Mar 19

Daniel Pink Reminds Job-Seekers “To Sell is Human”

daniel pink“I don’t want to do sales” is a frequent lament of many senior military leaders in transition. Following my previous post on this topic, I had the good fortune to read To Sell is Human and to ask its author, Daniel Pink, to help reframe this issue for those laying the groundwork for their post-military careers:

VSB: Dan, your new book, To Sell is Human, addresses how we use some aspect of selling in our everyday lives, whether we hold formal sales positions or not. Would you share three examples of how this is so, outside of a job in the private sector?

PINK: We spend an extraordinary amount of time each day doing what I call “moving” other people — convincing or persuading them to give up something they have, in exchange for what we have. That’s true on the job. But it’s also true, as you say, in other realms.

For instance, as parents, we’re trying to get our kids to clean up their rooms. As homeowners, we’re trying perhaps to get our neighbors to move their trash cans to a different place. And as volunteers and citizens, we’re trying to get our churches and synagogues or our town council to go in a different direction. Again, it’s a big portion of our lives and we can learn how to do it better.

VSB: Many people feel they need to be strong extraverts in order to be effective in sales. Why do you feel that is NOT the case?

PINK: It’s not what I feel. It’s what the research says. New research out of the Wharton School shows that the very best salespeople are not strong extraverts. But they’re not strong introverts either. Instead they’re ambiverts. That’s a term that has been in the literature since the 1920s and it describes people who are in the middle — who are somewhat introverted and somewhat extraverted. Why are they more effective? Because they’re more attuned. They know when to speak up and they know when to shut up. They know when to push and when to hold back. The good news: Relatively few of us are strong introverts or strong extraverts. Most of us are ambiverts, which means that most of us can be reasonably good at sales in all its dimensions.

The main thing to understand is this: Selling isn’t some grim accommodation to a merciless world of commerce. It’s part of who we are—and therefore, something we can do better by being more human.

VSB: Senior military leaders have achieved their rank through their professional accomplishments and years of experience managing vast resources and large numbers of personnel. Yet, when it comes to “doing sales” or “business development,” some either consider it “dirty” work or internally fear the rejection. What can they do to reframe their thinking?

PINK: First, it’s important to realize that one reason we think sales is dirty — and most of us do — is less about sales than about the conditions in which sales have long taken place. Most of what we know about sales comes from a world of “information asymmetry,” where the seller knows a lot more than the buyer. When the seller has a huge information advantage over the buyer, the seller can take the low road. This “information asymmetry” is the reason we have the principle of ‘buyer beware.’

But in the last few years, we’ve moved closer to information parity. When buyers know as much as sellers — and when they have lots of choices and the means to talk back — that’s a radically different world. That’s a world of “seller beware.”  Today, to sell anything — whether your product, your idea, or yourself — you have to take the high road. That can help reframe our thinking. In other words, the way to be more effective is to be more human.

VSB: Senior military leaders must acclimate to a new culture after 20-30 years living within the military community. Using your “time traveler” analogy, how might they best approach adapting to a new professional culture?

PINK: This is a really interesting technique from improvisational theater. Two people pair up. You think of a few items that didn’t exist 300 years ago — say, a Big Mac or a takeout pizza or hot tubs or iPhones. Then one person plays a contemporary person – and he or she has to explain that item to the other person, who plays someone from 1713. This ends up being surprisingly hard. It makes you examine your underlying assumptions and rethink how understandable your message is. It’s a great way to strengthen anyone’s perspective-taking muscles.

pink bookVSB: Any other key points from your new book that would be especially helpful for senior military leaders in transition?

PINK: The main thing to understand is this: Selling isn’t some grim accommodation to a merciless world of commerce. It’s part of who we are—and therefore something we can do better by being more human.


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