Daniel H. Pink’s TO SELL IS HUMAN

imageI first discovered Daniel Pink at book conference in the US in 2010. It was just before his book Drive came out and as he got up to speak about motivation my first thought was “here we go, time for the motivational speaker, groan”. Typically at bookseller conferences there is always a motivational speaker that tries to motivate the audience, which often falls very flat. However Daniel Pink spoke about what motivates our staff. The preconception of the audience, myself included, that the primary motivation for staff was money. They work they get paid. If we want them to work harder, we pay them more. Daniel Pink broke down this misconception and showed that there were a variety of other ways to motivate staff that would even deliver better results.

I read Drive later which goes into this in much more depth and looks at motivations in all its forms and situations where monetary rewards do work and where they don’t and how to implement motivational strategies that suit the goals you are trying to achieve. I don’t normally go in for these types of books but the approach Daniel Pink took, using social science research mixed with real world business examples was really engaging, sensible and most importantly practical.

For his new book Daniel Pink looks at selling. He starts with the door-to-door salesman, a type of sales person who is on the way out in the 21st century. But this does not mean the job of a sales person is also on the way out. In fact not only does sales work account for a high portion of jobs in the workforce (1 in 9 jobs in the US, 10% in Australia) but Pink argues the every job is fundamentally about sales. Sales is about selling a product to another person but that product can be anything. It can be an object like a book or a car, it can be an idea, it can be a service or it can be yourself. Not matter what job we do there is an element of selling to it. Selling even exists outside our jobs.

As well as looking at how selling is a part of many non-sales aspects of our lives Daniel Pink also looks at how selling has changed in today’s world. The selling relationship traditionally has been asymmetrical. The person selling a product has had all the information and to some extent the power in the relationship between the seller and the customer. The salesperson was the expert with the inside knowledge of their products and their industry. Some sales people used this to serve customers well other used this imbalance to manipulate or deceive customers. Buyer beware.

But in the Internet Age where everyone is connected 24/7 and can be connected to the internet everywhere they go via smart phones and tablets means the relationship between seller and buyer has flipped. A buyer now has access to as much information as they want, not just about the product they want but about the seller too. Not only can the web give buyers information like best price but through social media they can get trusted advice on the product. And any seller who tries to manipulate or deceive a customer is at the mercy of Twitter and Facebook. Seller beware.

The book argues that this fundamental change to the relationship between seller and buyer does not mean the end of the salesperson. Rather the role needs to evolve. The book goes through a number of ways selling should be approached which is applicable both for the selling of products and the selling of non-products. And as with Drive the advice and examples are engaging, sensible and practical.

As a bookseller I found this book invaluable. Daniel Pink nails exactly what the challenges are for bookshops in the book industry without the life and death mumbo jumbo you get from supposed book industry experts and analysts. Ten years ago, even five, if a customer wanted a book the first place they went to was a bookshop. The bookshop had access to databases not publicly available that could tell the bookseller what books were available and where to get them.

When we first opened Pages & Pages in 1995 we used to tell customers that we could get any in print book from anywhere in the world. We used to a CD-Rom from Nielsen or Bowker which had a global database of bibliographic information. The CD-Rom, would be updated every month. Then Nielsen and Bowker converted to a web based database. We had a kind of monopoly on bibliographic information. But then came Amazon as well as Google and a myriad of other websites and today our customers have the same information as us, not just on their computer at home but on the phone in their hand.

As a stand-alone independent bookshop it is extremely difficult for us to compete on price. It was difficult in 1995, just as it is in 2013. What we have always tried to do instead is compete on service; special orders, stock knowledge, customer care, author events etc. But service is no longer the exclusive domain of a bricks & mortar shop. And knowledge and expertise can be found and sourced from all over the world or from your social network easily and instantaneously.

Daniel Pink outlines the three new ABCs of selling in the book: Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity, which I think are the key to any business surviving. As a bookshop we need to listen to what customers are telling us and I don’t mean verbally I mean by their actions which are pretty clear at the moment, we need to stay positive about our business and the products we sell and we need to be more proactive. At the moment we are reacting to eBooks and the growth of online shopping and there is a negative perception about the future of bookshops and printed books. We need to find ways of getting ahead of the curve rather than chasing the curve. None of this will be easy and there are no guarantees but if you fight the wrong battles you invariably lose the war.

While Daniel Pink didn’t provide me with any obvious solutions (if it was obvious it wouldn’t be challenging) his book has given me food for thought and a greater perspective of what the challenge Pages & Pages and other bricks & mortar bookshops face. It is not a battle of physical bookshops vs online retailers. It is not a battle of print books vs eBooks. It is about adapting to what buyers want and that means products, services and interactions because selling is not just one of these things it is all these things.

ISBN: 9781922079794
ISBN-10: 1922079790
Classification: Popular psychology
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 30-Jan-2013
Country of Publication: Australia

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