"Like it or not, we're all in sales," says Daniel Pink, author of the new book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (Riverhead, 2012). All of us persuade, influence, or convince others to give us time, money, attention, or opportunity every single day.
In order to succeed, you must be an effective salesperson. But salesmanship today is not what it used to be. "[Buyers] have a huge information advantage," Pink says, adding that they often come to a conversation more informed than the seller. "That means [sellers] can't take the low road. They have to be much more transparent."
That shift requires a new way of thinking about how to sell your ideas or products -- an approach that accommodates a culture that now expects customization.
Try these tips to learn how to sell your ideas effectively:
1. Rethink your pre-sale pep talk. Before you pitch an idea to an important person or investor, how do you boost your confidence? If you're like most people, you tell yourself, "I can do this." That might make you feel better, but it does little to improve your performance.
Instead, ask yourself, can I do this? Even if you don't respond aloud, the question prompts an answer, reminding you of past experience and expertise. “Interrogative self-talk actually prepares you for the encounter," Pink says. The affirmation from answering your own question also helps you stay positive in case of rejection.
2. Aim to understand the buyer's point of view. To successfully sell an idea, you need to be attuned to the other person by making an effort to understand their perspective. "When we understand someone else's point of view, we're more effective," Pink says. That insight empowers you to allay any concerns or frame the idea in a meaningful light.
Pink calls this kind of attunement "empathy plus," meaning that you need to understand more than just how your audience feels. “Consider what they are thinking and what their interests are," Pink says. Addressing those thoughts and interests is the surest way to make a successful pitch.
3. Think of yourself as a curator. With so much information at our fingertips, an effective pitch or sale is now about making sense of the chaos and limiting the options. "The skills that matter now are not accessing information but curating it and making it clear,” Pink says. Show your audience that you understand who they are, what they need, and where to find it.
To tailor information appropriately, first identify any problems or needs. "Start with questions rather than statements," Pink says. That curiosity helps you understand their point of view so that you can identify a problem they didn't realize they had or tailor your pitch to address their specific needs. "You're matching, not pushing," Pink says.
4. Strive for the balance of an ambivert. We often assume that extroverts make the best salespeople, but that's not the case. Those best suited for selling are ambiverts, or people who have both outgoing and reserved qualities. While introverts talk too little and extroverts too much, ambiverts find the happy medium. "They know when to speak up and shut up, push and hold back," Pink says. "They do exceptionally well [in sales]."
Most of us are already ambiverts, but we can all strive for more balance. If you tend to be extroverted, make an effort to talk less and listen more, and if you tend to be introverted, work on being assertive and speaking up. "There isn't an algorithm or exact science for doing it," Pink says. "Just be aware of your own predilections and nudge yourself a little bit more to the center."