can go out on their own."
"Yes, and those who wanted to could all go to a show together."
"Instead of swirling downward into frustration, 'yes and' spirals upward toward possibility," Pink writes. "When you stop you've got a sense of options, not a sense of futility."
The same can be said for the feeling upon completing Pink's book: We may not be so bad at this sales thing after all.
"To Sell Is Human"
By Daniel H. Pink, Riverhead Hardcover, 272 pages, $26.95
Sales in literature
Zig Ziglar may have written the book on sales. (Or was it Dale Carnegie? Maybe it was Jim Collins.) Anyway, they didn't write all of them. Here are three books that are about selling … and so much more.
• The Game: Penetrating the Secret World of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss (2005). Chronicles the author's journey from AFC (average frustrated chump) to PUA (pick-up artist) to PUG (pick-up guru).
• Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949). The tale of tragic hero and failing salesman Willy Loman is considered among the greatest American dramas.