How has the selling environment changed in the last 10 years? Which individuals are best equipped to succeed in sales in the future? Dan Pink answered these and other questions in a recent webinar, in association with the Harvard Business Review and Citrix GoToMeeting.

New ABCs Selling: Carrot or Stick?
Carrot or stick incentives are not effective for complex tasks

I’ve summed up the key points in this article, which consist of 1 insight, 3 qualities, and 6 practical takeaways. If you’ve read my previously published summary (blog link) of Pink’s latest book, To Sell is Human then some of this information will not be news. However if you’re in the business of influencing others, it will still serve to underline the key points from the book.

If… Then. Doesn’t Work.

Pink explains that ‘if, then’ rewards (i.e. the carrot or stick), are not effective motivators of human behaviour for complex tasks or those that require cognitive thinking. They focus the mind but at the same time narrow our vision and restrict our ability to think creatively. The HBR has written more on creative and insight selling, and I covered how their findings relate to sales tools in Insight Sales and the Value of CRM.

Pink structures his webinar by offering one insight on what has caused a shift in the selling environment, three qualities of a great salesperson in light of this insight, and six things salespeople and marketers can practice today to be more influential.

One Insight

The internet has moved consumers closer to complete information and also allowed the ability to easily respond one-to-many through online blogs, reviews sites, and social media. You can no longer rely on knowing more than your prospects or pull the wool over their eyes. Even if you could, the response would likely be a very public backlash.

Caveat Emptor, the buyer beware has switched to Caveat Venditor, the seller beware. Today’s consumers are more informed, empowered and connected than ever before. The balance of power has shifted as have the qualities and strategies you need to be effective.

Three Qualities

Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity are what Pink calls the ‘New ABCs’ as opposed to Always, Be, Closing from the traditional environment characterised by asymmetric information.

1. Attunement

The ability to see things from other peoples point of view allows you understand what is important to them and promote your benefits accordingly.

2. Buoyancy

Staying afloat in a sea of rejection. This is best practiced by interrogative self-talk prior to a meeting to ensure you’re prepared. Following a meeting you should take an explanatory style to explain any failure, see more on this is the habits below.

3. Clarity

Having access to information is no longer of such great value for sellers. Today there is so much information that its better to be a curator and offer clarity in a world saturated by knowledge and advice. Similarly, be a problem finder, offer foresight from your experience to discover problems people didn’t realise they had.

Six Practical Habits

The first two of the habits below are specifically useful to salespeople. The last four, based around clarity, are valuable to both salespeople and marketers.

1. Attuned

Embrace your inner ambivert. Ambiverts make the best salespeople as they are not overly friendly but are still confident enough to persuade. Forbes also did a recent piece titled Move Over Extroverts, Here Come the Ambiverts

2. Buoyant

Take an explanatory style after rejection and realise that the rejection that is not personal, pervasive, or permanent will allow you to stay positive and buoyant. Knowing that you can overcome obstacles and it is not a result of any personal limitation is important to continue on the road to success.

3. Clarity/Comparison

Offer a comparison to give perspective to the buyer. This allows the buyer a benchmark for the value of your offer, by contrasting it against something they are familiar with.

4. Clarity/Honesty

Small, honest blemishes can increase attractiveness of the overall product. This offers a trigger to point 3 above and it is persuasively contrasting.

5. Clarity/Guidance

Reduce choices to increase acceptance and make it easier to buy. More choice forces people to make harder decisions between two or more desirable outcomes. With more contrast between each option it becomes easier to choose your preferable alternative.

6. Clarity/Expertise

Sell insights as well as products through the curation of information. Present yourself to be an easy source for knowledge and experience. If you’re seen as a source of expertise then your suggestions will have a greater influencing power.

Pink encompasses these traits and habits within what he has called ‘servant selling’. Similar to the idea of servant leadership where leaders use a bottom-up approach characterised by, empathy, foresight, awareness and persuasion. Sellers today can use these soft skills to greater impact than if they were to exert power gained from their customers imperfect knowledge.

You’ll note that all of these points mesh closely with the idea that “people buy from people”. Indeed the last 4 points based on clarity are very much consistent with a consultative sales approach, long favoured by organizations seeking to build up long term and expansive sales relationships with their customers. As a sales person it’s critical to add value to your customers in a sales relationship and Dan Pink’s new ABC’s of Selling provides a practical and current framework for that.