According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in nine Americans works in sales. Every day more than 15 million people earn their keep by persuading someone else to make a purchase. According to Daniel Pink though, author of the new book To Sell Is Human, there is a deeper truth. Yes, one in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight.
I recently gave a speech to a group of about 100 HR professionals. I asked how many think of themselves as salespeople. A few raised their hands, probably anticipating where I was going with this. And when I followed up the line "we are all in sales now" with some anecdotes from Pink's book, one of them suggested I write about the book in Staffing Talk. So here it is.
Before Pink began writing his book in earnest, he commissioned a survey with a research and data analytics company to try and uncover how much time and energy people are devoting to moving others, including what we think of as "non-sales selling." In other words, selling that doesn't actually involve a purchase.
He gathered data from 9,000 people and two main findings emerged:
1) We now spend about 40% of our time every day persuading, influencing and convincing. Across a range of professions, we are devoting roughly 24 minutes of every hour to moving others.
2) People consider this aspect of their work crucial to their professional success - even in excess of the considerable amount of time they devote to it.
If you run your own staffing agency, and you are responsible for new business development, then you likely see sales as a big part of your job.
Obviously recruiters have to sell themselves to a client, and then in turn sell that client to a job candidate.
The same is true for HR pros, who have to sell both future candidates, as well as current employees, on the culture of their company.
So it may be that virtually everyone who is reading this post in Staffing Talk considers themselves in sales.
If you still need some help wrapping your mind around that notion, Pink has a little quiz in the book.
Do you earn your living trying to convince others to purchase your goods or services?
If you answered yes, you're in sales.
Do you work for yourself or run your own operation?
If yes, you're in sales.
Does your work require elastic skills - the ability to cross boundaries and functions, to work outside your specialty, and to do a variety of different things throughout the day?
If yes, you're almost certainly in sales.
"Selling, I've grown to understand, is more urgent, more important, and in its own sweet way, more beautiful than we realize," writes Pink in the book. "The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness."
"The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness."
I first heard of Daniel Pink in a most unlikely place. I was in a small bus, traveling on a somewhat dubious "road" in the Dominican Republic, delivering food to small villages of Haitian refugees with a group of people. I was talking about my 3 Second Selling idea to an elementary school teacher sitting in the seat next to me, and he just blurted out, "Do you know who you sound like? Daniel Pink!"
At the time, I hadn't read any of his books. But when I came home, I quickly devoured Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, in which Pink breaks down some commonly held assumptions around motivation, and writes about the mismatch between what science knows and what business does.
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Then it was on to A Whole New Mind, where he opines that the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind - creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers - as opposed to MBAs and number crunchers.
"The information society has enormous consequences for how we work and live," Pink writes. "When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact."
In other words, tell a story. I would love it if Pink is right on this take. I am much better at stories than making sense of Excel spreadsheets.
To Sell Is Human offers a fresh look at the art and science of selling. If any of you have read it, or read it after seeing this post, I would love to hear your reaction to it.
I'll leave you with one last quote from the book that might reframe the way you think of selling.
"It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. The capacity to sell isn't some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are...selling is fundamentally human."