Author Interviews
3:28 am
Mon December 31, 2012

Death Of The (Predatory) Salesman: These Days, It's A Buyer's Market

Originally published on Mon December 31, 2012 5:46 am

The familiar image of the salesman in American culture hasn't always been a flattering one. Just think of Alec Baldwin as the verbally abusive "motivator" of two real estate salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Daniel H. Pink, author of the new book To Sell is Human, says that this relentless, predator-style approach to selling has become outdated. He believes that the art of sales has changed more in the past 10 years than it did in the previous century.

Pink joins NPR's David Greene to talk about the effect the Internet has had on selling and why he believes almost all American white-collar workers are now in sales.


Interview Highlights

On why the brutal, Glengarry Glen Ross style of selling has become outdated

"Well, most of what we know about sales was built for a world of information asymmetry — the seller always had more information than the buyer. Twenty years ago, when [David] Mamet wrote that play that [was] made into a movie, when you walked into a Chevy dealer, the Chevy dealer knew a heck of a lot more about cars than you ever could ... you didn't have the adequate information. And so this is why we have the principle of caveat emptor, buyer beware. You gotta beware when the other guy knows a lot more than you.

"Well, something curious has happened in the last 10 years in that you can walk into a car dealership with the invoice price of the car, something that even the salesmen/women at car dealers didn't know too long ago. And so in a world of information parity, or at least something close to it, we've moved — caveat emptor is still good advice, but equally good advice for the sellers is caveat venditor, seller beware."

On why he thinks "we're all in sales"

"There's an idea out there that salespeople have actually been obliterated by the Internet, which is just not supported by the facts. In 2000 ... about 1 in 9 American workers worked in sales. That is, their job was to convince someone else to buy something. So then, what's happened over the last 12 years? Explosion of new technologies. Today, 1 in 9 American workers works in sales. But I think what's interesting is that if you look at that other 8 in 9, they're in sales, too. That is, a huge percentage of what white-collar workers do on the job is what I call nonsales selling — persuading, influencing, convincing other people to part with resources. Pitching ideas in meetings, asking the boss for a raise, trying to raise money from investors. And so, at some level, we're all in sales now."

On why the best salespeople are "ambiverts," not extroverts

"We have this myth that extroverts are better salespeople. As a result, extroverts are more likely to enter sales; extroverts are more likely to get promoted in sales jobs. But if you look at the correlation between extroversion and actual sales performance — that is, how many times the cash register actually rings — the correlation's almost zero. It's really quite remarkable.

"Let's think about a spectrum, and say, on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is extremely introverted, 7 is extremely extroverted: The 6s and 7s — the people who get hired, the gregarious, backslapping types of the stereotype — they're not very good. OK, now, why? ... They're just spending too much time talking. ... They don't know when to shut up. They don't listen very well; they're not attuned to the other person; they sometimes can overwhelm people.

"Now ... does that mean that introverts are better? No. The 1s and 2s, they're not very good either. They often are not assertive enough. They're skittish about striking up conversations. What this new research — and it's very exciting, it's accepted for publication but actually not published yet — [says] is the people who do the best are what social psychologists call ambiverts. ... Not totally extroverted, not totally introverted. The 3s, 4s, and 5s. They know when to shut up; they know when to speak up. They know when to push; they know when to hold back. And so the best people at convincing, persuading others, whether in a traditional sales environment or in these other kinds of environments, are these ambiverts."

On the link between improvisational theater skills and selling

"One of the abilities that matters most is this ability of improvisation — that is, if your perfectly attuned, superclear pitch goes awry, as it will, how do you respond? And the principles of improvisational theater help us out on that, things like saying 'Yes, and' instead of 'Yes, but,' ... It's constructive rather than deconstructive.

"[In one improvisational exercise] I had to sit face-to-face with this actually pretty senior executive at a television network, and he had to tell me something that was bothering him, and I had to look him in the eye when he told me that, but I couldn't respond to him for 15 seconds. ... The idea ... is that we tend to move too quickly, and what the best salespeople of any kind know is that it's really about listening; it's really about understanding the other person's perspective, hearing what they're really saying, and one really profound way to do that is to slow down."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

NPR's business news today is all about the art of selling.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: It's true, many people consider selling to be a true art form. Of course, in some great American movies the image of the salesman was not exactly sympathetic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS")

ALEC BALDWIN: (as Blake) You got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them. You can't close the leads you're given, you can't close (bleep), you are (bleep), hit the bricks pal, and beat it, 'cause you are going out.

GREENE: That's a scene from the film "Glengarry Glen Ross." And to talk about the art of selling, I'm joined by author Daniel Pink, whose new book is "To Sell is Human." And Daniel, that is a brutal Alec Baldwin we're hearing there.

DANIEL PINK: It's a brutal and very effective Alec Baldwin showing a particular approach to selling, a relentless predator style approach to selling. And I think that that approach has become outdated, that sales has changed more in the last 10 years than it did really in the previous 100.

GREENE: Why outdated? Why wouldn't that today?

PINK: Well, most of what we know about sales was built for a world of information asymmetry - the seller always had more information than the buyer. Twenty years ago, when Mamet wrote that play that made into a movie, when you walked into a Chevy dealer, the Chevy dealer knew a heck of a lot more about cars than you ever could.

GREENE: And we were always, as the buyer, curious about am I being sold a lemon? Is there something wrong with this car?

PINK: Precisely, because you didn't have the adequate information. And so this is why we have the principle of caveat emptor, buyer beware. You've got to beware when the other guy knows a lot more than you.

Well, something curious has happened in the last 10 years in that that you can walk into a car dealership with the invoice price of the car, something that even the salesmen/women in car dealers didn't know too long ago. And so in a world of information parity, or at least something close to it, we've moved - caveat emptor is still good advice, but equally good advice for the sellers is caveat venditor, seller beware.

GREENE: OK. So people selling things are more vulnerable, but a lot of people are selling things.

PINK: Well, that's actually another big point. We have, there's an idea out there that sales people have been obliterated by the Internet, which is just not supported by the facts. In 2000, there were about one in nine American workers worked in sales. That is their job was to convince someone else to buy something. So then, what's happened over the last 12 years? An explosion of new technologies. Today, one in nine American workers works in sales. But I think what's interesting is that if you look at those other eight and nine, there in sales too. That is a huge portion of what white-collar workers do on the job is what I call non sales selling - persuading, influencing, convincing other people to part with resources. Pitching ideas in meetings, asking the boss for a raise, trying to raise money from investors. And so, at some level, we're all in sales now.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you, if I'm hearing you correctly, you're saying that everyone, all of us, are doing a lot more selling than we realize. And if that's a thing, as you said, then one key is for us to just all realize it and get better at it. One way to get better that you found was you took part in these exercises where listening was very key. Tell me a bit about that.

PINK: Oh, sure. Well, one of the interesting findings that comes out in the social science, basically the myth of the extroverted salesperson.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

PINK: We have this idea that extroverts are better salespeople. As a result, extroverts are more likely to enter sales; extroverts are more likely to get promoted in sales jobs. But if you look at the correlation between extroversion and actual sales performance - that is, how many times the cash register actually rings - the correlation's almost zero. It's really quite remarkable.

GREENE: Introverts can sell as well as extroverts.

PINK: Ah, not quite.

GREENE: OK.

PINK: Let's think about a spectrum, and say, on a scale from one to seven, where one is extremely introverted, seven is extremely extroverted: The sixes and sevens - the people who get hired, the gregarious, backslapping types of the stereotype...

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

PINK: ...they're not very good. OK, now, why?

GREENE: Why?

PINK: They don't listen very well. They're talking all the time.

GREENE: They're spending too much time talking about themselves or whatever they want to be talking about.

PINK: They're just spending too much time talking. They don't know when to shut up. They don't listen very well; they're not attuned to the other person; they sometimes can overwhelm people.

Now, to your question, does that mean that introverts are better? No. The ones and twos, they're not very good either. They often are not assertive enough. They're skittish about striking up conversations. What this new research - and it's very exciting, it's accepted for publication but actually not published yet - is the people who do the best are what social psychologists call ambiverts. The...

GREENE: Ambiverts.

PINK: Ambiverts.

GREENE: People in the middle.

PINK: You got it. Not totally extroverted, not totally introverted. The threes, fours, and fives. They know when to shut up; they know when to speak up. They know when to push; they know when to hold back. And so the best people at convincing, persuading others - whether in a traditional sales environment or in these other kinds of environments - are these ambiverts.

GREENE: Well, there was an exercise that you described, with an improvisational theater...

PINK: Yeah.

GREENE: ...coach? Tell me about that.

PINK: One of the abilities that matters most is this ability of improvisation - that is, if you're perfectly attuned, super clear pitch goes awry, as it will, how do you respond? And the principles of improvisational theater help us out on that. So we did all kinds of groovy exercises where we mirror each other's patterns, which is a little bit freaky, and also some listening exercises where I had to sit, face-to-face, with this actually pretty senior executive at a television network, and he had to tell me something that was bothering him. And I had to look him in the eye when he told me that, but I couldn't respond to him for 15 seconds.

GREENE: Oh, wow.

PINK: Yeah.

GREENE: That's - could we try that in here? I mean you and I are face-to-face right now. Can you tell me something...

PINK: We could try that but I don't want to freak you out here, David.

GREENE: I'll try to be strong.

(LAUGHTER)

PINK: OK. So here's what it would be like. So I would tell you something that might be, sort of, a concern of mine.

GREENE: OK.

PINK: You would listen to it and then you would look me in the eye and wait 15 seconds before responding to me. So let me think about something that is on my mind right now. Let's see, oh, I've got something on my mind right now. I have a new book coming out and I think it's really good. But, you know, I'm a little nervous about how it's going to be received in the world.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: OK. Well, that does get a little awkward.

PINK: That was only five seconds.

GREENE: OK, I've got to work on that.

PINK: Right. And so the idea is...

GREENE: Your stare was so solid.

PINK: Well, the idea...

(LAUGHTER)

PINK: The idea is that we tend to move too quickly, and what the best salespeople of any kind know is that it's really about listening; it's really about understanding the other person's perspective, hearing what they're really saying, and one really profound way to do that is to slow down.

GREENE: Daniel Pink, this has been fun. Thanks for stopping by.

PINK: My pleasure, David. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: You'll never lose the staring contest. That's Daniel Pink. The author of "To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others."

And that's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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