Daniel Pink, To Sell is Human

Daniel Pink is the guy who narrates  that video, the one that at least 10 million of us have seen. The one from the RSA  where the artist draws pictures of little dudes pulling out their hair and flying balloons and Daniel in his Washington DC accent tells us freaky stuff that we kind of knew but didn’t about how we are all motivated.

The book upon which this video is based, Drive, foreshadowed a flurry of books on the ‘science of new motivation’ about those employees who might be termed knowledge workers. Those people who sit at computers and are paid for whatever they program or write or prepare. I’ve read a lot of these books, but his was among the first to herald the dangers of having a remuneration centred relationship with knowledge workers. I am a knowledge worker myself and I agree with most of what Pink has to say in Drive. Old school management is great if you mostly want compliance, but if self direction is required, well you need to try something else. For me pay should be high enough to get money off the table as an issue. But to really motivate me you need to do these things: respect me and allow me autonomy; encourage me to become a master at something; and give me a clear purpose that I can contribute to.

Ok, so right upfront I have to say, this guy used to work on Capitol Hill as a speech writer and I can but imagine the stuff he had to write about in that job. But now, having seen him speak, the one thing I really like is that he just seems to go out and do some research and then write about what he finds interesting. Good on him. In fact, I want that job. Actually, we all probably want to just think about things we find interesting but most of us need our employers and sometimes our lives to get out of the way first.   So, he has a new book and I went along to the RSA to hear him talk about it. It’s called to Sell is Human.

His key soundbite is that like it or not, we are all in sales now. This view is based on a survey of 7000 adult full time workers who provide a sub sample of the current composition of the US workforce. This sample also translates to the UK workforce, where in the place of having many manufacturing jobs, we have retail, which means that 1 in ten UK workers are in sales roles. All (or 1/10) of us being in sales is a scary thought for most people.  This was illustrated when Daniel asked us to yell out the words we most associated with sales professionals – the first word yelled out was also the number one word in the research – PUSHY.  Please don’t read anything into my character that I happened to be the one to yell it out.   Anyway, if we are all in sales and we typically associate sales with being pushy (and arrogant and dishonest) does that reflect on our collective behaviour? Well no, actually, because Pink thinks that the traditional notion of sales is no longer relevant.  See, it seems that this used car salesman view of sales came about in a time of information asymmetry, where Ray the used car salesman used our limited understanding of cars, access to competitor information and choice to basically…….. rip us off.   But thanks to the internet, apps and showrooming we don’t live in a world of information asymmetry anymore. There has been a huge transfer of power to buyers and now rather than caveat emptor it’s become seller beware. So to Daniel, Sales ain’t what it used to be.     In this new world, he sees three qualities that will allow us -remember we are all in sales now – to sell ethically in a world of seller beware:

Atunement –  can you tune yourself to someone else and understand their perspective? Pink thinks a good way to test this is to take a marker and write an E on your forehead. You can draw the E two ways from your perspective or everyone elses  Apparently which way you instinctively write the E is very telling. Perhaps telling of nothing you didn’t already know. What is interesting is that if you prime people with power they are 3 times more likely to draw the E from their perspective. Unsurprisingly power leads people to anchor more in their own perspective. A note to those trying to bully people into buying what they are selling – selling in a world of information equality means that you increase your power by reducing it and by imagining what the other side is thinking and feeling

Buoyancy –  if we are all now essentially Willie Loman that means everyday we will face an ocean of rejection.  We need to be positive and buoyant even to survive, let alone thrive

Clarity –  the mass of available information has fixed the previous information asymmetry, but it has also created a glut of knowledge. Information is no longer valuable. Curating information is now the source of value and the key question is this: can you use the information that you have to solve problems that people don’t even know that they have yet?

From this point onwards Daniel got a little mushy for my taste.  His final two points centred around hearts and heads – don’t forget to use your head when you sell – and just be more like yourself because to sell is to be human.     These points seem obvious and I felt a little let down at that point. This was the author of Drive! Where was the controversy?  But as with Drive his insights take a little bit of time to reveal themselves.  It does seem obvious, all of the points he spoke of weren’t blinding flashes of brilliance that I was knocked over by, but I also don’t think that I’ve seen anyone else bring together those pieces of evidence in that way.  I’m sure these concepts will be picked up and debated much like the content of Drive has been.  I also remembered that I’d beaten off 750 other people to attend this sold out event and that made me feel better.  Tee hee.

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