“Always be closing! A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention — do I have your attention? Interest — are you interested? I know you are. You close! Or you hit the bricks!” – Blake, Glengarry Glen Ross
Sell. Sale. Sold. Four letter words. And as Dan Pink pointed out at a recent talk at The RSA, for most of us the whole notion of sales is still imbued with all of the worst connotations of pressure and aggression so famously portrayed by Alec Baldwin’s Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross. Sales is something seen as quite vulgar. Yet – persuasion and relationship building, no matter how you look at it, is still the most essential ingredient of personal and organisational success. Leadership, innovation, change – it all comes down to selling. Dan Pink shows that sales is not what it used to be and whether we like it or not, it is in fact, profoundly human. I agree – and what is more, I believe that if sales is human, the ability to build and nurture great creative collaborations – is superhuman…
To Sell Is Human – By Dan Pink
Last month, Dan Pink, whose latest book is entitled To Sell Is Human, presented a brilliantly succinct overview of his latest work in the wonderful surroundings of the Great Room at The RSA in London.
This is a book about sales. (But wait, don’t go…stay with me on this). This is not a sales pep talk full of get-rich-quick cheesey psycho-babble. Nor is it a quick fix tip-book if you’re struggling to hit your numbers. Crucially, it is not just for sales managers neither. To Sell Is Human covers the psychology of persuasion, the economics of negotiation, nudge theories and the changing nature of work itself. Or as the book describes itself on the front cover – it reveals ‘The surprising truth about persuading, convincing and influencing others’
If you’re a fan of Seth Godin, Nilofer Merchant, Malcolm Gladwell or Eric Ries then you will click with the work of Dan Pink too. His work links beautifully, both in theme and tone, with the other modern thinkers who are starting to describe and shape the new world of marketing. He is also treading a path explored well by some famous names too. Each generation has its own take on sales and persuasion. For our parents’ it was perhaps the classic works of Dale Carnegie and then in the 1980’s and 1990’s Mark McCormack and Cialdini combined business savvy and psychological know how. Dan Pink is a thoroughly modern take on this most critical of business topics – and his key message is simple but vigorously backed by credible research.
Do You Work In Sales?
Firstly – Pink demonstrates no matter your craft or profession – or what you think you do, we are all in the persuasion and influencing business. According to Gallup, nearly 40% of ‘non-sales’ executive time, is spent in activity that is still broadly defined as – sales. Persuading, solving, presenting, servicing – and managing relationships. This is sales. Whilst most people still view sales as something slightly tawdry and down market the reality is that we all have to sell – whether we are directing commercial deals or attempting to change the behaviour of a class of teenagers, or managing a start-up. As Pink puts it ‘1 in 9 American’s makes their living in sales’ – but when you look at those involved in ‘non-sales-selling’ – so do the other 8 too. It is just that many do not realise it. (My personal view is that everyone also works in their own software & media business too – but that’s another story…)
And Secondly – Pink describes how the nature of what ‘sales’ means has completely altered because the traditional balance of buyer and seller power has shifted. Access to information has changed – and so have the ABC’s of selling too.
Our ABC’s Have Changed…
Selling is not what is used to be. Most people (and The RSA audience proved the point beautifully…) – still view sales people the sales process as a somehow tawdry, shiny-suited, nasty profession. It is not classy. The most common connotation is the world of car dealers and pushy insurance agents, who at best may be ‘diplomatic with the truth’. The perception is still one of the ABC world of Always-Be-Closing. Where the sales executive had more information and was driven by commission and perhaps greed. A case of buyer beware – caveat emptor…
In today’s digital world however the knowledge of buyers and sellers is either balanced or skewed towards the buyer. Caveat Venditor. A young couple can turn up at a car dealer with as much information on second-hand car reliability, market prices, servicing costs and finance arrangements as the sales executive. The latter has to therefore work more as a consultant and someone who can advise and uncover problems and solutions – rather than just ‘close’ the deal.
Effective sales people today therefore work with a different set of ABC’s. A-ATTUNEMENT – tuning-in, listening and empathy skills. B-BUOYANCY – the ability to retain a positive outlook, ideally with a balanced ambivert personality. And finally, C-CLARITY; the importance of clear, simple and powerful messaging. Even the whole notion of the pitch has changed too.
As Pink says;
“The purpose of the pitch isn’t necessarily to move others immediately to adopt your idea. The purpose is to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant and eventually arrives at an outcome that appeals to both of you. In a world where buyers have ample information and an array of choices – the pitch is often the first word but it is rarely the last” – Dan Pink, To Pitch is Human, P158.
The deeper, sociological aspect of Pink’s premise is that selling – at its core is actually a very human and very personal thing. Most people want to help another person and securing a relationship and a deal is often about more than the money. We all sell and persuade because selling is a very human thing to do…
Collaboration Make Us Superhuman
Any perusal of the works Scott Berkun, Stefan Lindegaard or Henry Chesbrough or Clayton Christensen will quickly note that innovation is not done in isolation. Every great innovation requires those important supply partners, channels, allies and promotional partners – and those contacts across the business. Nilofer Merchant describes this brilliantly; “The future is not created, it is co-created”. Likewise – Brian Fitzpatrick, the author of Team Geek reveals that if you wish to work in a highly innovative team at Google, then you’d best learn that – “working in isolation leads to disappointment”.
A common frustration for any practitioner of partnership or alliance marketing is that the important of the other is not comprehended. Most senior executives always see the delivery of the deal, the signing of the contract and implementation as job done – mission completed. The importance of the ongoing relationship, communication, collaboration – and building trust, is ignored or just not understood. However, all good relationship managers know that the real work actually begins after the ink is dry and coffee is cold. Partners and allies are much easier to lose than to secure – and that fragility is often constantly tested. Service delivery, continuous improvement, price, service reviews, KPI’s and constant changes in personnel and processes, all put pressure on those hard-won valuable alliances and partnerships.
In fact – most partnership practitioners will recognise that important and complex relationships will hit snags, speed bumps. It is to be expected and part of the course, especially as commercial and technical arrangements bed in. Those moments of truth when it looks as if the wheels are not just falling of the bus – but also crashing into a large turbo fan balanced on the edge of a latrine.
Such points stress test the relationship. When a partnership or critical business relationship is under stress – it is the people who must put it right. In reality, every solution is at some point depends upon a personal 121 sales process.
For this reason, I always point out that Partnership Management is both Art and Science. Of course – proposals, contracts, specification documents, roadmaps, promotional plans and reporting are the ‘hard’ practical mechanics of partnerships that are needed to get things delivered. But it is the ‘soft stuff’ that really makes the difference in times of pressure. The personal communications and the ability to handle pressure and challenge. Relationship maintenance is severely impacted by the level of trust and time invested. Most important, recovering trust requires massive amounts of genuine listening. Not just the ‘hearing’ kind – waiting for a moment to (as Theodore Zeldin puts it..) – ‘play your card’ but genuine empathetic listing and a willingness to understand and work collaboratively for a solution.
How is this done? Through leadership conversation; the ability to explore an issue and uncover knowledge and understanding – before launching into solution mode. For this reason, my own work, building and running MarketingCafes and CollaborationCafes focuses upon slowing the conversations down and encouraging short and focused discussions. The approach is to build divergent and curious thinking and helping people to avoid ‘playing the same old cards’. It is a process that works for marketing teams, partnership sessions or innovation workshops. (You can see more about my Café and Marketing Workshops – here.)
In summary – I think Dan Pink is absolutely right. In the end – selling is a very human process. We all do it – and we all must get better at it. But to be truly effective in managing complex and high value marketing alliances and partnerships, those involved have to go further than selling and transactions. Deals shift and business changes. Yet, to adapt, change and be prepared to trust the other is not a natural human process. As Seth Godin points out – we are wired to be cautious and that prevents innovation. To be a great partnership or relationship manager, we need to go beyond our natural instincts and become smarter, more effective collaborators.
To become – superhuman.
Thanks to Dan Pink and The RSA.
For more articles and blogs from Andrew Armour click here.
- A lesson in sales from Dan Pink (tombowdengreen.com)