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The 6 New Rules of Sales

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Let’s start with a question…

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear the word sales?

For most, the connotation isn’t great.

You might be thinking of the stereotypical “used car salesman” we see on display in movies, or the “infomercial giant” on late night TV.

In fact, salespeople are those who are actively selling something: homes with the real estate agent, laptops at Best Buy, stocks with a broker, perfume at Macy’s, right?


Most people are uncomfortable around sales because they feel like it involves being tricked or hoodwinked into buying something they don’t really want by smooth talkers.

The problem is, we’ve got the concept of “sales” locked into an old school feel; the era where men went door to door and women hosted tupperware parties. All that’s changed now.

Psst…You Are in Sales

“We’re all in sales now.”

That’s the opening line of Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, this month’s Science of People book club selection.

For a really nice overview of the book, take a look at this quick video.

And while the “statistics” bear out the numbers (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) that only about 11% of American workers are employed in sales, the truth is sales touches your life on a daily basis…because you’re doing the selling.

Hold up now, what?

That’s right.

Think about it. We sell ourselves, our thoughts and our ideas every single day.

  • When you create your dating profile on
  • When you ask your boss for a raise
  • When you convince your significant other to see one movie instead of another
  • When you have that podcast interview

If you think of it like that, like Daniel Pink considers sales, then it’s very easy to see how much selling we actually do in our daily lives.

The thing is, we just categorize “selling” a little differently when it’s non-sales selling. It’s “persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.” And Pink found that people he surveyed spent 40% of their time at work doing just that.

This highlights just how important human connection and relationships when it comes to sales, especially today.

So what should sellers do to succeed? Follow the ABCs (just not the ones you think).

The New ABCs of Selling

There’s a very famous scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin teaches the salesmen in the room: ABC, “Always, Be, Closing.” That phase has been the traditional mantra of salesmen and women for quite a long time, it’s also something that has helped contribute to the not quite so positive view of salespeople by others.

Pink argues that there should be a new ABC of selling that matches today’s changes. This short video explains the ABCs a bit more in depth, take a look:

We can break down these three qualities a bit further and see what makes up some of the skills someone in this new era of selling might possess.

1. Attunement

Attunement is the ability to understand the perspective of the buyer. It’s all about being attuned to their hopes, needs and fears. Studies have shown that it’s actually ambiverts who are best skilled at attunement, because they have the listening ability of introverts combined with the communication ability of extroverts, all wrapped up into one package.

Pink highlights a quick test called the E Test to see what your own “perspective-taking” might be.

Ready to give it a shot?

With your dominant hand, snap your fingers quickly five times. As soon as you finish snapping, take the index finger on that dominant hand, put it up to your forehead and draw a capital “E.” (I’ll save you from grabbing a marker to do this!)

Here’s a visual example:

new rules of sales, daniel pink

Which direction did you draw your “E,” so you could read it, or so others could?

If you drew it like the example on the right, then you tend to have “the capability to step outside [our] own experience and imagine the emotions, perceptions, and motivations of another.”

Pink takes attunement a step further and breaks it down into three principles.

  • Increase your power by reducing it: Power warps our ability to tune into others; instead of fighting for more of it, understand you’re more successful when you’re attuned into the other person’s perspective.
  • Use your head as much as your heart: Thinking and feeling work best when used together; you have to be able to relate to others not just in the cognitive sense, but also emotionally to find a common connection.
  • Mimic strategically: Humans are natural at mimicking or mirroring, it’s called the “chameleon effect.” Our brains are wired to look to cues from others to see who we can trust. Deftly being able to do this in conversations and negotiations sets you ahead.

Consider these principles as action steps to improve your own attunement with others in both sales and non-sales selling situations.

Take it a step further and work on getting into “tune” with people you meet. Practice conversation starters, carefully observe others and slowly mimic their movements, or repeat specific phrases back to them later in the conversation and note how they respond.

2. Buoyancy

Buoyancy is the ability to withstand negativity and no’s. You have to be able to have a positive outlook, but still take the knocks without falling down.

For the best example of buoyancy, Pink offers the example of Fuller Brush salesman Norman Hall. He answered an ad to be a Fuller Brush salesman and promptly quit four times in the first seven days.

The problem? Rejection. He “found door to door selling especially brutal.” But, Hall learned and adapted.

Rejection is something that every one of us has experienced in a number of forms in our lives: having a crush say no to a date, getting told you weren’t a great fit for that new job, hearing that manuscript you worked on wasn’t quite ready for primetime.

The key is how to withstand it, and that’s where buoyancy comes into play. Pink highlights three components of it for before, during and after any sales attempt:

  • Before: Interrogative Self Talk: The key here is not to declare “I will nail this presentation,” but rather ask as a question: “Will I nail this presentation?” Asking actually helps you “summon the resources and strategies to actually accomplish the task.”
  • During: Positivity Ratios: The goal here is to balance. Just as too little positivity can be a problem, so can too much, especially if it’s not realistic. Understand that negative emotions can also help solve problems you might not have seen.
  • After: Explanatory Style: A good example of this is looking at your self talk; when something bad happens how do you see it? For buoyancy, it’s best to understand the reasons behind rejection as a temporary issue and be optimistic.

I want you to think about how you can apply the three principles of buoyancy above in your own life.

Try asking yourself if you can achieve a goal rather than declaring it. Watch your own positivity ratios. Scientist find the best results come when it’s 3:1. To see where you fall, try taking Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity Self Test. And finally, tweak your own self talk, understand that most rejection is neither permanent nor personal.

3. Clarity

Clarity looks more at understanding the “problem finding” rather than problem solving– being able to understand what the customers are really looking for. It’s the ability to find a bit of light in an otherwise murky situation.

Think about saving for retirement. Too many people either aren’t saving at all or aren’t saving enough. There have been numerous studies to try to understand why, which has led to a number of suggestions which still haven’t quite been able to solve the problem.

Instead, Pink highlights one group of scientists who took a fresh approach. They looked to problem finding instead of assuming they knew what the problem was. What they found was that people think of themselves now and in the future as different people. That gave them a different way to approach the “real” problem with better success.

When the scientists were able to identify the “real” problem, they could come up with new and better solutions to try to solve it.

Clarity is all about “helping others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify the problems they didn’t realize they had.”

You’ve seen this in action. If you’ve ever wanted to start your own business, the advice is to find a problem and solve it. People we see as super successful salespeople are those that can highlight to others problems they didn’t even know they had and provide a solution.

The key here is to have a deeper understanding of what the right problem is, which can be an issue today because of technology. When all the answers are right at our fingertips, we think it’s much easier to find a solution, but what if we’re solving the wrong problems?

Here, Pink offers the solution as framing. He identifies five different frames that can help to provide clarity:

  • The Less Frame: Restricting choice can help people see what’s available more clearly and with less overwhelm.
  • The Experience Frame: People get more satisfaction out of experiences than things, so frame the sale in terms of the experience it can provide.
  • The Label Frame: Assigning labels can help put things into context thus giving people the ability to compare.
  • The Blemished Frame: In many cases, being honest about a negative or defect can actually improve the overall positive impact.
  • The Potential Frame: Think about not only past and current achievements, but also highlight future potential, the things that can be accomplished in the long run.

The final piece of the puzzle when it comes to clarity is to provide an off-ramp, that is a clear way to get it done.

Now, I want you to think about clarity in your own life. There are a couple of ways you can do this, but first try to focus on problem finding rather than problem solving. Be sure you’ve got the real problem identified before you move on.

A big part of that can be learning how to ask better questions. These will help you get to the root of the actual problem, which is often not the one first identified.

How to Apply the New ABCs of Selling

It’s all good to learn about the New ABCs of Selling. But that’s only the first part of the equation. The second part has to be the “how.” In the third section of To Sell is Human, Pink offers three distinct abilities: to pitch, to improvise and to serve.

4. Pitch

No doubt you’ve heard of “the elevator pitch,” it’s one of the most common phrases that you’ll think about when you hear sales. It refers to the ability to pitch yourself, someone else or something in around 30 seconds or less (the time you would spend in an elevator) by distilling down the most important information in a persuasive way.

Keep in mind, this is pitching where both sales and non-sales selling come into play. Most people think of pitching as being on Shark Tank, trying to get investors to give you money. Pink uses the example of aspiring movie makers crafting their pitches to executives.

But do you remember those questions I asked at the beginning? If you’ve asked your boss for a raise or made an online dating profile? Those are pitches too.

With the changes in technology and information, the old elevator pitch isn’t quite as effective as it was in the past. Instead, Pink offers six new pitches that are more in line with the world today that are much more effective if you practice them:

  1. The One Word Pitch: Distil your message into one word that “demands discipline and forces clarity.” When you do that, your pitch can be quite powerful.
  2. The Question Pitch: You saw how questions help in buoyancy, so use the same concept in your pitch– it forces people to come with their own reasons to agree.
  3. The Rhyming Pitch: Rhyming a few words at the end of a pitch can help make it stick in our brains since it’s really easy to process.
  4. The Subject Line Pitch: In a world of overwhelmed inboxes, you can tap into “utility, curiosity and specificity” to get your emails opened.
  5. The Twitter Pitch: The world moves 140 characters at a time. Think about how you can create something that is clear, to the point, engaging and encourages action.
  6. The Pixar Pitch: Movie brand Pixar uses a six sentence pitch template structured around storytelling to get its point across.

What I want you to do is practice your pitches all the time, keeping in mind you want to be able to effectively communicate information, emotion and action.   

Dan Pink offers more practical tips for practicing your pitches here.

5. Improvise

No matter how much practice and planning goes into your pitch, there will come a moment when things just don’t go according to that mental plan you had. That’s life!

But instead of giving up, calling it a day or moving on to the next, try to embrace the idea of improvisation.

Pink shares how he participated in a session called Performance of a Lifetime, run by a woman who borrows concepts from improvisational theatre to teach business people how to be more effective at listening, which lies at the heart of being able to improvise. Just as with acting, being able to break away from the script in sales and non-selling sales situations is a good thing.

It turns out, sales and theatre have a lot more in common than you might think!

Pink highlights three rules of improvisational theatre that anyone can apply to pitches and sales and see success:

  • Hear Offers: This goes back to attunement, you want to understand the perspective of others, actually listen to them and take it in.
  • Say “Yes and…”: This one ties in with buoyancy; by saying “yes and…” it highlights possibility, positivity and options–it helps to offer a solution.
  • Make your partner look good: Here you want to focus on learning, not winning– it’s about finding clarity, those solutions no one else has thought of.

Do you see how even though improvisation is not part of a script, it still ties in really well with the New ABCs of selling?

Here’s what I want you to do.

Practice improvising by slowing down. Truly listen to what others are telling you, build on the conversation or ideas by offering “yes and…” statements and get really good at asking questions. 

6. Serve

Finally, the last of the new rules of sales is to understand how to really serve your customers. And when I say serve, it isn’t just about doing the bare minimum or the basics that are expected of you.

Instead, service should be about two things:

  • Making it personal
  • Making it purposeful

Pink tells us the story of a physician, a radiologist who conducted his own experiment. He gathered a group of other radiologists and showed them photos of the patients with their CT scans before they were to make assessments. He then produced another group of CT scans, this time without the photos.

The results were pretty compelling. In the scans that included a photo of the patient, the radiologist discovered far more incidental findings than those who did not have a photo on the same scans.

It goes to show that when the CT scans were made personal to the doctors, when they could look at the faces of their patients, they were far more successful in discovering potential problems than not.

All too often we end up neglecting the human element when it comes to sales, business, pitching, even just getting our point across. When we do that, we lose our ability to connect and thus move people from one position to another.

Hand in hand with making things personal is making them purposeful because it taps into the desire most of us have to serve and do good things. To do that, think about the “why” behind things, highlighting that “why” of doing something can drive people to become more interested, engaged and motivated, all to even better results.

When it comes to serving, I want you to think about how you can do more and go the extra mile to go beyond someone’s expectations. Secondly, relate to others as people, not just numbers– think about someone as if they were your parent or grandparent, that can help motivate you to serve in a way that is both personal and purposeful.

Final Thoughts

It’s not much of a stretch to accept Daniel Pink’s argument that we are all salespeople now, and it’s likely that the trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

What is important to realize is how you can expand and improve upon your own powers of persuasion and influence. Today, it’s all about tapping into the psychology and emotions of the people you’re trying to “sell,” being able to make real connections and providing incredible value, education and service.

If you’re able to combine those factors, you’re well on your way to a winning combination. Don’t be surprised to find more successes in influencing and persuading others in your own life.

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