Is selling a skill, or an innate human characteristic?
In his latest book, To Sell is Human, bestselling author Daniel H. Pink introduces his hypothesis on this question with a story of his cataloguing how he spent the last two weeks of his professional life. His conclusion? “I am a salesman.”
He cites examples such as trying to get an editor to abandon a story idea and requesting a seat change from a flight attendant as evidence of his sales cred. He extends that notion to his audience, saying they’re all “pitching colleagues, persuading funders, cajoling kids. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”
Where’s the sales module?
Now? I thought to myself. Was there a time when people didn’t pitch or when parents didn’t convince their children to do what they’re told? Isn’t this just the art of How to Win Friends and Influence People redux?
Now, Pink’s motive is overall a good one. He’s trying to convince people who aren’t “in sales” to abandon their preconceived notions of sales as something bad or slippery or a necessary evil:
“The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are… selling is fundamentally human.”
I appreciated the sentiment, so I read on. While his first chapter begins with a fascinating profile of the last Fuller Brush door-to-door salesman, he then delves into a study he undertook to illuminate his hypothesis by asking people what they do at work. While a majority of his respondents said they spent more time “processing information” than they did “selling a product or service,” he noted that they all admitted to these “three activities at the heart of non-sales selling”:
- teaching, coaching, or instructing others
- serving clients or customers
- persuading or convincing others
I think every job I’ve ever had has included all three of these activities. Yet Pink’s hypothesis hinges on the idea that all this has emerged over the last ten years (not that I want to date myself here). The argument reminds me of the logic advanced by Steve Buschemi’s Mr. Pink character in the movie Resevior Dogs about why tipping a waitress is hypocritical. I get where he’s going with it, but I’m still putting down my 20 percent.
This all brings me to you, fair reader. Who better to consult on the matter than the one million or so REALTORS® out there who have always known there’s nothing wrong or evil about the notion of sales?
- What do you, actual sales people, think about Pink’s “non-sales selling” or the idea that selling is human?
- Is everyone in sales?
- If a person is bad at selling, does that make them bad at being human?
- Is there a fundamental difference between what you do as sales people and what Pink does as an author?
I’m curious to hear what you think. Leave me a comment in the space below on any of these questions, or if you have read Pink’s book and have thoughts on that.