In Daniel Pink’s new book, To Sell is Human, he argues that selling is a natural byproduct of living in groups. If you want to make a living and get along with others, sooner or later, you'll find yourself at the junction of commerce and persuasion. And whether you're a senator making the case for a bill, an accountant trying desperately to convince Steve from the sixth floor to hand in his expense report already, or a job interviewee promoting yourself, everyone's working to close that deal. Hence, we are all salespeople.
Sales is often seen as one of the dark arts. The word conjures visions of men in loud plaid jackets with slicked-back hair, lying in wait behind rows of shiny cars with misleading prices soaped across the windshields. Or the insurance hawker insisting that the only way to prove you love your family is to double down on a juicy term life policy. Wielded correctly, fear can be a lethal weapon. Buyer beware!
And this might be it in a nutshell. What scares people about sales is that it’s an insider’s game. The odds are stacked against you from the start.
Or are they? These days, anyone with an internet connection can immediately access reams of what was once inside knowledge. With a few clicks, you can determine which cars are lemons, what prices people are currently paying, and which vehicles are getting rave reviews. If you play your cards right, you can potentially walk into the dealership knowing more about a particular make and model than the salesperson.
Then there's the transaction itself. There is a principle in sales known as the 14-4 Rule. For every bad customer experience, we tell fourteen people. But when things go well, only four people get the positive story. Yelp.com and its brethren have only amplified the effect. Now a single disgruntled voice can literally be heard around the world.
Although the leveling of the playing field has yielded some interesting results, it hasn’t necessarily changed the perception that selling is less than a noble pursuit.
Pink tells us that, “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in nine Americans works in sales. Every day more than fifteen million people earn their keep by persuading someone else to make a purchase. But dig deeper and a more startling truth emerges. Yes, one in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight.”
If Pink is right, and we are all working the deal, maybe it’s time to rethink the idea of the shifty, plaid-jacketed car salesman as the mental icon for sales. True, there will always be the occasional bad egg in the carton, but my pathological optimism tells me most people are pretty decent folks.
So the next time the intrepid Girl Scout shows up on your door step to sell you a box of Thin Mints, you might consider buying a couple extra boxes for the rest of the salespeople in your family.