ABA president Becky Anderson called Daniel Pink, whose new book is To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (Riverhead), a "Winter Institute superstar" as she opened the first plenary session at the event in Kansas City.
|photo: Steve Rosato
When the ABA asked him to return to the Winter Institute as a speaker, Pink said he set a few conditions: that the Winter Institute be held in Kansas City in February; his session take place in a windowless room; and that it start at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Despite bad weather, a lack of windows and the early hour, booksellers packed the event to hear what the author who last wrote about drive and motivation in the business world had to say about sales.
"Like it or not, we are all in sales now," said Pink. Even the eight out of nine workers who say sales is not part of their jobs spend much of their time convincing others to do things, he explained. Booksellers, for instance, sell more than just books; they also sell their stores to their community.
He discussed the public's traditional attitude about sales. A survey of 7,000 people asked the respondents to use one word to describe sales. Among the top answers: pushy, sleazy, slimy and cheesy. ("To me, they always sound like the dwarves who didn't make the cut," Pink said.) Booksellers have similar feelings about sales.
But in a new world where sellers no longer have the monopoly on information, said Pink, the "buyer beware model," which conjures up the image of a used car salesman, is no longer the norm. Buyers now have vast amounts of information at their fingertips. For example, most car buyers now know the dealer invoice price of cars, which once was so secret even dealer salespeople didn't know. The ABCs of selling--"Always Be Closing"--touted by Alec Baldwin's character in Glengarry Glen Ross, the movie version of David Mamet's play--need to be replaced with "Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity," Pink said.
Attunement, Pink said, involves not only being able to take in another's perspective but also mimicking it back to them. Buoyancy is about "facing an ocean of rejection" and figuring out what to do before, during and after each interaction with customers. And, clarity, Pink said, means shifting from a "problem solving" approach with customers to a "problem finding" approach.
"If you can identify problems people don't even know they have, that's where all the action is," Pink said. "And that's where all the margins are."
Contrary to popular belief, research shows that extroverts are not measurably better at sales than their introverted counterparts, Pink said. Instead, the ideal salesperson is an "ambivert": a person who is a balance of introvert and extrovert, a person who "knows when to talk and when to listen."
The lesson for booksellers, Pink said, is that "changing people's minds matters less than giving them an easy off ramp." He suggested that bookstore sales might go up if staff members had an iPhone with a Square credit card payment attachment that gives consumers an easy off-ramp to purchase. Particularly with e-book purchases at independent bookstores, he observed, "it's too hard to act" and take the off ramp.
Noting that sometimes it's difficult in a bookstore to tell who is a bookseller, he also suggested booksellers wear T-shirts identifying them as staff. The T-shirts could be designed by the booksellers.
Pink also shared advice he solicited from other bestselling business writers and leaders he collected specifically for his Winter Institute audience. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, suggested bookstore staff might wear "Ask me what I am reading T-shirts," much as employees at an upscale clothing stores wear the merchandise. Some, like Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?, pointed out that a curated experience is better than a search experience in retail.
Brothers Chris and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, suggested having "guest curators" create book playlists. As Pink explained, a store in Kansas City might ask what the CEO of its corporate neighbor Hallmark is reading. Tom Rath author of Strengths Finder 2.0, said booksellers should practice "extreme curation," presenting the next book a customer needs, not hundreds.
The common theme with the advice--and what Pink said will distinguish bricks-and-mortar booksellers from any retailer that uses an algorithm--is to switch from giving customers a "search experience" to a "discovery experience."
Going back to the distaste people have for sales and selling, Pink said, "We are now in a world of servant sellership." It is a world in which independent booksellers can do really well, if they create easy off ramps.
Quoting Godin, Pink said, "Maybe it's less important to be efficient than to be brave." --Bridget Kinsella