The Art of Finding New Problems to Solve

Move over Willy Loman. Selling today is about servicing latent and hidden problems, an ability that research shows is common among artists. 

Salespeople have tended to get a bad rap in popular culture - from Willy Loman's life quest to be "well liked" in Death of a Salesman to Harold Hill hoodwinking people from town to town in The Music Man to Alec Baldwin's shark-like character Blake in David Mamet's’ Glengarry Glen Ross.

Selling is portrayed as predatory, one of the least trustworthy of human endeavors.

However, the business of selling has been given a 21st century makeover, as selling has become something that we all do in our personal and professional lives. Indeed, social psychology has broadened the definition of selling to mean not just pushing a certain product but also selling an idea, pitching your boss on something, or even asking someone out on a date. That is why sales is a skill that we all must master in order to be successful today. 

What's the Big Idea?

In his new book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving OthersDaniel Pink says we have moved from a world of "information asymmetry to information parity." It used to be that sellers had a lot more information than buyers and buyers didn't have many options. Pink says today the scales have shifted considerably. It's no longer "buyer beware." In many cases buyers have just as much information as sellers, and they also have many more choices. 

Pink says that car salesmen are the perfect example of this. You can walk onto a lot today armed with information about what every dealer in your area is charging for the same car. 

Since there is no information advantage, Pink says that the predatory salesperson is now a relic. The traditional extrovert that we think of us the penultimate salesperson actually talks too much and listens too little. They push too hard. Sales isn't just about getting people to sign on the dotted line. Effective salespeople need to be persuasive and extremely clear in how they present choices and diagnose problems. They need to be buoyant when met with rejection. Above all, they need to be creative. If sales used to be about problem-solving, now it is about problem-finding, Pink says. 

What does that mean? Pink tells Jeff Schechtman in this week's Specific Gravity interview that salespeople today need to be able to service latent and hidden problems, an ability that research shows is common among artists. 

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