Birth of a salesman: Daniel Pink on why everyone's a salesperson

Download Flash Player to view this content.

First aired on Spark (04/01/13)

to sell is human.jpg

Popular culture often gives you some pretty good cues about the zeitgeist. Consider the salesman. Sometimes, as in Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman, he' s an everyday tragic figure, ground under by the grind and rejection of life. He's also frequently been a figure of derision (think Herb Tarlek of the 1970s sitcom WKRP in Cincinatti), or played strictly for laughs. Sometimes the salesman is a threatening figure, like the predatory workers in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. But writer Daniel Pink posits that, in fact, we are all salespeople -- and there's nothing wrong with that. He spoke with Nora Young on Spark recently about his new book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

Whether we're trying to get people to read a blog post, or trying to convince a toddler to put on some socks, we're all in sales now, according to Pink. His new book is an exploration of how we can accomplish our sales goals happily and ethically. But why do salespeople get such a bad rap in the first place? "I think [it's] more about the conditions in which sales have long taken place rather than the nature of sales itself," Pink said. "Most of what we know about sales was built for a world of information asymmetry, that is, the seller always had more information than the buyer." And the person with more information can hoodwink the person with less information -- that's how sales came by its slimy reputation.

"But I think that's about a moment in time rather than the nature of the sales profession," said Pink. "That world of information asymmetry that we used to live in is ending. It used to be that when you walked into a Chevy dealer, the Chevy dealer had way more information about the car than you could ever have. Now, you might actually have more information than the Chevy dealer. In a world of information asymmetry, the watchword is 'buyer beware,' but in a world of information parity, it's more likely to be 'seller beware.'"

Pink thinks that all the aforementioned famous salesmen -- the Glengarry guys, Willy Loman, Herb Tarlek -- are relics of their respective eras. "Sales, in all its dimensions, has changed more in the past 10 years than it did in the previous 100," he said.

Buoyancy is the most challenging one -- after all, nobody likes rejection. One of Pink's favourite pieces of advice is to go against the common wisdom that says the best way to prepare for any kind of sales-like encounter (asking for a raise, asking someone on a date, etc.) is to pump yourself up and say 'you can do it!' "It turns out that's not very good advice," said Pink. "The best advice, it turns out, comes from a team of researchers and what they say is that the very best self-talk before an encounter is to ask the question 'can I do this?' Questions, by their nature, are more active, and you have to come up with a response."

Related links: