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Pink: Embrace Your Inner Salesperson

By Bill Leonard  6/18/2013
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CHICAGO--Like it or not, we are all in sales now. During Tuesday’s general session at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition, Daniel Pink argued that sales is the most important part of anyone’s job—especially for those in HR.

“Exchanges in the workplace happen every day. It may not be monetary, but we all give up something for something else of value in return,” said Pink, author of the best-selling book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (Riverhead, 2012). “Just think about how much time you spend in your job convincing and persuading others to try an idea or accept a report.”

According to Pink’s research, people typically spend 41 percent of their time on the job trying to persuade others. He told the audience that the art of persuasion is actually sales even though money isn’t changing hands.

“Sales is a big part of what people do every day, and my guess is that HR is doing more of this than [people in] other jobs,” he said. “Just think of trying to convince executives in the C-suite to accept a new idea or recruiting a top job candidate to come work for your organization. Even though the cash register isn’t ringing, these are sales.”

Pink hoped everyone at the general session would accept two big concepts—that they actually work in sales and that the sales model of today has radically changed from 30 years ago.

“Our traditional view of sales is outdated,” he claimed. “Years ago, sales had an asymmetry. Sellers had most of the information, while buyers had very little knowledge about what they were buying and not many choices. This world has shifted dramatically.”

According to Pink, the world has moved from “buyer beware” to “seller beware.” To succeed in this brave new world of sales, he said, people need to possess the following three qualities: attunement, buoyancy and clarity.

Attunement means being able to get out of your own head to see things from the perspective of others. Buoyancy is the ability to stay afloat in an “ocean of rejection.”

“Clarity is the ability to distill information and manage information,” he said. “I believe that we have overstated the skill of problem-solving. What we really need more of is the skill of ‘problem-finding,’ and being able to use the information available to understand and see problems before they happen.”

Pink concluded his keynote address by outlining five action items that anyone can start using immediately to become a better salesperson.

First, he said, you can increase your effectiveness by reducing the feeling of power. “You have to recognize that power distorts and can warp perspective,” he said. “The most effective salesmen have the ability to step back and put themselves into others’ shoes.”

The second recommendation was to not be a glad-hander; just be yourself. “Strong extroverts really aren’t good at sales, because they’re seen as pushy and not genuine,” he said. “You can do better if you don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.”

Pink’s third action item was to “Give people an offramp. … Make it much easier for people to act,” he said. “Don’t push too hard or force them to make a decision. If the decision isn’t pressure-packed, and they have an easy way to make a choice, then sales and persuasion will come much easier.”

His fourth item was to ask yourself if you can do this. “Questions activate responses, and the answer usually will be, ‘Yes I can do this and this is how I’m going to do it,’ ” Pink said.

Pink’s fifth and final action item was to “Make it personal. … Put yourself into it, and put yourself on the line,” he said.

Following his own advice, Pink displayed his cell phone number on the screen and invited attendees to “Call me if you have questions and concerns on how to make this work.”


Bill Leonard is senior writer for HR News.

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