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Aggressive sales tactics embodied by Blake (played by Alec Baldwin) in Glengarry Glen Ross

To Sell is Human

By Daniel Pink

(Riverhead, 260 pages, $28.50)A year ago, best-selling American author Daniel Pink decided to keep track of his time for a two-week period. Not only all of his meetings and face-to-face conversations, but also the 772 e-mails he sent and his blog posts, and tweets.

He discovered that he spent a significant portion of his day trying to coax others to part with resources – not only to give up money, but also to persuade an editor to give up a silly idea, strangers to read an article, an old friend to help him solve a problem, and his nine-year-old son to take a shower after baseball practice.

Mr. Pink is a sales person. And, he suspects, so are you. While one in nine people in the United States is categorized as a sales person, his guess is that many of the other eight fall into what he calls "non-sales selling." This includes the fast-growing sector he labels "ed-med" – education and health services – in which jobs involve moving other people to do things.

"We're persuading, convincing, and influencing others to give up something they've got in exchange for what we've got," he writes in To Sell is Human.

To check your status, he poses four questions:

Do you earn your living trying to persuade others to purchase goods or services? If you do, you're working in what is clearly recognized as sales.

Do you work for yourself or run your own operation, even on the side? If so, you're in sales, probably a mixture of traditional sales and non-sales selling.

Does your work require what Mr. Pink calls "elastic skills" – the ability to cross boundaries and functions, work outside your specialty, and handle a variety of different things during the day? If so, you're in sales, mostly non-sales selling with a dash of the traditional stuff as well.

Do you work in education or health care? If so, count it as non-sales selling.

Mr. Pink suggests that only if you answered no to all four questions are you not in sales. But his guess is that the answers will lead you to find yourself living uneasily in a neighbourhood you thought was for someone else.

That unsettling feeling probably stems from the fact that many people have a negative opinion about selling. Mr. Pink notes that when he asked in a survey what people thought of sales, the most common response word was "pushy," followed by other negatives such as sleazy, hard, difficult, annoying, dishonest, and manipulative.

One reason for our distress is the approach dramatized in the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross when the character Blake (played by Alec Baldwin), points to a chalkboard on which he has written the first three letters of the alphabet and then harangues the struggling sales staff: "A-B-C. A – always. B – be. C – closing. Always be closing. Always be closing."

That single-mindedness is no longer at the heart of most selling, but the mythology persists – and we still run into many Always Be Closing types.

After looking at research for sales and non-sales selling, Mr. Pink has composed a revised ABC – attunement, buoyancy and clarity.

AttunementThis refers to the ability to bring your actions and outlook into harmony with other people and the context you're in. He likens it to operating the dial on a radio, honing in on a signal. This is more likely to happen when you assume you're not the person with power, because if you lack that attribute you need to be more attuned to your context to be effective. Interestingly, Mr. Pink stresses that attunement is not about emotional empathy: You want to get into other people's heads, not their hearts.

BuoyancyThis is the trait that allows sales staff to stay afloat amid an ocean of rejections, he says. It involves interrogative "self talk," in which you question whether you have what it takes to handle a selling situation, and answer yourself by giving reasons to expect success. It also helps if, during the selling efforts, your positive emotions outnumber your negative emotions. And after rejection, buoyancy helps to explain the situation in a positive way.

ClarityThis is the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh, revealing ways and to identify problems they didn't realize they had.

Many sales people consider themselves problem solvers but Mr. Pink says it's more important to be a problem finder, discovering the problems people have that really need solving.

Clarity also depends on contrast, framing your offering by contrasting it with less appropriate alternatives.

Beyond those three elements of selling, Mr. Pink also explores how to pitch, how to improvise during the selling situation, and the importance of viewing your selling efforts as serving others.

He urges you to serve first and sell later, focusing on improving the life of the other person, whether it be a customer or a colleague.

If the thought of being a sales person is new to you, this book will help you to understand this unexplored aspect of your life. It's easy reading, with an engaging blend of interviews, research and observations by the incisive author.


If your grand New Year's resolutions didn't take off, maybe there's another approach, as explained in One Word That Will Change Your Life (John Wiley, 82 pages, $19.95). Authors Dan Britton, Jimmy Page and Jon Gordon urge you to find a single word that reflects the change you would like to make – "intimacy," for example, or "purpose," or "relax." You will find that because one word is so memorable it can help frame the months ahead, particularly if you put it on your screen saver or on sticky notes in prominent places. The short book outlines a process for picking the best word and offers various examples.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter