Welcome to In Short. A new monthly series turning key learnings from modern business literature into actionable takeaways. This is not a book review. “To Sell is Human” by Dan Pink is this month’s book.
The New ABCs of Sales
When you think of sales do you picture a sleazy dude with slicked back trying to put his fingers in your pockets?
You can thank Alec Baldwin for that. The 1992 movie, Glengarry Glen Ross popularized the ABCs of sales with the motto, “Always be closing.” Movies like this, The Wolf of Wall Street, and tons of others painted the sales profession as one that was aggressive, one-sided, and full of deception.
In “To Sell is Human,” Dan Pink challenges this by redefining the ABCs of sales– Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.
Here’s what the new sales alphabet looks like:
- the ability to empathize with the other person’s pain points, needs, and perspective
- the resiliency required by sales people to stay afloat on “an ocean of rejection”
- managing information overload by curating it to propel everyone forward
Dan Pink’s ABCs are less self-serving. This modern day sales framework forces you to put the needs of others above yourself. Take a step back and ask yourself, what does everyone here really need?
It helps to imagine sales calls kind of like a doctor’s visit. When you sit down with the doctor, you describe the symptoms you’ve been experiencing to the best of your ability with your limited knowledge. This acts as the baseline of information for the doctor. From there, they ask you a few more questions to help paint a clearer picture for themselves. Finally, after elaborating on your information with their experience, the doctor is able to diagnose the problem and outline next steps.
Doctors are the experts. They take the WebMD scare you throw at them and untangle the web of information.
When you’re on sales calls, prospects will only share with you the needs that they’ve self-identified. They’ll also toss you a bunch of noise. It’s your job untangle this, fill in missing gaps, and read between the lines.
There are angles to the problem that the prospect hasn’t considered. This is because (a) they don’t have sufficient expertise to know what they’re looking at and, (b) they’re too close to the problem. With your experience, it’s your job to pull prospects out of the weeds and give them an 800 ft. view of the problem.
The new ABCs of sales should cut the time you spend on sales and increase the quality of deals you close. Being in tune with what you’re selling will help you realize that you don’t need to be selling to everybody.
Save Your Selling
The stereotypical used car salesman is irritating. They’re trying to make you do something you don’t want to do.
The modern salesperson is agitating. They’re challenging you to do something you want to do.
Dan Pink draws this comparison between irritation and agitation to clarify the intent and alignment of the modern day people-mover.
You should be speaking to someone who can not only benefit from what you’re selling, but has also recognized that they have a need for what you’re selling.
Remember that scene from The Office where the gang’s debating the hotness of Hilary Swank? The debate ends inconclusively with Oscar saying, “that’s the thing about debating, people get entrenched in the view they had in the first place.”
If someone doesn’t believe they need your product or solution, don’t try to convince them otherwise. You won’t win and they’ll have bad taste in their mouth. Don’t sell to the unsellable.
Now, you’ve seen the word “need” a few times in the last couple of lines. I know what you’re thinking… BANT.
Let me stop you right there.
The BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) framework is typically a one-sided qualification tool. You might have identified that the prospect needs what you’re selling, but have they?
Let’s take a moment to deconstruct BANT, starting with N.
You’ve identified that they have a Need. Great. Now let’s follow that with the A from our new ABCs, Attunement. Remember, before anything you want to ensure that you’re in tune with the person on the other side. Reach out to the prospect and ask, “Is addressing XYZ a priority right now?” If yes, it’s game on.
Your next letter is T for timeline. If they’re serious (and worth your time) they’ll have attached a deadline to this need. If they’ve got one, sweet. Follow up with S, the Sell.
Humans Buy Stories
For decades, people have pitched their products using the FAB framework– features, advantages, and benefits. In 2020, not only has the internet and technology democratized the access to information (we’ll touch on this next) but it’s also reduced the barrier to entry. Duplicating another product’s features is easier than ever.
Your customer understands this, too. If they’re looking at you and another competitor with identical features, whoever’s priced lower is going to end up closing the deal. You already know that competing on price is a race to the bottom.
People don’t buy features. They buy outcomes. Outcomes in essence is the process by which inputs produce results for a company. Outcomes are best communicated through stories. Bullet lists are fine for features, but no fancy dash or dot can do an outcome justice.
Dan Pink reminds that we’re selling to humans and that humans are moved by stories. He recommends using the Pixar Pitch to tell stories. Here’s what that looks like:
Once upon a time ______________________________.
Every day _______________________________________.
One day everything changed: __________________________________________ .
Because of that, ____________________________________________________ .
Because of that, ____________________________________________________ .
Until finally ____________________________________________________ .
To demonstrate what the Pixar Pitch looks like in action, Dan Pink uses it to summarize “To Sell is Human”
Once upon a time only some people were in sales.
Every day they sold stuff, we did stuff, and everyone was happy.
One day everything changed: All of us ended up in sales – and sales changed from a world of caveat emptor to caveat venditor.
Because of that, we had to learn the new ABCs– attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.
Because of that, we had to learn some new skills– to pitch, to improvise, and to serve.
Until finally we realized that selling isn’t some grim accommodation to a brutal marketplace culture. It’s part of who we are– and therefore something we can do better by being more human.
Now, you’re probably not going to follow this structure verbatim when you pitch. You’d get some odd looks if you did. However, the Pixar Pitch does an incredible job of transporting you to a land where you live life through the eyes of your customer. It removes all price tags and discounts and seeks to answer one question: is what you’re selling helpful?
Position your prospect as the protagonist in a Pixar movie. Can your product be what saves them and the world from gloom and doom? How will their movie end with you?
The Pixar Pitch is a powerful exercise to use to practice attunement and speak to your customers’ true needs.
Sell Insights, Not Candy
Access to information has been democratized now. There’s only a handful of instances where you can’t access something due to cost. Your prospect and your competition have the same access to information as you. You can either look at this as a bad thing or as an opportunity.
A high volume of information being available doesn’t mean it’s all valuable. Remember, C is for Clarity. We’re facing an information overload day-in and day-out. It’s on you as a salesperson to help curate this information for your prospects.
Think of curation as a shortcut. Yes, your client could go find this information on their own. But why spend hours of aimless Googling when you’ve already whittled down the web of information into what’s most relevant for them? This is the value of curation.
Dan Pink gives a sweet example of curation he observed in the candy industry.
The makers of Mentos, Perfetti Van Melle, had been in the confectionary business for years. They’d worked with a number of brands, selling to many different stores. Because of this, they’d been in a position to collect all sorts of intricate data on how their product performed.
Small mom and pop shops would roll their eyes when a candy salesman stopped by. They knew the slickhaired, fast-talker would just try to get them to buy more units. So, how did Mentos respond?
The sales team at Mentos were told to start leveraging the insights that Perfetti Van Melle had been collecting and sell that instead.
When Mentos made this shift in their selling, what happened is that these mom and pop convenience stores started welcoming them in instead of turning them away. Why? Because the salespeople would answer questions like;
What combinations of candy sell well together?
When is a better time to buy less or more product?
How can I position the product on my shelf to raise conversions?
The Mentos team were no longer just selling units of their product. There’d even be instances where they’d recommend the store buy less of their product! Mentos was selling curated insights about how to profit the most from their candy.
Your customers can Google what candy to buy and where to buy it from. What they can’t Google is what candy will perform best for them.
Information accessibility has put a premium on your perspective. Since all of your client’s competitors have access to roughly the same information, your experience and perspective have become that much more valuable. Your client’s competition doesn’t have access to you.
To Sell More, Sell Less
We started this blog post with the classic trope of a salesman. Someone who tries to swindle every last dollar out of you.
We’re ending this post with a tale of salespeople advising clients to buy less. What’s changed?
Throughout “To Sell is Human”, Dan Pink positions sales as the business of moving people. Persuading people to part with resources, whether that be time, money, or attention.
This is a tough challenge. Sales is difficult when looked at purely transactional. You cannot maximize your return off of someone (your prospect) by lowering your investment in them (again, your prospect). Why? Because sales is intrinsically human.
One theme you might have noticed throughout this entire thing is that Dan Pink urges us to serve the other person in order to earn the right to ask for the sale. Serving > selling. Depth of relationships > width of client roster.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the author, which beautifully summarizes how to sell successfully in 2020 and beyond:
“Treat everyone as you’d treat your grandmother, but assume that Grandma has 80,000 Twitter followers.”
Buy This Book
A lot of titles in this category are just motivational rah-rah disguised as a book. This book isn’t that. Dan Pink mixes research with psychology to outline a radical approach to the sales profession that’s fathered much of what we see today. Highly recommend you cop. Click here to buy “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” by Daniel H. Pink.