Friday, March 1, 2013

Winter Institute Speakers--Daniel H. Pink on Selling, and a Sneak Peek at the New Malcolm Gladwell Book, Coming This Fall.

Was it Malcolm Gladwell who changed the way we think about business books, or did he simply popularize the concept? In the old days, there were self help books with inspirational stories, and practical tomes on organization and marketing and hiring and sales. Gladwell took those very case studies, as well as research in various fields of social science, and made them inspirational. Put them together and we have a success manual, right?

Though Gladwell had already become well known for his New Yorker* pieces, The Tipping Point was his first book. It was a look at how ideas went viral, and as a bookseller, I of course was drawn to the story of how Mary Gay Shipley of That Bookstore of Blytheville (which was just sold, by the way) was one of the forces behind breaking out The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells. Gladwell looked at the three kinds of folks who were influential in breaking out an idea. I read the book ,but it was a long time ago, and so I’m linking to the book’s information page to catch you up.

Several years later, Made to Stick came out by Chip and Dan Heath, which investigated the stickiness of ideas further. I never read it (shame on me) but I know that the folks at our sister company, 800-CEO-READ were crazy about it and it won their business book of the year. I used that and some reviews to hand sell Made to Stick to folks who like the newfangled business narratives.

And then there is Daniel Pink, whose books A Whole New Mind and Drive focused on left brain/right brain differences and motivation, respectively. He likes to look at how our changing economy and workplace mean that we have to address things that worked in the past but no longer do. 

So you can imagine how excited we were to find out that Daniel Pink and Malcolm Gladwell were both giving talks at the Winter Institute about their new releases--Pink's has just come out and Gladwell's is due later this spring.

The ABA asked me to facilitate a breakout session after Daniel Pink's talk, so after an informational conference call that I took in Washington DC, I ran across the street and bought a copy of To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others at Politics and Prose and dug in. It turns out that I didn't really need to read the book beforehand, but I'm glad I did.

Pink's point is that the traditional rules of selling are different, and that pushy, manipulative stereotype we have of salespeople is not necessarily outdated, but can be avoided enough to be ineffective. I love that Pink interviewed Joe Girard, author of How to Sell Anything to Anyone for the book; I wasn't exactly Mr. Girard's publicist, but I used to field calls for him when I worked at Warner Books. I did, however, book a tour for Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master the Art of Selling, which was another old-school selling manual. I'd say more about that, but I read the book thirty years ago. Sigh.

Pink's game changers:
1. We're all in sales now
2. Entrepreneurship, Elasticity, and  Ed-Med
3. From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor

So you've got many more jobs in the art of persuasion (including a much-higher percentage of jobs that involve persuasion at least part time) and a buyer who is much more knowledgeable about the sales transaction. It's the lack of information that allowed the salesperson to be deemed worth of snake oil.

To Sell is Human also characterized three attributes of the modern salesperson--attunement, buoyancy, and clarity--and three techniques for sales success--pitch (that's sales pitch), improvise (like improv), and service (as in servant selling, not tennis). Some of the most inspiration stories came from an old-time salesperson with a modern-type of sales relationship, Norman Hall, one of the last Fuller Brush salespeople, who works the offices of downtown San Francisco.

It's a book full of good advice for anyone in persuasion, particularly a bookseller, and I had a good amount of take aways from it. But perhaps the best part of the talk is that Pink really targeted the talk to his audience. How can we take advantage of the new selling?  One advantage that we have is that a lot of us are already ambiverts, that is, folks who fall between introvert and extrovert scale. I am also of the belief that it's easier for introverts to learn to be extroverted than vice versa. It's the introvert in you that allows you to attune to your customer, knowing when to listen. And that's a good thing.

There are some old-school techniques that still work today, however, like positivity. In the new world order, however, it's ok to sometimes go negative, as that keeps you focused and well, humble. As in not pushy.

And for booksellers who are wondering if they don't have to read To Sell is Human because they heard the presentation, I would argue that this is definitely not the case. There's a lot of great material here about learning from acting techniques, and I'm a huge believer in servant selling. My two mantras: 1) Most of our (and probably your) customers could go elsewhere for what they wanted, but they chose to shop wth us and we have to appreciate that. 2) You're only as good as your worst bookseller (substitute your field) at his or her worst moment.

I thought Daniel Pink might be a hard act to follow, but we're talking about Malcolm Gladwell here. His new book, David and Goliath: The Triumph of the Underdog, is coming out this fall, and after his presentation, I think every bookseller was chomping at the bit to read the book, but Gladwell noted that he'd only just sent in his first draft to Little, Brown. It's really too early to blog about the presentation--I'm saving my notes for this fall. However, if you want to let us know when the book comes in, we'd be happy to sell it to you.

I will say that his point is another variation of the bell curve that Pink talked about when looking at sales success against extraversion. Gladwell looks at how additional resources not only offer diminishing returns, sometimes they can make a situation worse. And then he talks about how smaller players can compete effectively against big players. And he finally explains the David and Goliath myth so that it makes sense. To Gladwell's thinking, there's no way Goliath could have won, and any military historian will vouch for that.

Jason said that the two talks were alone worth the trip to Winter Institute, even with all the snow. So thank you to Daniel Pink and Malcolm Gladwell for appearing at the show. And since Daniel Pink believes in the power of repetition, may I repeat, "Thank you."

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