For many people, the word “sales” has something of a negative connotation. They think of someone pushy, or who’s trying to deceive them in some way. In his new book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others, Daniel Pink argues that we need to do away with that, because every person in the world is now engaged in sales. It’s not about going door to door selling products, but about moving people, convincing them to go along with your idea, project, or with you personally.
We’ve broken out the best of Pink’s tips on why knowing how to move others is so essential in the modern world, and how the best of social science can get you there.
When you spend your time, as Pink puts it, 'persuading, influencing, and convincing others,' you're in sales.
Obviously, it's defined that way if you try to convince others to purchase things. But you're also in sales if you run your own business, no matter how small, whether it's through the products themselves, pitching investors, or motivating employees by selling your vision.
In a survey of what people actually spend their time doing at work, Pink finds that about 40 per cent of time is spent in 'non-sales selling,' regardless of profession.
Now, anyone who wants to to buy a car, for example, is armed with prices and information from dozens of sources. The balance has shifted away from the seller towards the buyer.
You have to be just as aware and cautious as buyers used to be. They won't accept you as an authority figure, so the science of psychology, connection, and sales is more important than ever. Honesty, directness, and transparency are crucial.
Trying to persuade someone is an incredibly complex interaction, and a lot of it hinges on being able to take their point of view. When you understand where somebody's coming from, you do a much better job of responding to their concerns and anticipating problems. Researchers have found that when people are encouraged to feel powerful, they're much worse at taking others' perspectives.
When you feel like you have all of the power and information, you tend to focus too much on your own point of view. By assuming you're in the lower power position, you can focus on understanding someone, rather than trying to coerce them.
It's easy to think of taking someone else's side as being all about feelings or empathy. It turns out that it's mostly about thinking.
In an experiment on price negotiation, people prompted to imagine what the other side was feeling were much less effective than those who focused on what the other side was thinking. Empathy is good in its own right, but focusing on how people think helps you figure out what context the other person is working in, relate it to your own, and use that to come up with a deal that's better for both people.
We instinctively copy other people, sometimes without realising it. That includes behaviours, gestures, sometimes even accents. That might seem like it would put people off, but a variety of studies have found that doing it consciously helps people sell and move others.
It has to be subtle or it can backfire, and you can't focus so much attention on it that you lose sight of your goal, but the effect has been seen to increase retail sales, improve tips at restaurants, and beyond. It's not about manipulation, it's just another tool for getting in sync with somebody else.
You would expect that the best salespeople would be the most sociable and gregarious, but there's actually almost no evidence of that. Studies have found no relationship between extroversion and sales. In fact, research from Wharton's Adam Grant finds that the most effective sales people are right on the middle of the scale between extroversion and introversion. They're what he calls 'ambiverts.'
Being too gregarious can actually hurt sales, as people can get turned off by someone who's too assertive, zealous, or prone to stumbling over themselves in their eagerness. If you tend to talk to much, reign it back and listen more. Know when to push, and when to hold back. Test where you are on the scale at Pink's website.
Whether it's speaking up at a big meeting or making a sales call, it's common for people to try to pump themselves up beforehand. The standard advice for preparing is to tell yourself you're great, there's no way you can fail, etc.
Another tactic is more effective: asking a question. Instead of saying 'I'm the best and I can do it,' ask 'How can I do it?' It's called 'interrogative self-talk,' and has been shown to be more effective than positive statements alone. Asking questions leads to answers. It gives you strategies for carrying out your task right at the top of your mind, and reminds you of your motivation.
'Positivity' can make people think of bubbly and overly-familiar people, which are some of the negative things we often associate with sales. However, positive emotion has a powerful effect on other people, making them less adversarial and, on your own capability, increasing intuition and creativity.
It helps you show that you believe in what you're selling, which can tip the scale in your favour. Make sure to maintain balance though, because without some negative input you don't learn from mistakes as well. It helps keep you grounded in reality.
'Explanatory style,' or how you talk about failure and setbacks to yourself, has a huge impact on success. Sales and the workplace involve daily rejection--of pitches, of ideas and so on. People that have optimistic styles, who know that most failures come down to circumstances and specific, correctable errors are much better at sales.
A negative style, such as believing that everything is always your fault, can be very harmful, leading to higher quit rates and lower sales in studies. It's not about blind optimism, but about being realistic and moving on.
In a world that can feel like it has an overwhelming array of choices and information, taking some of it away can be a powerful tool. Researchers find that while more people may go somewhere with a massive array of choices, they actually buy much more from a small, curated selection.
Helping to frame people's choices by offering a small but compelling group of alternatives is an essential for persuading people.
Especially when it comes to non-sales selling, you're often selling yourself and your capabilities alongside an idea or project. When doing that, people find the idea of potential much more compelling than a list of past accomplishments.
Researchers argue that it's because potential is more uncertain, which leads people to think more deeply about you and what you might do in the future.
Once you've found the right problem to solve, a great way to frame it, and have formed a rapport with somebody, you're not done. One of the most essential parts of selling anything is the follow through.
Giving people lots of details on how to continue and a reminder makes people much more likely to participate, as they have clarity on how to act as opposed to just how to think.
Pink argues that the traditional elevator pitch is dead in a world of more democratic workplaces and the internet. He offers a few great alternatives.
The one word pitch: You think of Google when you hear 'search.' The motto for Barack Obama's campaigns have been two words, 'Forward,' and 'Hope.' Incredibly simple ideas move faster and travel farther. It's not simple though, that one word takes a ton of thought.
The subject line pitch: Almost every email we send is a pitch of one kind or another. Research finds that the most effective subject lines are ones that directly affected work, had a moderate level of uncertainty, and were specific in content. The first two are effective tools, but should only be used one at a time as they can contradict one another. The last is pretty much always good advice.
Radiologists spend more time than just about any other doctor hunched over their computers. These highly skilled professionals can easily lose motivation. One hospital was able to keep people much more engaged by accompanying people's scans with their photos, reminding them that in the end, they're caring for real people.
Selling something or moving a person isn't solving a puzzle, it's remembering that you're speaking to somebody else.
In a hospital, a simple reminder to wash hands was much less effective than reminding people that 'hand hygiene prevents patients from catching disease.' One of the most effective ways to motivate people is to give them a purpose.
People act in their own self interest, but they have other reasons to do things as well. Studies find that having a positive purpose, or helping to create one, significantly increases people's ability to persuade.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that selling is always about money and personal gains. The easiest example is the commissions some salespeople receive. However, many companies are getting rid of it.
That's because it's more effective to motivate people in other ways. It prevents people from gaming the system, and turns people into 'agents of their customers' rather than adversaries.
'If the person you're selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve?'
'When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began?'
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