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February 24, 2015

Creating Influence

Bruce Murray

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Warning: You won't want to hear what I'm about to tell you. But hang with me, please. I'll make you feel much better about it and you'll be far more successful in your work. Ready?

After publishing his book, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," Daniel Pink was curious and asked 7,000 workers how they spend their time at work. He learned that 42 percent of our work time is spent persuading, influencing, and bringing others round to our point of view (p. 21 of "To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others" by Daniel Pink). Aside from the fact that there aren't cash registers or invoices involved, the word for this activity is sales. (The average time "selling" is actually higher than 42 percent because those interviewed excluded the 9 percent of the workforce whose primary job role is selling.)

He asked the same 7,000 people what descriptive words come to mind when they hear the words "sales" or "selling." The most common responses were: "Pushy, yuck, ugh, difficult, hard, sleazy, and annoying" (pp. 44-45). See? I'm telling you that you are "in sales." You're likely responding with these same words and perhaps some that we can't even publish in a forum like this.

Those smarmy descriptions reflect the conditions we may have felt when we bought a car, a house or an insurance policy. There was a tremendous information asymmetry. The seller had all the information and we buyers were ignorant sitting ducks. Ever heard of caveat emptor? Way back to the Roman days, the guiding principle was "let the buyer beware."

Has anything changed? Indeed it has. First, the Internet has levelled the playing field. If I'm willing to spend the time, I can probably come to know more about that car, house or insurance policy than the person trying to sell it to me does. Secondly, the way we work is different. We're often in networked teams instead of top-down hierarchies where we're told what to do. Heck, we now often consider our suppliers as strategic partners instead of necessary evils out to gouge all they can get out of us!

In other words, we're in a world of information parity where most facts are known to all. The winner is the one who has the creativity and asks the right questions to turn those facts into true knowledge. That's where we spend our time persuading, influencing, cajoling, and convincing others that our ideas are worth supporting.

Here are three clear business trends. The first is entrepreneurism. Thirty percent of the workforce work for themselves, and nearly double that number of millennials have started their own business, or want to. This, along with the huge reduction of middle management, creates tremendous elasticity in today's workplace. Work responsibilities shift and overlap. Customers contact a wider range of people in our flexible organizations. Mike Cannon-Brookes says, "Everyone the customer touches is effectively a salesperson." Mike is the co-founder of Atlassian, a company with $100 million in sales, which has never had a salesperson (p. 33-34). The third trend is that the fastest growing industries are Ed-Med (education and medicine). Sales are generated, of course, but these industries are less about selling things to use and more about convincing others to change behaviors.

I hope you've hung with me to see that our queasiness about sales reflects a largely bygone era. Pink concludes that, "Sellers are no longer protectors and purveyors of information. Salespeople are now the curators and clarifiers of the information – helping to make sense of the blizzard of facts, data, and options" (p. 56). If you see the truth in Pink's pronouncement, then you can be comfortable with the title of his latest book: "To Sell is Human."

So how do you succeed in this curating and clarifying of information? In the old days, the ABCs of salesmanship were Always Be Closing. The new ABCs are Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity. In next month's blog, I’ll pass along Dan Pink's scientifically-proven tips on how to be and what to do. I promise that pushy, yuck and sleazy will be the farthest things from your mind.

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One comment on “Creating Influence”

  1. I like this:
    "these industries are less about selling things to use and more about convincing others to change behaviors."
    Showing people that THEY are the ones going to benefit by the changed behaviour. A hard sell is so...well...last decade? And is certainly makes me think the person is pushing to reach his target - which is not my problem. Really.
    However, by offering solid information based on questions he asked me, he will definitely get some attention from me.
    By the way, the worst thing is a salesperson READING a script and you can actually hear it!

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