Legal Marketing: To Sell Is Human

The subtitle of Daniel Pink’s recent book To Sell Is Human is The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.  I’m not entirely sure that the truths shared in the book are altogether surprising, but the book puts a human, approachable face on a necessary skill that suffers from a bad reputation.

Pink starts by proving that we’re all in sales now.  He defines sales as the business of persuading, convincing, and influencing, which he calls “moving” others.  With a definition that broad, it’s almost impossible to find someone who isn’t in what Pink calls “non-sales selling.”  Pitching an idea (to a boss, a team, or a jury), convincing a hyped-up kid to go to bed, or teaching resistent students all qualify as sales activity.

Nonetheless, the majority of people view selling with distaste, largely because of the deceptive tactics that salespeople are known to pull.  Pink cites record-breaking car salesman Joe Girard, known for establishing relationships with buyers by fabricating connections.  (“You’re from Yonkers?  Me too!  Your aunt has a beach house on Long Island?  Me too!  Your middle name is Thaddeus The Great?  Me too!”  UGH, right?)  Although Girard was quite successful in the past, Pink suggests that he wouldn’t do as well in today’s world.  Why?

We have shifted, writes Pink, from caveat emptor to caveat venditor.  Today’s purchasers come into sales conversations armed with information, reviews, and ratings of products and services.  As a result, sales now consists of curating information to assist the purchaser, finding answers together, and making sales both personal and purposeful.

In contrast to the old “ABC” = “Always Be Closing” model of sales, Pink defines the ABCs as Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.

  • Attunement refers to approaching the sales exchange from the buyer’s perspective.  Pink notes that in contrast to the stereotype that extroverts are the best personality type for sales, ambiverts (meaning those in the middle of the extrovert/introvert range) are actually more successful because of superior skill in attunement.
  • Buoyancy is the combination of “a gritty spirit and a sunny outlook.”  Pink urges sellers to be optimistic and reason-focused (asking, for instance, “Can I succeed?” before a sales encounter, to prompt reasons to expect success rather than just ungrounded motivation), with just enough negativity to stay pragmatic.
  • Clarity calls on a successful seller’s ability to define the problem to be solved through the sale and why the purchaser might not want to buy your solution.  Pink offers several tactics to use her, including emphasizing experience over material objects and including a small negative attribute to the solution being sold to make the positives more believable.

When it comes to the “how to” of selling, To Sell Is Human is not comprehensive, and if you’re looking to become an expert in sales, you’ll want to add other resources.  However, he offers three points that provide significant insight into the process of selling.  One of the most useful is Pink’s list of six new ways to pitch a solution:  the one-word pitch, the question pitch, the rhyming pitch, the 140-character Twitter-style pitch, the subject line pitch, and the Pixar pitch.  These won’t translate directly to selling legal services, but the exercise is helpful in crystallizing what a buyer needs to know and what will pique her interest.

Pink also recommends the use of improvisation techniques, which allow the seller to accept whatever a buyer says and to add a suggestion that supports the sale.  I couldn’t agree more about the value of improv for sales and any other business discussion.  See my review of Improv Wisdom for additional suggestions.

Pink finally urges sellers to come from service, focusing on the value that the solution will bring to the buyer.  This point feels like the most “human” of the suite:  instead of just looking from the buyer’s perspective, service requires an independent determination that the buyer will benefit.  Sales, in other words, is not done to someone, it’s done for them.

What’s in it for lawyers?

So many lawyers have told me that they can’t possibly excel in rainmaking because they aren’t extroverts.  This interview in which Pink explained why ambiverts (which includes most of us) perform the best in sales is what prompted me to pick up the book.  If you’ve ever worried that your introversion will block your ability to land business, read the book.  That section alone makes it worthwhile.

More generally, the book’s premise and examples will help to mitigate distaste for selling and the idea is something you do to someone, not for them.  That shift in perspective alone can transform the way you approach business development.

Finally, the examples and exercises will focus your attention and will help you to improve in sales.  As I said, learning sales techniques will require additional training (I recommend Mastering the Complex Sale:  How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High!  By Jeff Thull), but To Sell Is Human will help to erase discomfort around sales and provide an authentic way of approaching a necessary task.

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