Why you work in sales
Reading time - 7 minutes

Why you work in sales

16th October 2014
By Staff

‘Anytime you are tempted to up-sell someone, stop what you are doing and up-serve instead – Dan Pink, ‘To Sell Is Human’

Mention to most people that you meet at the Bar that you work in ‘sales’ and you are likely to get at best a polite smile and at worst you’ll find yourself drinking your pint alone.

If we are honest the image of a sales person is not a great one. For many of us, it still conjures up the notion of a pressured and intense individual determined to foster their product, service or views upon us, whether we like it or need it or not. We may think of the foul mouthed financial scheme salesmen desperate for the leads in ‘Glengarry Glenross’ – or recall the slightly dodgy trader at the car boot sale, peddling offers sounding too good to be true. Or, perhaps you just think of Swiss Tony from the ‘Fast Show’?

For most of us, our image of sales-person is still framed in the world of 1980s used cars and door-to-door offers and it is tainted with the whiff of insincerity, special offers, strong after shave and hair gel. Yet how many of us today actually work in a business with a sales team like that anymore? And yet how important is selling in the modern work place? And who really sells today? The truth is it is a bit more complicated and selling is now about a lot more than forcing specifications and price lists on others and wearing a sharp suit.

In his excellent book ‘To Sell Is Human’ Dan Pink casts an eye over what sales means today and why whether you are a manager, a shop assistant, a doctor or an accountant: You work in sales. If you are a CEO, a CTO a CFO – or a hairdresser: You work in sales. Whether you are an artist, a call centre agent, a delivery driver or a network systems engineer: you still work in sales. How can this be? And what does it mean, that we all work in sales?

Pink refers to major research he conducted across 9,000 workers around the world. Only eleven percent described themselves as working in sales, as the group surveyed included, lawyers, entrepreneurs and shopkeepers as well as sales professionals. However – when they were all questioned about what they did during their working days it emerged that nearly 40% of their time was on average spent on persuading, convincing and influencing.

Even if they were not asking for a purchase order or sending out the invoice, the nature of most work actually involves what for all intents and purposes can be described as selling.

According to the research about 24 minutes out of every hour of work is actually involved in sales type activities; meeting, explaining, calling and persuading. When asked for the most important aspects of their job, teaching, coaching and serving (all primarily sales activities) were ranked higher than processing information. Gaining support for your ideas and plans is critical to your success whether your main customers are internal or external. As Pink says ‘One in nine says they work in sales but the data reveals something startling. So do the other eight. They too are spending their days moving others and depending on their livelihoods on doing it well. Whether it is selling in the traditional form or its non-sales variation, we’re all in sales now’

According to Pink, the purpose of most of these every day ‘sales-type’ interactions has more to do with serving and helping people to understand than pressing for the yes. It is about creating a solution rather than railroading the deal. Today, data and information flows across internal and external networks and I can read your company profiles and read your product specifications online far quicker than you can present them on PowerPoint. And so the purpose and nature of meetings, pitches and presentations is changing.

As Pink points out ‘an effective seller isn’t a huckster who is just out for profit’ rather they are an ‘idealist and an artist’ – moving others by informing, advising and helping. So the kind of sales we all work in today is less about up-selling and more about up-serving.

For most of us, the face to face or conference or video call meetings is still the most important way in which we seek to move others and do our own version of selling. No matter our role, we all need to persuasively present a plan, report on progress, make a recommendation – and yes, sometimes to pitch our products and services to clients too and win new business. We are all therefore, to some extent, in the pitching business.

According to Pink, the key to successful pitch is to view the process as one of opening a conversation, rather than forcing your idea. As he says ‘The purpose is to bring that person in as a participant and eventually arrive at an outcome that appeals to both of you. In a world where buyers have ample information and an array of choices, the pitch is often the first word but rarely the last’.

So how can you structure your next presentation or pitch to make it memorable and persuasive? How can you bring people into your ideas and plans in your next meeting without railroading them? Here are five ideas for structuring your next key meeting that are worth bearing in mind…

Five Smart Ways to Structure Your Pitch

1 – The One Word Pitch – use one well chosen, powerful word and theme to frame your meeting and presentation around and use that as a basis for your meeting. For example, if the quarterly plan is all about being quicker to market, then use ‘Fast’ as the key word to base your proposal sections or meeting agenda around.

2 – The Question Pitch – similar to the one word pitch, the question pitch uses one great question as an anchor for your structure and recommendation. For example, your opening question may be ‘What Do We Change This Quarter?’ And the structure of your presentation can be based around addressing the question, with three key initiatives presented to answer to that question.

3 – The Subject Line Pitch – focuses the presentation around a critical fact or piece of information that again forms a basis for the conversation. For example, the subject line pitch for a cost reduction programme meeting, could be as simple as ‘Ten Percent And Ten Weeks’ –  and that becomes a clear foundation for the meeting agenda, the objective and the plan.

4 – The Twitter Pitch – does not mean that you use a micro message of 140 characters. Rather it means that you ensure your idea, proposal or report can be summarised in a neat and simple statement and that you structure your meeting and pitch to be as brief as possible. The discipline of thinking about the message as a Tweet forces you to build clarity and focus.

5 – The Pixar Pitch – named after the famous movie studio that gave us ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Finding Nemo’ and its method of planning movies, this technique structures your pitch around a clear story, with a beginning, middle and end. The pitch includes a clear chronology of what has happened before, the action that needs to take place now and the outcome and change that is required.

Not all the meetings you chair or attend will require you to pitch your ideas and we may not all be sales people in the traditional sense. But we all need to persuade and serve others and that is why today, we all work in sales.