Nearly 30 years ago, not long after arriving in New York, I saw Glengarry Glen Ross, a play by David Mamet that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. The play shows two days in the lives of four Chicago real estate agents. One of the lines that most people probably recall is the one delivered by the character Blake, lecturing his fellow agents about the meaning of three little letters on a blackboard. It goes like this:
“A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing! Always be closing!!”
I remember watching this play – and later, the movie – and thinking how much I’d hate to be in sales. In Daniel Pink’s recent book, To Sell is Human, the author discusses the transformation in what we consider the business of selling. “We’re all in sales now,” Pink says. “One out of every nine Americans make a living trying to get others to make a purchase. But the other eight in nine work in sales too—we’re persuading and influencing others to give up resources in exchange for something we have.” Pink’s central point resonates. Despite my initial reactions after watching Mamet’s play, much of my career has, in fact, been in “sales.”
According to Pink’s research, most of us spend up to 40 percent of our time at work attempting to move others via “non-sales selling” - convincing them to take action in ways that don’t involve an actual purchase. Indeed, moving people in this way is central to our professional success. Outside of work we are also selling ourselves, whether by selling products on Amazon or EBay, crowdfunding on Kickstarter, or promoting ourselves using LinkedIn, Twitter and a multitude of emerging social media platforms.
How has this come to pass? Pink explains that we’ve arrived at this point because of: burgeoning entrepreneurship (pushing more of us into a sales role to get our companies off the ground); “elasticity” in the workplace (a similar thesis, by the way, to Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat), in which employees are being asked to demonstrate a far broader range of skills to retain their jobs in a competitive global workplace; and the booming education and medical services industries (sectors which require convincing people to let go of personal resources in order to improve their lives).
So if the old “A-B-C’s” of selling were “Always Be Closing.” The new A-B-C’s” of selling are, according to Pink: “Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.” What do these mean?
Attunement means “the ability to blend one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people.” Being attuned requires that you:
- Start relationships with an assumption that you’re in the position of lower power and are thus better able to empathize with others
- Combine intelligence with emotion
- Strategically mimic, based on the situation – in effect, be a chameleon
Buoyancy means “the quality that combines grittiness of spirit and sunniness of outlook.” This requires applying principles before, during, and after the sales process:
- Before: Instead of thinking in terms pronouncements, think in terms of asking questions – this is instrumental in overcoming objections.
- During: The basic message here is to remain positive. Pink’s suggestion for achieving this is to think in terms of ratios. For example, the people who thrive in a selling environment are those who, for every three instances of feeling grateful, interested or amused, feel only one instance of frustration, anger or defeat.
- After: What happens after the sales encounter? Less successful sellers move on immediately. Successful adapters are those who engage in optimistic self-talk afterwards - those who view a rejection as fleeting and targeted, rather than enduring and all-encompassing.
Clarity implies a “capacity to make sense of murky situations.” To achieve this clarity, you need to assess and prioritize which problems to address and then uncover the “off-ramp,” which Pink explains as a clear solution or directive for people to act.
Daniel Pink wraps up his book by assuring the reader that selling is an essentially human endeavor and recommends that, by acquiring the listening skills honed by improvisational actors, we increase our abilities to move others along the selling curve. In other words, we need to listen well, hearing both explicit and non-explicit responses to our overtures. If we do this well, we might achieve a “sale” or might unearth unexpected possibilities and relationship potential. In other words, moving people can and should achieve something greater than merely a “sale.”