Viewing the Workforce in Shades of Pink

Daniel Pink talks on Wharton campus as part of Authors@Wharton. Photo credit: Tommy Leonardi.

Daniel Pink talks on Wharton’s campus as part of Authors@Wharton. Photo credit: Tommy Leonardi.

Daniel Pink has made a living from contradicting conventional business wisdom using wit, common sense and the latest social science research. Call him an author, a business philosopher or even a leader.

Adam Grant, a associate professor in Wharton’s Management Department, called him “the business world’s most respected public intellectual” during his introduction at the recent Authors@Wharton lecture on Penn’s Philadelphia campus.

During the event sponsored by the Wharton Leadership Program, Pink shared the tidbits and insights from his latest book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

“Why in God’s name would I write a book about sales?” Pink exclaimed to the audience.

Perhaps what makes Pink one of the greatest pop-culture business writers out there is his ability to find a lonely topic. Sales is an engine of capitalism, yet in his research on the topic, Pink found a void in writing about the current research. In his own 20 years of writing, Pink had never covered the topic previously. And he posited that no top American business school actually teaches sales.

This is despite the fact that nearly all of us are doing sales in one way or another during our jobs, according to Pink. One in nine Americans still works in “traditional” sales positions. The rest participate in “non-sales selling” 41 percent of the workday, according to a survey Pink did of 7,000 respondents who represented a sample of the U.S. workforce.

“Like it or not, we’re all in sales now,” Pink said.

What’s more, the dynamics of sales have changed. No longer are buyers disadvantaged in terms of access to information and alternatives about products and services. Buyers might actually be better informed than the salesperson now. It has become a “seller beware” world in which the glad-handing, hard-pressing, old-fashioned sales style of Glengarry Glen Ross are out of date.

Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink

With this reality in mind, Pink set out in his lecture—and of course in greater detail in his book—to explain how we should all adjust and thrive in this new reality.

Part of it is learning the new art of the pitch. For instance, said Pink, the elevator speech is so 20th century. Nowadays, the one-word pitch sells.

Part is valuing new skills in the workplace. Corporate employers are increasingly looking for problem-finders, not problem-solvers.

And a big part of accepting the new sales paradigm will be letting go of old stereotypes. Pink pointed to soon-to-be published research from Wharton’s Grant that extroverts do not make the best salespeople. Instead, ambiverts do—people who represent a blend of introversion and extroversion and can adapt to any situation.

The hardest stereotype to disown could be our general view of sales and salespeople. In another survey for his book, Pink asked people the one word that came to mind when they thought of “sales.” Out of the top 25 adjectives, 20 were negative—words like “pushy,” “sleazy” and “dishonest.”

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