The new persuasion: no-sales selling, and why moving beats manipulation

Whatever our role in business, we sell. It may not be part of our job title, but we sell. We may not – in the short term – get paid for it, but we sell. We may not even think of it in those terms, but still… we sell. Every day we persuade others to part with resources: money, effort, attention or time. If we do not sell a product we instead sell our ideas, our skills and our attitudes.

In a seminal study that inspired a new best-selling book, academic Daniel H. Pink discovered that although only 1 in 9 Americans are working in traditional sales roles, the vast majority of Americans – almost the remaining 8 of 9 – identified themselves as selling in a broader sense: persuading, influencing and convincing others. Some were devoting upwards of 40% of their working day to moving and influencing others, and considered that time critical to their professional success. When the single proviso of financial remuneration is removed, the other key concepts of selling are used by almost every modern professional.

The no-sale seller

Daniel Pink labelled this ‘no-sales selling’, and the presence of a natural sales drive in all of us became the subject of his best-selling book, To Sell Is Human. In it Pink studies both the inherent sales attitudes and abilities we all possess, and the manner in which sales has changed in the 21st century. Here his book reaffirms what many other authors, statisticians and businesspeople have already realised: that the outdated ‘low road’ to sales – relying on asymmetric information, persuasion and sometimes outright manipulation – is being naturally replaced with a new orthodoxy that relies on transparency, honesty and the sharing of information. Caveat emptor (buyer beware) has been replaced by caveat venditor (seller beware): it is the seller’s responsibility to be candid and sincere, or risk jeopardising the sale.

There is a natural tendency to classify ‘no-sales’ selling as something different from ‘traditional’ selling. But keeping these two ideas distinct is counterproductive; there is much that users of each method can learn from the other.

Inspirational Selling – whatever your role, you sale.

Daniel H. Pink’s work provided the genesis for a new Inspire training. First, we supplemented the original material with the latest socio-economic and psychological studies, drawing on a wide pool of research to better understand the phenomenon. We then used our own decades of business experience to apply the theory, creating robust and applicable real-world solutions. We realised that no-sales selling is largely intuitive, and therefore easy to learn and recall, but because it was so intuitive people were not treating it as an improvable skill, denying them the best results. We knew we could create a learning programme that would lead to tangible – and, crucially – sustainable improvements.

Inspire’s programme teaches people to recognise the inclusiveness of selling, empowering managers, sales professionals, account managers, and anyone who gets their results through people to connect with their customers, creating an environment where everyone is either selling or helping to sell. Focusing on the mirrored areas of selling and non-sales selling, we teach each group how to benefit from the skills of the other. We concentrate on making selling personal, purposeful, and enjoyable.

For non-sales staff we identify the natural instinct towards moving people, and the skills that they may already be deploying without knowing it. We then show how an understanding of the key element of sales – influence – can transform their daily interactions. For sellers we begin by identifying the ‘soft’ skills that non-sales sellers use every day, and why they’re so effective at creating and maintaining influence. These natural selling attitudes function as a prism with which to focus their own sales efforts.

21st Century Human Persuasion

In each case the programme teaches a new ABC of sales:

Attunement: bringing oneself into proximity and harmony with individuals, groups and contexts. We teach how to begin and maintain useful dialogues, finding the balance between inspecting and responding at attuning yourself to the person you’re talking to. We explore the fundamental skill of attunement: mimicry, the ability to understand and replicate the attitudes and style of someone else.

Buoyancy: when seeking to move others we must be tenacious and upbeat. We teach the right attitude for sales; how to remain buoyant throughout the sales process, even when dealing with rejection.

Clarity: identifying what is needed in a complex situation is a key component of sales. In the digital age, buyers are more informed and technically aware than ever before. It is not nearly enough to provide solutions to problems – buyers no longer need to wait for salespeople to do things for them. Instead, sellers must uncover challenges – and the subsequent solutions.

Once these key concepts are instilled, we use experiential learning – case studies, role play, and practical follow-ups – to teach improvisation, confidence and fluidity.