Last week, Daniel H. Pink gave a talk to Linked Orange County at the Irvine Barclay Theatre where he shared some insights from his new book “To Sell is Human.” In the following, I comment upon some of these ideas or findings:
1 in 9 Work in Sales
Pink started out by stating that the number of salespeople haven't changed with the emergence of technology. 1 in 9 professionally active Americans work in sales and that ratio has stayed the same over several decades. Perhaps that is true but I also think that a key question is how the nature of the sales profession has changed and how technology is playing an increasingly crucial role to facilitate the sales cycle for salespeople. That being said, it is indeed noteworthy that his studies confirm that so many people still today have their primary professional focus on sales.
Aren't We All in Sales?
Then Dan Pink addressed the other part of the pie, the 8 of 9 professionals who are not having variations of the word sales on their business cards. He argued that those people, too, are in sales as his research shows that professionals today spend about 40% of their time convincing and persuading others, whether they be bosses, partners, suppliers, etc, to get them to do or to support various activities, goals, etc. That we are all engaged in sales to various degrees may be worth emphasizing lest we forget. This should serve more as a reminder than as a news alert to many, I presume, at least to my students (I hope!).
In line with what many others have pointed out in the recent years, Pink noted the increasing power of buyers armed with more realtime access to ever-more information to aid their shopping comparison processes. Dan Pink raised the bar further in this information arms race, though, when he argued that buyers now not only have achieved information parity with sellers but that they actually in many cases now know more about the market than the seller, even if the latter lives and breathes the market every day! Thus, the call for a “Seller Beware” alert as some naïve and unsuspecting sellers may otherwise be taken advantage of. Talk about a role reversal! I do believe that this is an interesting point as some sellers may have become so complacent thinking they know their industry inside and out so that they are no longer closely attuned to trends and competitive moves, at least not as much as some very motivated buyers may be.
If this were the concern of just a few buyers it may not be so harmful to a seller. However, we could expect many of these well-informed buyers using new technologies to disseminate such information in increasingly effective ways to guide also other, more mainstream, buyers to the best deals in town. Clearly, some such über-informed buyers may turn, or are turning, their market expertise into bona fide businesses themselves and could perhaps no longer be accurately classified as mere buyers.
Persuasive Selling by Ambiverts
Another issue raised by Dan Pink that stood out to me was the research into the relationship between the degree to which a salesperson is extrovert and salesperson performance. Citing some fascinating recent research by Adam M. Grant* at the Wharton School, it was found that the best performers were neither extroverts nor introverts, but rather those salespeople displaying a little bit of both (or neither?). Hence, such salespeople could be labeled as being ambidextrous in this regard, or “ambivert” as Grant calls it in his research. If this finding holds up in more studies, it finally may signal the end of hiring and promoting salespeople based on their extrovert nature in favor of those who keep a somewhat lower profile. Even if there are many other books on sales (e.g., Consultative Selling) which call for a significant listening dimension among salespeople, Pink does a good job in illustrating how an “ambivert” salesperson can operate successfully. At least for large parts of their interaction with clients, salespeople need to allow for sincere listening and learning about the true customer needs at the same time as good salespeople also ought to know when to make their moves, an important aspect where the complete introverts may miss the boat.
* Grant, A. M. 2013. Rethinking the extraverted sales ideal: The ambivert advantage. Forthcoming in Psychological Science.