The new ABC of sales

May 16, 2017

What if everything you thought you knew about sales was wrong? What would you say? How would you react? Would you believe that although one in ten of us today are employed directly in sales jobs, in truth; we are all in sales?  Research has uncovered that ‘people spend about 40% of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.’ This translates to about ‘roughly 24 minutes [of] every hour moving others’.

Sales isn’t what it used to be. The old days were all about information asymmetry, the seller always had more information than the buyer. Today information is everywhere, and the world had moved from caveat emptor (buyer beware) to caveat venditor (seller beware). It’s cutting edge social science, and some of the world’s most innovative organisations that have provided the road map for everyone to be better at moving others.


Sales Debunked

Have you ever heard it said, that ‘some people don’t have sales skills whilst others do? Or that extraverts are natural salespeople? Recent research knocks these commonly held myths out of the water by claiming that no one is a ‘natural’ sales person, and that in fact, wait for it, we are all ‘salespeople’. That is possible because, according to the research, the best people at moving others are ambiverts, the people who lie in between extraversion and introversion.

Let’s look at the research. The misconception that extraverts are the best sales people has very little if any evidence to substantiate the claim. The evidence is clear: the supposed correlation between extraversion and sales success is essentially non-existent.

Social psychologists Adam Grant’s research further proves the meta-study’s validity. His research focusses on why extraversion ‘as a trait, so widely associated with sales, [doesn’t in fact] have much connection to success’. He discovered that those who did best in sales are people who are ‘neither extroverted nor wildly introverted’ ambiverts, a group of people somewhere in the middle. Grant describes these people as having a ‘Goldilocks personality – not too hot and not too cold’ and his findings exemplify that sales performance is often in fact impaired by extroversion. Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review further back up his claims. The good news that comes out of this is research is that most people are ambiverts, which in turn means, that most of us are naturally geared to be good at sales.


The New ABC of Sales

The old ABC of sales, ‘Always Be Closing’, that has been according to researcher Daniel Pink, ‘the cornerstone of the sales cathedral’ is no longer effective. The goal posts have shifted. Sales today has changed. If we still lived in a world of information asymmetry, ‘Always Be Closing’ would be sensible advice; the problem is that it’s not. Sales today is about mastering three essential qualities, attunement, buoyancy and clarity, and getting better at three key abilities; pitching, improvising, and serving.



Attunement is the ability to step into the shoes of others and see their perspective. Being able to attune yourself to how another person is thinking, helps you move them in the direction of ‘yes’.

Adam Gilinsky’s research on the relationship between perspective-taking and power is one example of how individuals can attune themselves with others. The results of his experiments demonstrate that ‘those who receive even a small injection of power become less likely to attune themselves to someone else’s point of view’. How can you apply this every day? One way of attuning yourself to someone else is to increase your power by reducing it.

Research by Dacher Keltner at University of California Berkley, shows that those with lower status are keener perspective-takers. He cites jujitsu as an example of this. In jujitsu, an apparent weakness is actually a strength, because being able to see the perspective of others, will help you move them, quite literally in this case.



The ability to stay afloat amid rejection is the second key skill.  One way is to practice interrogative self-talk. Research into the power of interrogative self-talk shows that this technique can be a way of helping people deal with rejection. Academics from the University of Illinois and the University of Mississippi confirm that this approach elicits answers to the questions a person is asking themselves, and that the answers that they provide produce new and often more effective strategies for actually carrying out the task.



The ‘capacity to help others see their situation in fresh and more revealing ways, and to identify problems they didn’t realize they had’ is what clarity is all about. If exceptional sales people are problem solvers, the ability to find the right problem to solve, is a sure-fire way to move people.

Ralph Chauvin, vice president of sales at Perfetti Van Melle, believes that ‘his best sales people think of their jobs not so much as selling candy but selling insights about the confectionary business.’ That means the best sales people are not those who have the ability to close, but who offer an immediate solution to a customer or retailers problems.

The ability to brainstorm and create new opportunities and experiences for them is more valuable than just being able to move their product out the door.  Identifying problems as a way to move others means that instead of accessing information, you must be skilled at curating it, and instead of answering questions you need to be good at asking them.


Back in the Office

What does this all mean for you? It means that everyone in your organisation – whether they like it or not – is a key part of your sales effort, and therefore should start looking at sales with fresh eyes. The ability to move people is something that we all can do, and understanding the best way to do it, will make our everyday interactions more rewarding.  Practice attunement, buoyancy, and clarity with your entire team – not just customer facing – and wait for the impact on the bottom line.  Results this good are surprisingly; easy as ABC, in fact.

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