Closing keynote to #CIPD13 by Daniel Pink @DanielPink

One-sentence summary: We are all in sales and the way to succeed in sales is surprising and not intuitive.

Daniel Pink introduced himself as a HR nerd, and explained how he came about to be interested in sales as it might seem like an unusual topic for a HR nerd. Daniel got interested in this as sales is a topic that didn’t seem to be well-researched and appeared to be founded on sum fundamentally flawed assumptions.

There was a flawed assumption that sales people would be disintermediated and wouldn’t be needed any longer. This hasn’t happened as 1 in 10 of the UK workforce work in sales, exactly the same as it was 10 years ago. Even for the 90% of people who don’t work in sales, an average of 41% of people’s time is a form of selling (even though no money is changing hands). This leads to the conclusion that we are all in sales now (whether we like it or not!). And given the image of sales, many people seem to fall into the category of not liking it!

Daniel asked the audience to shout out the first word they associated with sales. Responses included: sleazy, pushy, persuasion, lies, money, hard. In a previous analysis of 7,000 responses, pushy came out as the most common, closely followed by yuck! The negative comments outweighed the positives by 4:1, which must makes sales one of the most disliked professions.

Sales used to be rooted in a world of information asymmetry where the seller provided information to the buyer, but the that isn’t the world we live in today and we seem to be shifting from buyer beware to seller beware. Daniel Pink was keen to stress that this doesn’t just apply to car sales, it applies to people, to recruitment, to talent!

So how can we be more effective at sales? Three qualities seem to be really important and they are new ABCs which are very different from the old ABC of ‘always be closing’

Attunement – can we see things from someone else’s point of view to find common ground?

Buoyancy – can we cope with rejection as there will be lots of ‘no’ answers?

Clarity – in a world awash with information, can we shift our focus from information to access to information curation? Can we shift our focus from problem solving to problem finding (as people don’t need help if they know what the problem is)?

Five take-aways:

1 – We did a little psychological experiment which looked at our ability to take somebody else’s perspective. In experiments, when participants were encouraged to feel powerful, they were more likely to take their own perspective rather than somebody else’s. A powerful way to increase your effectiveness at attunement is to briefly reduce your feelings of power. A little bit of humility goes a long way.

2 – Attunement is more than empathy and we would ideally want to understand what people are thinking and feeling. It is difficult to do both of these and it is important to use your head as much as your heart and focus more on what somebody is thinking rather than feeling.

3 – Although extroverts are more likely to want to work in (and be recruited into) sales, the highest performers in sales are ambiverts. There is a great truth her in that we don’t need to try to be something else to succeed, we just need to be our authentic self.

4 – It is important to go into a sales encounter asking ‘Can I do this?’. This runs counter to the advice of the self-help gurus but it is more powerful than just positive self talk but it makes us think by posing a question and helps us call on all of our resources so that we are prepared. This is nicely illustrated as the Bob the Builder interrogative self talk.

5 – We looked at a piece of research about encouraging students to give to foodbanks. When we try to predict people’s behaviour, we overweight their disposition and underestimate the importance of context. We need to make it easy for people to act.

What an inspiring talk from a hero of mine.