Most of us have jobs that require us to move people: whether you want to sell a new innovation, spread a fresh idea, or change the world, you need to convince people to do or think something different. So when I saw Dan Pink’s recent book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others at the top of the New York Times business bestseller list, it validated that lots of people are interested in moving others.
Pink takes on all the naysayers who believe the profession of sales is dying. True, the Avon lady probably doesn’t visit your house very often (or maybe ever). The rise of the internet and the informed consumer means those days are probably long gone. But that doesn’t mean “sales” is dead. While it might not be listed in their titles, more people than ever engage in what Pink calls non-sales selling, or the act of persuading others. Whether you’re a teacher, a doctor, or an engineer, you probably spend a significant percentage of your time trying to convince others to do – or think – something specific. And if you do, Pink has written a guide to help you get better at it. Instead of looking down on sales as we’ve traditionally done, we need to embrace that sales is a fundamental part of human nature, and become the best salespeople we can be.
Pink identifies “how to be” in this new era by replacing the traditional mantra of “always be closing” with the new ABCs: attunement, buoyancy, and clarity. Attunement, or “the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and the context you’re in,” requires you to think about the perspective of your audience. This is a good rule for selling and a great one for presentations. At Duarte, before we ever write a single word or design a single slide, we always ask ourselves (and our clients) about the audience: Who are they? What do they think about this topic? What do we want them to think? Why should they care? After all, we’re not selling to ourselves, and only thinking like the audience can help you understand what matters to them.
Pink also advises sellers to maintain buoyancy and “stay afloat amid that ocean of rejection,” a challenging thing to do when you’re trying to shift someone’s way of thinking. Finally, he emphasizes the importance of clarity to “help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways.” Instead of being a problem-solver, become a problem-finder that can sort through massive amounts of information to ask the right questions and uncover big possibilities. Compare your idea with alternatives. And make sure that you don’t get lost in the details.
We always counsel or clients to think about their “big idea” before they start writing their presentation. What is the one message you’re trying to communicate? Why should it cause everyone in the room to change their thinking or behavior? The big idea communicates your unique point of view and the stakes it carries for the audience. When you figure this out, it should drive everything else (the content, the story, and the design) of a presentation. Pink seems to be on the same page when he quotes a former professor:
He said that in an attempt to understand the law—or, for that matter, just about anything—the key was to focus on what he termed the “one percent.” Don’t get lost in the crabgrass of details, he urged us. Instead, think about the essence of what you’re exploring—the one percent that gives life to the other ninety-nine. Understanding that one percent, and being able to explain it to others, is the hallmark of strong minds and good attorneys.
To Sell is Human includes a lot more detail on the changing nature of selling and how to be the best salesperson possible. We hope that all the big thinkers with bigger ideas consider his advice and sell, sell, sell!