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5 Sales Insights From Daniel Pink

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What You Need to Know

  • You don't have to be a big talker to close a lot of sales.
  • Practice strategic mimicry to close more sales.
  • Think like Bob the Builder.

Author Daniel Pink’s bestseller “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” offers lots of valuable observations that can enable us to optimize our success in sales. Advisors should focus on these five:

1. Extroverts don’t necessarily make the best salespeople.

There’s a widespread notion that chatty extroverts stand out from the pack as top salespeople. In fact, there’s no research that supports this assertion.

Pink cites a study of 300 sales reps at a software company. They were measured on an introversion-extroversion continuum.

Unsurprisingly, extroverted salespeople sold more than their introverted counterparts. But a third group outperformed everyone — the ambiverts, who scored right in the middle of the scale.

Pink says that extroverts often talk too much and listen too little to really understand their customers’ needs. Introverts can be too shy to form relationships or to close sales.

Ambiverts know how to find that right balance. They are the most adept at understanding their customers’ viewpoints and moving them to action.

So if you’re not a salesperson with the biggest “gift of gab,” take heart. Most people tend to be ambiverts. And if you’re an ambivert, you’re well positioned to succeed as an advisor.

2. Practice strategic mimicry to close more sales.

The ability to persuade others depends on our talent to convey that we can understand the world from the point of view of clients and prospects. We need to listen well enough to get inside their head.

Successful negotiators know this and often subtlety mimic the mannerisms of their opponents. If they lean forward in their chair or put their hand on their chin, then the negotiators wait 10 seconds or so and do the same.

We are wired by evolution to experience this synching behavior as a sign that someone is trustworthy. One study found that wait staff who repeat orders back to customers receive 70% more in tips than those who don’t.

3. Embrace the power of interrogative self-talk.

Sometimes before an important sales presentation or client meeting, we psyche ourselves up with affirmations like “I can do this!” or “I’ve got this!” But is there a better way?

Pink reveals that there are several studies showing the superiority of asking yourself a question before a challenging task, rather than saying something like “I can do this.” Surprisingly, if we ask ourselves, “Can I do this?” beforehand, we are likely to achieve superior results.

Remember the “Bob the Builder” animated show? I loved watching it with my kids for many years. Prior to beginning a difficult project, Bob would always ask himself, “Can we build it?” His enthusiastic reply: “Yes we can!”

One research project found that a self-questioning group solved nearly 50% more puzzles than the self-affirming group. Researchers believe that there are two explanations.

First, when you ask yourself a question, you prompt yourself to devise and review strategies for accomplishing the task. Mere affirmations feel good, but don’t give us any extra resources to actually boost our performance.

Second, asking the question reminds us that we are internally driven to get it done. People perform better when their motivation comes from within, as opposed to it being imposed upon them by an external source.

4. Positive emotions make us more resilient.

Research suggests that if our positive emotions outweigh our negative ones by about a 3:1 ratio, we’ll be more resilient and creative in facing rejection and other business problems. Positive feelings can make us more open to seeing new possibilities when solving problems. Our good feelings also can radiate to prospects, making them less adversarial and more open to our message.

Positive feelings include appreciation, amusement, compassion, joy and inspiration.

The ratio has to be carefully calibrated. You sometimes need negative emotions to identify and address problems. Otherwise, you’ll be in a world of self-delusion.

Pink cites one top-performing salesman who regularly visits satisfied, long-term customers. He makes sure to sprinkle affirming experiences when visiting existing clients throughout his day.

5. Our explanatory style can make us more resilient.

How we view negative events has a profound effect on our ability to persist in the face of adversity. The more we can explain difficult events as temporary, specific and external, the easier it will be for us to rebound, says Pink.

Was your presentation off because you were sleep deprived — a temporary condition — or because you just aren’t persuasive?

Are all new prospects just impossible to deal with, or was this one case particularly challenging due to a specific issue? Was your delivery awful, or was there an external issue — i.e., the prospect just wasn’t ready?

Pink even says you should track weekly rejections and then celebrate them. Despite the rebuffs, you’re still standing!

Viewing setbacks as learning experiences and believing in our ability to ultimately overcome them helps us stay positive and resilient.

Mark Elzweig heads executive recruiting firm Mark Elzweig Co. in New York.

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Book cover courtesy of Daniel Pink