Cha Ching! Are PR Professionals Natural Born Sellers?

As a PR professional, my goal isn’t securing media coverage or social shares per se; it’s persuading end-audiences to embrace new ideas and behaviors. So, I was intrigued by Daniel Pink’s new book, To Sell is Human:  the Surprising Truth about Motivating Others. Pink notes that there are 15 million traditional sales professionals in the US today. The rest of us spend 24 minutes of every hour on “non-sales selling”—i.e., persuading, influencing and convincing others to part with valuable resources such as attention, endorsement, effort, time, information, shelf-space and/or cash. “We’re all in sales now,” he writes.

As sellers (both traditional and non-sales sellers), we face new opportunities and challenges. Thanks to the sheer number of data feeds at our disposal, customers are more educated and demanding than ever before. Sellers no longer have an information advantage. We must “inspire” end-audiences to take action.

With this in mind, Pink redefines sales as a two-way conversation. “When people summon their own resources for believing something, they endorse it more,” he notes. Against this backdrop, Pink offers the following sales tips—most of which are familiar territory for communications professionals.

  1. Listen and Observe. Pay attention to the audience you’re trying to reach.
  2. Understand Their Perspective. Try to interpret the way your audience thinks. Empathy (which invites us into the customer’s heart) is important yet research suggests that perspective-taking (which invites us into their head) has even greater motivational pull.
  3. Find Common Ground. Similarities (deep or superficial) can help you attune yourself to others, and they to you.
  4. Ask Perceptive Questions. In the past, great salespeople were skilled at answering questions (in part because they had information that their customers lacked). Today, sellers must be good at asking questions—i.e., uncovering possibilities, pinpointing emerging trends and finding unexpected problems to solve.
  5. Ask Yourself Questions Too. Positive self-talk can be motivating – and, according to Pink, questions are the most helpful form of self-banter. “Can I do it?” “Will I succeed?”  Interrogative self-talk boosts performance for two reasons. First, questions prompt answers and invite us to think through solutions. Second, questions get us involved (and invested) in results.
  6. Stay Appropriately Positive. To motivate others, try to keep a productive balance of positive and negative emotions. The goal here is to remain buoyant (i.e., resilient) yet grounded (i.e., realistic). According to social scientists, the best way to do this is to maintain a positivity ratio of three-to-one—three positive thoughts for every one negative thought. Discover your current “positivity ratio” by visiting Barbara Fredrickson’s website:
  7. Find the right problem(s) to solve. Pink privileges problem-finding over problem-solving.  Problem-finders ask targeted questions and examine their assumptions to make sure they’re solving the right issue(s). By helping customers think through goals, problem-finders become unbiased business partners.
  8. Find the “Essence.”  Don’t get lost in the crabgrass of detail. Instead, think about the core meaning you’re trying to convey. When you boil your message down to a persuasive core, you’re more likely to inspire others.

In keeping with Pink’s earlier books (e.g., Drive and A Whole New Mind), To Sell is Human prioritizes right brain skills such as listening, attunement, storytelling and clear communication over left-brain skills such as targeting and analysis. He paints a picture of sales that most communicators will see as squarely in our wheel house.

Do you think PR professionals are natural born sellers?

Photo courtesy of the U.S. FDA on Flickr

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