Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Closing the deal: We’re all in sales now

Published 22 February 2013 07:51, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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Closing the deal: We’re all in sales now

In an era when everything must be ‘sold’, sales skills the pressure to make a sale is on. Here Jack Lemon bails up Kevin Spacey in the 1992 sales drama Glengarry Glen Ross. Photo: Fairfax Media

We are all in sales now. You might not be a glad-handing huckster with samples in the boot of your car, or a upselling voice tethered to a phone headset, but the chances are that your job depends on persuading people.

Management author Dan Pink says about 10 per cent of the Australian workforce are officially “sales workers”, but that statistic hides the reality that most of us now have the responsibility to promote our work and “sell” it on behalf of the company.

In his new book, To Sell is Human, Pink says around 40 per cent of our working days are spent in “non-sales” selling.

“Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. Entrepreneurs woo funders, writers sweet-talk producers, coaches cajole players,” he writes.

Journalists like me tweet and Facebook and promote on LinkedIn to “sell” our stories to new readers. We used to just rely on the marketing team and newsagents.

Pink says research he undertook, polling 9000 people around the world, shows people consider this “non-sales selling” aspect of their work crucial to their success.

The ability to convince, to persuade, is becoming as central to careers as the ability to use a computer.

It is a different world too for those who do actually undertake transactions. The mechanics of selling has changed – thanks to the fact that almost all human knowledge is now available through the mobile phones in our pockets.

The inequality of information that used to exist between the vendor (who had all the information about the product) and the buyer (who had little) no longer exists.

When customers enter shops or car yards these days, they often know more about the product they want than the person selling it. They know what it does, how it ranks against other similar products and what price they should be paying for it.

What then is the role of the salesperson?

A company like the Sydney-based software provider Atlassian gives us one view of the future. This company does not employ any sales staff despite bringing in $US100 million in sales last year.

Co-founder of Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes, told Pink: “We have no salespeople, because in a weird way, everyone is a salesperson”.

The way it works is this: customers initiate the relationship with the company by downloading a trial version of its enterprise software and, if they need information about it, there are employees who answer their questions.

“...They simply help people understand the software, knowing that the value and elegance of their assistance can move wavering buyers to make a purchase,” writes Pink.

So sometimes people sell by not selling, but by being there to provide information when they are asked for it.

And there is no room in this relationship for dishonesty or gilding the lily: “Whether you are in traditional sales or non-sales selling, the low road is now harder to pass and the high road – honesty, directness and transparency –- has become the better, more pragmatic, long-term route”, he says.

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