‘To sell or not to sell?’ That ISN’T the question.

The last newsletter was titled ‘to sell or not to sell; that is the question!’ In the first paragraph I established that I was not intending to give time and space to the arguments advanced by sales people, and sales trainers in particular, that businesses grow by becoming good at sales. I intended to outline an alternative way of having conversations with prospective clients aimed at growing your business – a way that does not involve any sales techniques. In the newsletter I introduced the ALIGNED framework.

That was then; this is now. This newsletter will explain why the question is not whether or not to sell; that is the wrong question. The correct question is ‘Why is selling now inappropriate?

Don' sell 2There are three reasons why the ‘sell something’ approach is now inappropriate (those of you who have read the ‘Dance with the Elephants’ Bonus Material titled ‘Elegant Communication Framework’ will be unsurprised there are three). http://bit.ly/1yx25aq

Let’s start with the world as we buyers experience it today, compared with the world of yesteryear. I want to explain why the old adage ‘caveat emptor’ has been supplemented by the new adage ‘caveat venditor’. Why nowadays ‘seller beware’ is just as appropriate as ‘buyer beware’.

In previous times the balance of power between buyer and seller favoured the seller. Sellers knew the features and benefits of their products and services. They also knew their shortcomings and limitations. They had a good understanding of the salient characteristics of the products and services available from their competitors. Buyers on the other hand were relatively powerless as the information they wanted in order to make their decision about what to buy (and how much to pay) could only be obtained from the sellers. In the corporate world this meant buyers would invite in a number of sellers of the things they were interested in purchasing. I remember well the various ‘dog and pony’ shows I attended as the various vendors came to my office to present their wares. It was like pulling teeth to get the information I needed; and when I eventually dragged as much as possible out of each of them, I was left with the task (and commercial risk) of trying to make sense of all the data which was almost certainly in different formats. It really was like comparing apples with pears; ‘buyer beware’ indeed!

Just think how different my procurement life would have been if I had the access to information that we all have nowadays. In the world today information is far more freely available. Indeed, we have the potential of the opposite problem – too much information.

Later in my career I actually became the seller rather than the buyer. Sales training was intense and regular and we were taught how to sell snow to the Eskimos. My world was ABC – Always Be Closing! If my product or service only delivered 80% of the solution desired by the buyer, that was fine because 80% is better than nothing, is better than what the buyer was current receiving, is better for me because my remuneration was based on the sale, not on the customer satisfaction, which was the responsibility of Operations.

The availability of information has fundamentally changed the balance of power between buyer and seller. Buyers use their search engines to get internet access to all the information about the product or service they are considering. A lot of this information is provided by the suppliers of the products or services, so they retain some power in the sense they control what is presented and how it is presented. However, they have almost no control over the myriad of web pages providing information about their products or services that are published by independent reviewers that buyers can easily access. Even worse for sellers, user reviews are also widely available as sources of information for buyers giving sometimes brutally frank feedback (when did you last book a hotel room without checking out the feedback given by previous visitors?)

In days long gone there was information asymmetry, an imbalance of information between sellers and buyers. Nowadays, there is information parity – meaning ‘caveat emptor’ and ‘caveat venditor’ both apply. This is the first reason why the sales pitch is now inappropriate.

With information parity comes a need for each party to develop a deep understanding of the other party, to respect the information each party has, and to focus on finding the right questions to ask.

No pitchThe second reason stems from the nature of the roles people play in the modern world of work. Previously, sales people sold and those not in sales roles didn’t. That was the conventional wisdom that led to companies investing large amounts of their resources in developing professional sales forces trained in all sorts of different sales methodologies, techniques and motivational mechanisms. A huge proportion of corporate training spend went on sales training. Graduates and those at the very top of the tree also enjoyed focus on them and were allocated precious funds. That was pretty much it – sales, senior management and graduates were developed through training; the rest got very meagre pickings.

Daniel H. Pink, in his excellent book ‘To sell is human – the surprising truth about persuading, convincing, and influencing others’, points out that one out of every nine workers in the USA works in sales (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). In the EU, approximately 13% of the workforce is in sales, according to Eurostat. In Japan, the number is 1 in 8. In these large and developed economies, around 1 in 8 people are in sales. Pink develops his argument thus; his point is that the other 7 out of 8 are engaged in ‘non-sales selling’. This is the art of moving opinions, advancing arguments and persuading others to your point of view.

The conventional view of economic activity is that the two most important activities are producing and consuming. Pink argues that nowadays we spent very large amounts of resource on a third economic activity – moving. That is we spend a huge amount of our time moving people in order that they part with resources (tangible assets such as money, and intangible assets such as time and attention) so that both parties get what they want. This activity isn’t easily classified and quantified. People do have titles such as ‘Sales Manager’ which the statisticians can capture; we don’t have ‘Moving Managers’.

Pink commissioned a survey of over 9,000 respondents titled ‘what do you do at work?’ Two major findings emerged:-

  • People now spend about 40% of the time at work in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing and convincing people in ways that don’t involve anybody making a purchase.
  • People consider this aspect of their work crucial to their professional success – even in excess of the considerable amount of time they spend doing it.

The skills needed for moving, Pink argues, are not those traditionally associated with sales. The traditional view is that successful sales people are generally extroverts and that introverted people are less likely to be successful in sales. Pink argues that the movers today need to be ambiverts. He references research showing, on a 1-7 scale of introvert to extrovert (when 1 in very introverted and 7 is very extroverted), the highest performing sales people actually score 4 – right at the mid-point and the place where ambiverts are found. Peak revenue per head occurred in those scoring between 4.0 and 4.5, and tailed off over 4.5.These most successful sales people were neither highly extroverted nor very introverted.

extrovert_ambivert_introvertSo we move on to reason number three. I am grateful to Daniel Pink for giving me access to studies I was previously unaware of that have helped me to understand precisely why the ALIGNED framework that I use and teach is so effective. In essence the framework is successful because it is based on a premise that I don’t know whether or not I have the best solution for the client until stage 6 of 7. Step one is about setting up the rest of the process that I and the client will go though. Crucially steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 are all about questioning and gaining understanding. Through each of these four steps of the framework the question is ‘can I provide the best solution?’

So why is this so important?  Why is a questioning approach so effective? Why is the inherent doubt about whether or not I have the right solution so powerful? Surely self-doubt is limiting; that is certainly what the motivational gurus will tell us, the likes of Robbins and McKenna. Surely it is more effective to have our self-talk tell us ‘Yes, we can!’ This is the basis of a lot of sales training – developing the winning mind-set, banishing doubt, and having a positive mental attitude (I can hear the whooping of the sales force right now).

The studies do indeed show that having a positive, assertive, affirmative approach is better than having a negative attitude and approach. Positive self-talk is generally better than negative self-talk. Researchers concluded that the most effective self-talk does not just shift emotions; the most effective self-talk actually changes linguistic categories. This self-talk moves the subject from making statements to asking questions.

In 2010, three researchers from two universities in the United States ran a series of experiments that confirmed the effectiveness of ‘interrogative self-talk’. Participants were split into two groups and given the same task to perform. The only difference between the two groups was that one group was instructed by the researchers to ask themselves if they could complete the task, whilst the second group were told to tell themselves that they could complete the task. On average the self-questioning group were 50% more effective than the self-affirming group at completing the task.

Pink kindly explains why the ‘interrogative self-talk’ is more effective, giving two reasons. Firstly, by its very nature, the interrogative approach elicits answers, within which lie strategies for actually carrying out the task. The affirmative approach may go something like ‘I have a sales pitch to make. I’m the best. This will be easy. The sale is mine!’ This approach may well provide a short-term emotional boost. However, if your approach is ‘Can I make a great sales pitch?’ the research shows that you provide yourself with something that reaches deeper and has a longer-lasting impact. You may answer the question with ‘Yes, I have made great pitches on 6 occasions in the last month.’ Or ‘Of course I can, I have prepared meticulously and I know the material inside out.’ And you might also elicit the response ‘Last time I rushed the beginning a little, so I want to start off slower this time.’ Affirmation is good, but the interrogative enables you to identify and obtain the resources you actually need to complete the task.

Researchers found the second reason to be that interrogative self-talk ‘may inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal’. People are more likely to act, and to perform well, when motivations derive from intrinsic choices rather than from extrinsic pressures.

I wrote earlier about my previous experience of the ABC world of ‘Always Be Closing!’ Pink offers up an alternative ABC – outlining what he thinks is needed in order to navigate the changed world in which we find ourselves. His is:-
A – Attunement
B – Buoyancy
C – Clarity

The social science research that Pink mines suggests that these are the new requirements for effectively conducting the moving that is so important in our modern world, representing a new paradigm that is very different from the ‘Always Be Closing!’ ‘Don’t just sit there, sell something’ sales pitch approach of yesteryear.

Those are the three reasons why the question to be asked is ‘Why is selling now inappropriate?’ I leave you with:-

Don't sell

If you are not a natural sales person, feel discomfort when assuming the sales role and would like to remain true to who you really are as a professional trying to grow their business, I commend my alternative to you. The ALIGNED framework is now available and can be delivered into your business through a variety of mechanisms and as the Congruent Business Development System™ – let’s discuss what would be the ideal solution for you and your business.

Best wishes,

Phil Walker
WTT Results Ltd

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2 thoughts on “‘To sell or not to sell?’ That ISN’T the question.

  1. Pingback: Consigning all selling to the past – post 1 of 2 | WTT Results Blog

  2. Pingback: Consigning all selling to the past – post 2 of 2 | WTT Results Blog

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