I was reflecting back on the Fortune Leadership Summit in Orlando, Florida that I recently attended. One of the speakers that resonated with me the most from the many fascinating presentations we heard was Daniel Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human. Pink gave a statistic that really stuck with me; one in nine people in the United States have a sales job, and those of us who comprise the other 8 in 9 people spend 41% of our time doing what he calls "non traditional sales," or persuading people to listen to our ideas, invest in our companies, help with our projects, etc. Anyone who has ever had to "sell" a toddler on bedtime or eating vegetables knows that "non traditional sales" can be extremely hard work!
Despite the fact that we are all in sales in one way or another, "sales" has a very negative connotation to most people. Pink attributes this image of the "traditional salesman" as pushy, aggressive, or sleazy to a bygone era in which the sales person had all of the knowledge and, therefore, all of the power in the transaction. However, this is an outdated image because the Internet puts information at our fingertips. Pink calls this "information parity" and describes a new era of "seller beware" in which the seller can no longer take advantage of a well-informed consumer.
Pink identified three qualities necessary to be successful in this new world of sales:
Attunement, refers to the ability to see the world from another's point of view. Effective sales people cultivate the ability to know and understand the perspective of the buyer. Pink points to research that indicates that feeling powerful actually impedes our ability to relate to others' perspectives; when we feel powerful, we tend to anchor more heavily on our own perspective. So, Pink recommends momentarily doubting our ability to close the big deal prior to the meeting rather than pumping up with a pep talk. This will enable us to take the perspective of the other person and ultimately be more effective.
Buoyancy refers to the seller's ability to bounce back from what Pink called the "ocean of rejection" facing a traditional sales person. Research in the social sciences points to evidence that people who are most effective and most satisfied with life in general tend to look at failure differently from those who are less effective and less satisfied. Buoyancy is our ability to attribute unsuccessful attempts to factors other than our internal self worth and see failure as less permanent and less pervasive. Effective sales people view failure as something that does not reflect on them as a person, is not going to last forever, and does not impact every aspect of their lives. They are able to bounce back quickly and keep at it in the face of inevitable rejection.
Clarity is the final quality Pink described for a successful sales person. This reflects the shift in the sales environment to one of information parity; now, it is the role of the seller to help the buyer navigate the abundance of information that is available. Effective sales people help potential buyers sort through information and identify problems that they did not even realize they had (or would have down the road.)
Pink closed his remarks by introducing the concept of a "servant seller" who, much like a servant leader, gains credibility and the moral foundation to sell through serving first. What can you do for your customers or potential customers to provide clarity and service to build your credibility and trustworthiness? How can you enhance your ability to see the world through your customers' eyes? How can you increase your own buoyancy and ability to bounce back in the face of failure?