Daniel Pink

Is Sales More Beautiful Than We Realize? Interview with Daniel Pink

As part of our Sales is not a dirty word theme for June, we were fortunate enough to interview Daniel Pink, author of the recent bestseller, To Sell is Human – The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Daniel is a former speechwriter for Al Gore and has also authored several other books including Free Agent Nation, A Whole New Mind, Johnny Bunko and Drive. Daniel kindly agreed to answer several questions we put to him by email to help support our proposition that sales is not a dirty word.

Daniel Pink – To Sell is Human

Brett Jarman – The subtitle of To Sell is Human is “The surprising truth about moving others” – What is the surprising truth and what is it about it that makes it surprising?

Daniel Pink – When I first started thinking about this book, I had a hunch. I looked back at two weeks of my own work — the meetings, calls, emails, tweets — and discovered that I was spending a huge portion of my time selling. I wasn’t just flacking books, though. I was convincing editors, persuading airline gate agents, cajoling kids — trying to get people to part with resources, to exchange what they had for what I had. However, to put some quantitative meat on these conceptual bones, I worked with a data analytics company to conduct a survey of 7000 adult full-time workers.

We found that people are spending an average of about 40% of their time on the job in what I call “non-sales selling” — selling where the cash register doesn’t ring, where money doesn’t change hands, and where the transaction is denominated in time, attention, and effort rather than dollars.

So not only are people outside of the traditional sales force spending a huge amount of their time selling, but sales in all its dimensions has changed more in the last 10 years that it did over the previous 100.

And most of what we think about selling is based on assumptions that are outdated. I think this will surprise a lot of people whose views of sales are still shaped by caricatures of the sleazy used-car salesman of yore.

Brett Jarman – Our theme on the blog this month is “Sales isn’t a dirty word.” Why do you think something so essential as sales has developed such a bad reputation?

Daniel Pink – Like it or not, we’re all in sales now. And as you say, most of us don’t like it. We think of sales as sleazy, cheesy, and slimy. But that view is outdated. It’s more about the conditions in which sales has long taken place rather than about the nature of sales itself.

Selling has a bad rap because most of what we know about it arose in a world of information asymmetry — where the seller always had more information than they buyer and therefore could rip the buyer off. But today, information asymmetry is giving way to something at least close to information parity.

That’s changed the game in ways we’ve scarcely recognized. We now live in a world not just of “buyer beware” — but also of “seller beware.”

Brett Jarman – You talk about the difference between ‘sales‘ and ‘non sales sales” with the main difference being the former involves the transfer of money. Most of us engage in non sales sales without batting an eyelid yet, when it comes to ‘real sales‘, i.e. as soon as there is money involved, suddenly there is tension around the transaction. Did your research for To Sell is Human uncover why that is?

Daniel Pink – I think there is tension around every sales transaction, because there is always something at stake. If it’s not money, then it’s resources, time, relationships, status, career success, etc. Perhaps what makes “real sales” transactions seem more anxiety-ridden is that the question of money brings the value of the stakes into sharp focus.

So what are we anxious about? Rejection. Failure. In the book I talk about the three foundational qualities that are most important in moving other people in a world of “seller beware.” One of these qualities is buoyancy– how to stay afloat on what one salesman called “an ocean of rejection.”

Brett Jarman – For someone self-employed, i.e. for someone who is the sales department in their own business, what’s the most important takeaway they could get from reading To Sell is Human?

Daniel Pink – I hope they would take away that, in whatever field they are in, the self-employed person – entrepreneur, artisan, or free agent, full-time or on the side – is selling all the time. Because they are responsible for the entire operation, they’re enticing business partners, negotiating with suppliers, and motivating employees, all of which is the non-sales selling that has to be done in addition to product sales. If you’re always selling, you owe it to yourself to get better at it.

Brett Jarman – You describe selling as ‘in its own sweet way, more beautiful than we realize.’ What is it about sales you find beautiful?

Daniel Pink – It’s the quintessential human activity. Our survival and happiness depend on our ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. The skills and attitudes needed to be good at sales are fundamentally human. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It’s part of who we are. And that’s beautiful.

Brett Jarman – Anyone who is self employed who is terrified of sales or even ‘hates sales’ is going to meet with limited success. What would you say to them to help shift that point of view?

Daniel Pink – Two things: We have this notion that some people are “born” salespeople — and, by extension, that certain types of people do it best.

Many of us believe that extraverts make the best sales people. But new research from Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School calls that into question. In his research, which I write about here, he found that strong extraverts were only slightly better at sales than strong introverts. Why? Strong extraverts can talk too much and listen too little and overwhelm people with their forceful personalities.

The people who did the best — by far — were the “ambiverts,” those in the middle. These folks, who are somewhat introverted and somewhat extraverted, are the most attuned and therefore make the best salespeople. What ought to be heartening is that most of us are neither strong introverts nor strong extraverts. Most of us are ambiverts, which suggests that most of us are reasonably well-positioned to sell effectively.

Second, I’d like to expand on my point about buoyancy. Sales is full of rejection. There’s no way around it. But in the book I include several exercises and tools you can use to brace yourself for rejection: interrogative self-talk, explanatory style, the “enumerate and embrace” strategy. One of my favorites is based on Barbara Fredrickson’s work on positivity. The magic formula for flourishing appears to be a 3 to 1 balance between positive and negative emotions. Fredrickson has a “Positivity Self Test” you can take at http://positivityratio.com. Take it, continue to monitor your progress, and maybe you’ll see that sales isn’t as big a drag as you think.

What’s your view on sales? Do you find it difficult or do you agree with Daniel’s position, that in its own sweet way it’s a beautiful thing? Comments are welcome below.

About the Author Brett Jarman

I've been self-employed since I was 19​ (and that was quite some time ago) and have owned manufacturing, service and consulting businesses ever since. Every business goes through stages and each stage in each business needs a different strategy to flourish and prosper. I can teach you about the stages and the strategies to shortcut your success.

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