Times change rapidly, and the way we sell has been no exception. The foundational ways of selling still serve a functional purpose, but they don’t always work the way they used to. In this episode, Doug C. Brown speaks with Daniel Pink, the renowned author of 5 New York Times bestselling books, including To Sell is Human, which have been translated into 42 languages and sold millions of copies around the world. Doug and Daniel discuss innovation in the face of an ever-digital world, the disappearing world of information asymmetry, how to adapt your sales techniques to the information age, and much more.
Daniel H. Pink is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including his latest, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward. His other books include the New York Times bestsellers When and A Whole New Mind — as well as the #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. Dan’s books have won multiple awards, have been translated into 42 languages, and have sold millions of copies around the world. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his family.
Visit his website: www.DanPink.com
I got a great guest for this episode. It’s Mr. Daniel Pink. You can check out his website at DanPink.com. Dan is a smart guy. He is a world-renowned author. He’s got five New York Times bestselling books. One of my favorite books is called To Sell is Human. Dan and I are going to talk about the new order of sales that are coming in. In other words, if you’re still acting and still on the timeline of what you were selling and how you were selling years ago, things have shifted so much, especially in the B2B sales world.
If you think and act like you did years ago, then you’re probably not getting as great results as you will if you think and act in the new manner of what we’re going to talk about because information asymmetries kicked in. This means that the buyer has more information probably about you, your company, and your products and offers, as well as all the competitors before they even talk to you. We went into a couple of different structured processes in that, and Dan and I are going to dive deep into that. Without further ado, let’s go speak to Mr. Dan Pink.
Dan, thanks for being here on the show. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. It’s good to be with you, Doug.
For those of you who are wondering, “I’ve heard this name but I can’t quite place it,” think of 5 books on New York Time bestsellers list, a total of 7 books. Do you want to set the frame, Dan? Tell people where you came from and what you’re doing.
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. I went to law school. I decided not to practice law. I ended up working in politics for a while as a political speech writer. I decided that I do not want to work in politics at all. I left that and discovered that what I wanted to do in my early 30s was be a writer. I went out on my own to try to make it as a writer.
I was writing things I wanted to cover, which is a mix of science, technology, business, human performance, and human behavior. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last several years. I was writing books on a variety of topics from changes in the labor market, putting a premium on a different set of skills, to the science of motivation, to sales and persuasion, to the science of timing, to the misunderstood emotion of regret, and so on.
You wrote my all-time favorite book, which is called To Sell is Human. When I read it, I was like, “Finally, somebody understands sales.” We’re born to sell. We’re selling from the beginning. In this show, we talk about 1% earners, and there are a lot. How do people become that salesperson? A lot of times, I tell people this, “Be yourself. You were born to be this.”
I’d love to get your feedback on this. I feel that children are the best salespeople in the world when it comes down to it as far as a natural salesperson. They say what they want. They talk about it. They convey it. They’re very persuasive. They won’t quit most of the time when they get a no. I’d love to get your feedback. From a guy who has studied all of this, what do you think?
I do think your insight into human nature is exactly right. Human beings have an innate ability, capacity, and need to self-persuade influence. That is how we have survived. What’s happened in the last few years is that there have been some changes in the external environment that have made that natural capacity even more important and forced it to operate in a different way.
What I mean by that is there are a lot of smarty pants out there who look down on sales, and the reason they look down on sales is that they have an old-fashioned notion of sales where the seller always had more information than the buyer. The buyer didn’t have many choices. The buyer didn’t have a way to talk back. It was a world of information asymmetry.
That world is disappearing very quickly, if not fully, so we’re in a different world. It requires a different set of skills. Yet when you look at what people do all day on the job, a huge portion of it is sales. If there are two catalytic big ideas in that book you mentioned, it’s this. 1) We are selling all the time. We’re all in sales whether we like it or not. 2) We’re doing it on a remade terrain. It’s not a world of information asymmetry. It’s a world of information parody that requires a different approach in some ways and is more sharply presented in B2B than in B2C.
I have a question about that because things have changed over the years. I’ve been in sales for many years. Back when I started, the internet didn’t exist. I remember when dial-up came in, and then DSL came in. For those of you who don’t know what that is, that is the first digital line that ever came into play. I remember going to people and going, “This is awesome. This is going to change sales forever.” People are like, “You’re crazy. You can get information.” I’m like, “Think about this. You now know more than the car dealer.” When I was reading through a lot of your material, I was like, “This guy gets it.”
Let’s cue in on the second part, how sales have changed for people, especially in the B2B markets where there’s that information asymmetry that’s going on. Sales is an extension of the search process, whereas before, we relied on that salesperson to be the expert. How do you think that’s going to continue to run in the future, especially with AI and everything that’s coming through?
There are a lot of interesting questions packed in there. Let’s isolate the change, and it’s a big change. It’s in B2B and B2C. Let me double-click on this idea of information asymmetry. For most of human civilization, we were in a world of information asymmetry. When it comes to buying and selling, when it comes to persuasion more broadly, that is almost in every commercial transaction. The seller had more information than the buyer.
You could be out 5,000 years ago selling a goat to another dude for stones. The guy selling the goat knew more about goats in general and that goat in particular than the guy buying the goat. It’s information asymmetry. That’s what gave us the world of buyer beware. Buyers have to beware because the sellers have more information.
It is important to note this. This continued for thousands of years. It’s not a 20th-century phenomenon. It’s not even a phenomenon only of this millennium. It is a fundamental change. This arrangement went on for a very long time. Years ago, as you were describing, it all changed. We’ve gone from this world where sellers of anything had lots of information and choices and buyers did not have much information. There were not many choices and no way to talk back.
The last point is very important. In a world where now they have as much, if not more, information than the seller, there are lots of choices and all kinds of ways to talk back. That’s not a world of buyers beware. That’s a world of sellers beware. The sellers are on notice. What this requires is that you can’t take that low road. You have to approach your work in a fundamentally different way.
To move to B2B for a moment, when you think about B2B sales, my view is that B2B sales are essentially a form of management consulting. I don’t even know why we’re calling it B2B sales anymore when it’s essentially management consulting. In the old days, when you, as a B2B seller, had all the information and the buyer had to come to you to get the information, that’s a different world. Now, all that information is liberated. There are all kinds of interesting consequences of that. Among them, a smaller tactical consequence that you alluded to, let’s stick with B2B.
Buyers are coming into the sales process way later in the game. If we think about it from the first sparkle of interest at a timeline of 1 and the end of the deal is 100, buyers used to come in at 7 or 8, 9, or 10 down there. Now, they’re coming in at 60 or 70. It’s different. As a B2B seller, you have two options. 1) You can try to complain about this and hold off on the inevitable, which is a bad idea. 2) You can adapt to it and deploy a set of skills that are fundamentally human and also more sophisticated and interesting as a job.
I want to go to the management consulting thing that you were talking about because so many people in selling don’t get it. I explained to them like, “The buyer has a problem. The buyer has an opportunity.” That’s what they’re seeking. It’s a resolution to something like that. If we come in as a seller and we’re like, “Let me tell you about my company. Let me tell you about why we’re great or why this is great,” they don’t care.
They’ve got a problem and an opportunity. They’re looking for something that has a business return on investment and personal return on investment in the same conversation, things like innovation and how to help people more, which is the consulting model where consultants come in and solve problems. If we had old traditional sales skills, let’s go back to the old sales trainer methodology to the management consulting side, how much is that percentage-wise toward the management consulting side, do you feel?
As you go higher up the ranks of B2B sales and the product or service you’re selling becomes more sophisticated and more expensive, it’s going to be 80% or 90% for management consulting. To answer the part of your question about what are the different skills, there are two big categories of things for B2B sales.
Let’s go back to the world where the B2B seller had more information about computer systems or CRM software. The only way to know that was to go there. In that world, the premium you had as a salesperson was you had access to information that nobody else had. Now, there is no access problem on the part of the buyers. The buyers have access to that information, not entirely, but almost as much information as you as a seller.
You don’t have a comparative advantage by accessing information. You have a comparative advantage by curating information because that buyer is overwhelmed with information and being inundated with information. As the seller, you have to come in as the expert. What do experts do? They curate information. Their prospect or potential buyer has a wealth of information.
You got to be able to go to them and say, “That’s useful information. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s worth paying attention to. That’s not worth paying attention to.” That’s what expertise is. This is a very important point. Their premium is on expertise, but expertise is not having the password to the database that no one else has. Expertise is having the ability to take this huge amount of information that is a blizzard in front of us and make sense of it.
The second thing is that it used to be, and this is so true in B2B, that sellers were primarily problem solvers. This is jarring for people. Now, problem-solving is becoming less important. The reason for that is the potential buyer knows precisely what the problem is. They don’t need you very much. They need you in B2B to be one of 2 or 3 bidders to drive down the price, but they don’t need you very much.
Where they need you sometimes desperately is when they don’t know what their problem is or they’re wrong about their problem. This is often the case. The premium has shifted from problem-solving to problem-finding. Can you identify hidden problems? Can you surface latent problems? Can you look around the corner and see problems that haven’t emerged yet?
Curating information and finding problems are two profoundly different skills. They’re very sophisticated skills. The salespeople who master those skills are going to flourish and the ones who think that it’s all about simply having the information, doing a slick presentation, and patting people on the back are going to be goners.
You brought in your A-game. Thank you. I appreciate this. Let’s talk about content curators of information. I’ve got to know and be the expert in my field, not only in what we do but within everything that touches every sense of my buyer. Is that accurate?
That is true. I 100% agree with what you’re saying. I’m going to add one chip to raise you here, and it’s this. As a seller, you have to know the buyer’s business, as well as the buyer themself. This is where it comes to management consultants. You need to know what that business is and what its pain points are. You have to be essentially an expert in that business and know it in some ways almost as well as the people running the business themselves. At some level, you have a chance to understand that business better because you’re less enmeshed in the day-to-day, and you can take an outside perspective and look at it with fresh eyes or the big picture. Expertise, curating information, and finding problems are what it means to be an expert.
I love the fact that we’re using a poker analogy, so I’m going to throw another chip back in and raise it again. I want to get your feedback on this. I firmly agree, and this is something that people don’t want to do because it’s like, “I have to research things.” You’re going to get steamrolled by your competitors, the ones who are doing this.
I want your feedback on this, please. We must understand the business side of the business so well. We also have to understand the buyer positioning. If I’m the CEO, the CHO, or the IT guy, we want to know what they’re thinking and how it affects their job performance and their personal performance, in addition. Would you agree or disagree with that one?
I agree with that. I am not going to raise that because you’re at the top of the game here. That’s exactly right. It’s another dimension of that. It’s even harder in some ways. It requires experience to say, “That’s a great point, Doug. What are the consequences for this individual to whom I’m talking to via Zoom, across the table, or by telephone?” There is an ethic that is very useful with regard to sales. Human interaction in general, is an ethic that comes from improvisational theater. One of the principles of improvisational theater is that your job as an improv actor is to make the other person look good.
I did not know that about improv.
Everybody knows, “Yes, and.” In improv, you’re saying, “I can’t say no. I have to say yes, and.” My job is not to delight the crowd. My job is to make you look good. Your job is to make me look. This is a good precept, especially for some of your younger sellers. How can you make this person look good? How is your selling this to John, Jane, or Maria going to help John, Jane, or Maria advance their careers? If you think that way, and I’m putting a finer point on what you’re suggesting, that’s a very healthy way to look. It requires sophistication, acute perspective thinking, and a sense of human dynamics.
I love the fact you brought improv up, Dan. I always tell people that, and they’re like, “How are you so quick on your feet?” “It’s practice. You’ve got to go into improv classes and practice.” I can tell everybody from when I first started. Somebody used to go, “Zip, zap, zoom,” and do things like that. I’d be like, “What are you talking about?”
I’d feel a little like that fish out of water or completely out of water, but that’s part of the process that you’re talking about. We have to cross from the old way of doing to the new way of selling for us to thrive in the field of sales. Also, being able to curate the information and bring it down to its essence so they can filter through all the crazy stuff.
I’m going to go with your second point, which is a problem finding. If we can make something simple that seems overwhelming or complex, we found a problem for people, and we can solve that problem for people. When you’re looking at problem finding, this may be an unfair question because we never talked about this, but how does one start to be a problem finder versus a problem solver in life?
There are a number of different specific techniques for this. I’ll give you two. You can think of one as horizontal, and the other one is vertical. The horizontal is talking to a lot of people in your industry. When you go on a sales call or even something that is not officially a sales call, let’s say you’re selling to CTOs, you are asking them, “What’s going on? What are the biggest things that are bugging you? What was the most frustrating thing that happened to you this week?”
Ask those kinds of questions and have a conversation before you’re trying to sell something. Keep a pretty good log of those kinds of things. It’s not just chalking up to memory but maybe putting it in your note app on the phone, a Word document, a Google Docs document, or something like that. Here’s the interesting thing.
Once you have an arsenal of those, on your next sales call, you can go to a CTO and say, “I’ve been talking to CTOs all month. Do you want to know the two biggest headaches that other CTOs face?” Every prospect is going to say, “I want to hear that.” You start to understand what’s going on out there. That’s the way a broad spectrum of conversations can allow you to see things that people who are enmeshed in the everyday might not.
The second thing is a much more tactical technique. It’s annoying. The genesis of it is in question. A lot of people claim credit for this thing. Toyota supposedly came up with it before some others, but it’s called the five whys, which is when someone says what they need, you ask them why and you follow up five times with that why. You say, “I need a new computer system.” Why? “It’s because the old one isn’t working very well.” Why? “It’s because we grew because we had this new market out there for X, Y, or Z.” “Why?”
You start drilling down like that, and you end up seeing things that the people themselves often don’t see. Your readers can put into their favorite search engine the technique called the five whys. It’s an interesting way to get to the heart of the problem. This is because what happens, especially in B2B, people don’t know precisely what they need. They have a guess, but if you ask them why they need that and then ask them “why” to the next question and the next question, you can sometimes get to the heart of things that they weren’t able to see themselves, and then you’re valuable.
I’ll bring that back to my children’s comment in the beginning because that’s what they ask. My two daughters would be like, “Dad, why does this happen?” “It’s because of XYZ.” “Why does that happen?” They would keep asking. People, for some reason, through human conditioning or social conditioning, lose that touch with that curiosity factor. What I’m hearing is that’s what we want to do. We want to go in and be a problem finder. We’ve got to get curious, not trying to position to sell at that process.
Is it all to create thoughts in their head, like their statements? If you can get to that place, for example, we walk in at why, “What else? Why,” and they’re going, “I never thought of that,” that positions that person more as an expert because they were bringing forth that information. That person is going, “I never thought of it like this. Maybe I should pay attention to Doug a little bit more.” I’m curious because you might know more about the background of this. Did Toyota come up with this for sales purposes? What was the reason?
It’s also a technique that designers use for things like product design. I’m making this up. “People don’t like this toaster.” “Why?” “It’s because the slots are too small.” “Why?” “It’s because more people are having bagels than Wonder Bread.” “Why?” “It’s because there’s much greater ethnic diversity in the United States than there ever was.” “Why?” “It’s because we changed the immigration laws.”
What we need is not a toaster with wider things but a toaster that appeals to a wider demographic, a toaster that isn’t a white people’s 1950s toaster but a toaster built for multi-ethnic 2023 America. I’m making this up but it’s what designers do. In this scenario, people would go to them and say, “This toaster sucks because the slots are too small.” I’m just doing this off the top of my head.
If you go in there and say, “The way to make a better toaster is to widen the slots,” you’re missing the point. The way to make a better toaster is to recognize that most toasters were made for a certain kind of American in a certain kind of family. That kind of American family exists less and less. You want a toaster that serves modern America and not 1950s Leave It to Beaver America. If you’re a designer, then it’s like, “This is such an interesting problem. We can do something amazing and cool rather than simply, ‘What can we do to increase the width of the slots?’”
I have one other question for you. You wrote the book, A Whole New Mind. I remember Oprah Winfrey gave 4,500 copies of this away, or whatever the number was, to Stanford when she did a university speech. I was looking at the book and I was like, “It’s a battle between the right brain and the left brain in a lot of ways but more right-brain creativity is prevailing.”
I don’t want to use the metaphor of battle. I want to use the metaphor of dance. It’s a dance between the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. AI is going to make some of that argument obsolete. The kind of AI that is at our fingertips is changing that a bit, but essentially, the argument is this. In many kinds of white-collar jobs, the skills that were most valuable were skills that were characteristic of the left brain, logical, linear, sequential, analytical, and step-by-step. It’s spreadsheet skills.
The argument is that those spreadsheet skills are still necessary but no longer sufficient because they’re so easy to automate. You’re connected to people around the world who are willing to do that work for a fraction of the cost. What that means is that there’s a greater premium on right-brain skills like artistry, empathy, inventiveness, and big-picture thinking. That’s the argument of that book. If you look at generative AI, it’s pushing things even more where the skills that are going to be most necessary are going to be skills like asking good questions and composing. That might be it. Also, finding some meaning in your life.
The reason I brought this up is that from a selling perspective, many people think that a great salesperson is a total right brain. They’re creative, off the charts, and all this stuff. I’ve had this argument for decades where it’s like, “You’ve got to have both.” If you’re creative right-brained and you’re a little bit scattered on the process and the systems, firstly, you’re going to miss a huge part of an audience that makes buying decisions from that frame because they think more like engineers, accountants, or process-driven people.
My wife is like this. She was a math major. She’s got a Master’s in Mathematics. She puts everything into a logical format. I’ve had to learn to communicate with her on that level. What I teach people is you must communicate with the buyer on their level. I thought the book was so great. Between the conversations going back and forth, people should read it because it will allow them to think a little more broadly in their approach to when they’re selling to people.
Also, remember that different people have different methodologies for their thoughts, A) When they’re shopping, and B) When they’re making a decision. We got to be able to switch between those two to go back to what you were talking about which is the content creation and being able to bring it down and present it in a way they can understand it.
What you’re talking about is what I described in To Sell Is Human as attunement. Can you get it into your head? Can you see things from someone else’s point of view, use their language, not yours, and connect with them at both an emotional and an intellectual level? It’s hugely important.
Dan, I appreciate you being on the show. I’m sure people are going, “This guy’s smart. I want to learn more about him. Maybe get some things that he’s done or some information.” How do they get ahold of either that information or yourself?
You can go to my website, which is DanPink.com. We’ve got a lot of free resources like a free newsletter. There is information in all the books and all kinds of things like dancing unicorns and snowmobiles.
It’s a great website. If you haven’t checked it out, please go do that. I’ve done that. I love the website. Thanks again for being here, Dan.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
How about becoming a curator of information and being a problem finder versus a problem solver? It’s so important to understand that the old way of selling is not dead but it’s less effective. What we want to do is create a new way of selling, which is how you get content creation and simplify it for people. How do you find problems? What process do you use to do that? If you got nothing else out of this episode, focus on those two things. Those two things are so important.
What we’re trying to do is get the buyer to go, “I didn’t know that. You seem more like an expert than my competitors,” your competitors that are coming through here. When you can get that to happen, that doesn’t just differentiate you. It makes you different, but if you’ve got to see your competitors, which most businesses do, you want to be able to stand out from the crowd so that they go, “This person makes sense for me to talk with.” They’ve done a lot of research on you prior to.
If you love this episode, what I would like to ask of you is to give it a five-star review. It takes a few minutes to do that, but I’d be forever grateful. Share this with other people. The more you can share this with other people, the more people can help. I always find this a noble way of helping people. I find great information for people, and I share it, not just for myself or my content but for other people’s content because we’re a collective world of brains. When we use it collectively, we create a mastermind component of that.
If you’re an expert on a subject matter that relates to selling in general, how to be in the top 1% of earners or anything around that, then reach out to us at YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com. If you’d like a copy of the new eBook that I put out, which is called the Nonstop 1% Earner, go to www.CEOSalesStrategies.com/1PE.
As always, I appreciate you being here. If you want to be part of our 1% Academy, which is teaching you how to think, act, and be if you want to be a 1% earner through selling, reach out to us again at YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com. Until next time, play win-win in all cases.
Make sure they win, make sure you win. It is the strongest sale for you and for them to develop a relationship. They’ll appreciate that as well, and that’s how you spark more referrals and more internal and external expansion of your sales process through your same relationship. 1 turns into 5 or 10 different relationships. Go out and sell something, play win-win, and make it a great day. Until next time. To your success.
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