Let the Seller Beware
Best-selling author Daniel Pink will address the 2016 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference during the ED (Filene) Talk Feb. 21, sponsored by the CUNA Councils.

Let the Seller Beware

Why buyers now have the upper hand over sellers, and what this means for CUs.

January 25, 2016

The sales landscape is experiencing a seismic shift, and credit unions are ideally suited to navigate this new terrain.

Traditionally, salespeople had a huge information advantage over buyers and, therefore, the upper hand. Thus the adage, “Let the buyer beware.”

But this has changed due to a shift in the “information asymmetry” that defines the sales relationship, says Daniel Pink, author of “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” and other best-selling business books.

“In just about every market for everything, we’re in a world approaching information parity,” he says. “Add to that the huge number of choices buyers have, along with their power to talk back, and we’re now in a world of ‘seller beware.’ Now, it’s the sellers who are on notice. It’s harder to take the low road, which means sellers are forced to the high road—and that requires some fundamentally human capabilities.”

That, he says, is where credit unions’ focus on people and service will provide a competitive advantage.

Pink, who will address the 2016 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., shared insights on this new era of sales with Credit Union Magazine.

CU Magazine: Why did you tackle sales in your latest book?

Pink: For several reasons. First, I had a hunch that much of what white-collar workers do every day is a form of sales.

They might not be selling a product or a service explicitly, but I had a sense that they were spending an enormous amount of time on the job persuading, influencing, convincing, cajoling—that is, selling in a broader sense.

Second, having spent nearly two decades writing about business, I discovered that most great salespeople were nothing like the stereotype. They had sharp minds and a wide repertoire of skills.

Third, I felt that in the broader coverage, sales wasn’t taken seriously enough. So, in a sense, I tried to write a book about sales for people who might never read a book about sales.

CU Magazine: What’s the significance of the title?

Pink: Most of what we know about sales—whether we’re selling a product, a service, an idea, whatever—comes from a world of information asymmetry, where the seller has a lot more information than the buyer.

When the seller has a huge information advantage, the seller can rip you off. That’s why we have the principle of “let the buyer beware.”

But in the past 10 years, the information asymmetry that defined the sales relationship has shifted. In just about every market for everything, we’re in a world approaching information parity.

Sellers can’t simply be accessors of information. Everybody has access to information. Today, sellers must be curators of information. They have to use their expertise to make sense of the welter of information around them.

At the same time, sellers can’t just be problem-solvers. If the buyer knows exactly what the problem is, the buyer doesn’t need any help. He or she can find the solution on his or her own.

So what matters more than the skill of solving problems is the skill of finding problems: surfacing latent problems, discovering hidden problems, and identifying problems that lurk around the corner.

CU Magazine: What are the new ‘ABCs of selling’ and what does this mean for businesses today?

Pink: The question I asked is essentially this: “What does it take to be effective as a seller in a world where sellers no longer have an edge?”

There are almost no scholars out there asking that question directly. But over the last 20 years, legions of social scientists—economists, behavioral economists, social psychologists, linguists, cognitive scientists—have examined pieces of the problem.

How do people make decisions? How do people frame choices? How do small changes in wording produce big changes in behavior? Are people persuaded more by lots of facts or only a few?

If you go wide enough and deep enough into this body of research, it turns out there are three key personal qualities that seem to matter most in selling your idea, your product, your service, and yourself on the remade landscape of “seller beware.”

As luck would have it, they begin with ABC. They are:

  • Attunement. Can you get out of your own head and see things from someone else’s perspective?
  • Buoyancy. Can you stay afloat in an ocean of rejection?
  • Clarity. Can you go from accessing information to making sense of information? Can you be not just a problem-solver, but also a problem-finder?

Next: What's does it take to be good at sales now?

CU Magazine: What does it take to be good at sales now?

Pink: Much of it goes back to the ABCs. But there are many elements.

They include:

  • Understanding someone else’s perspective and using that to find common ground;
  • Being ultra-clear and separating the signal from the noise in a world awash information
  • Developing the ability to be resilient in the face of rejection;
  • Pitching effectively—and knowing the purpose of a pitch in the first place;
  • Not believing the myth that strong extroverts make the best salespeople and instead striking a balance between introversion and extroversion;
  • Being able to improvise rather than merely recite a script; and
  • Developing an ethic of serving others.

CU Magazine: What effect has technology had on the sales function?

Pink: The main effect has to do with information. The Internet, search engines, smartphones, social media, and the like have created a world in which it’s tough for anyone to maintain an information advantage.

Take car sales. It used to be that the dealer had all the information. Now people walk into the dealership often knowing more about a particular make and model than the salesperson—and armed with data on what every dealer in the area is asking for its cars.

CU Magazine: ‘Sales” sometimes has a negative connotation among CUs, which are known for their service. What would you tell a CU leader who has a negative opinion of sales?

Pink: That negative opinion is largely a consequence of what it feels like to be a buyer in a world of information asymmetry. But that world is disappearing.

So sales today is actually deeply—very deeply—about service. I mean not only customer service, but service is a broader sense.

The move to a greater service ethic, along with being largely insulated from the sort of short-term pressures that haunt public corporations, gives credit unions an edge.

CU Magazine: What message will you bring to credit unions during the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference?

Pink: I’ll talk about how the landscape of sales, persuasion, and influence has changed dramatically in only a decade.

I’ll also look at some interesting social science that can help us be more effective on this remade terrain. I’ll offer tools, tips, and takeaways.

In the end, credit union leaders will see that their organizations are quite well-positioned for this new world and that what they must do to flourish are within their grasp.

Click here for more information about the 2016 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference