The Universal Nature of Sales, with Dan Pink

Bestselling author Daniel H. Pink explains that just because fewer people occupy job positions called "salesperson" doesn't mean members of the workforce are doing any less selling.

New York Times bestselling author Daniel H. Pink references Arthur Miller's seminal 1949 play Death of a Salesman at the outset of the following clip from his recent Big Think interview. Pink calls it a great play though says the title isn't as prophetic as most people think. Check out the video below to hear Pink's thoughts on the sales pitches we make outside of peddling products: 


Pink quickly hits on a key statistic from his 2013 book To Sell is HumanAlthough only one in nine members of the U.S. workforce are technically "salespeople," the other eight of nine are just as focused on the act of selling:

"They’re spending an enormous amount of their time selling in a broader sense. They’re persuading, influencing, convincing, cajoling. We have data showing that people are spending on average about 40 percent of their time on the job in this thing that I call somewhat clumsily non-sales selling."

Pink defines non-sales selling as a negotiation over time, effort, attention, and energy. He explains how most of the U.S. workforce spends up to 40% of its time engaged in these types of interactions. For example: Maybe an employee is trying to convince a manager to adopt her point of view. That's selling, says Pink. Or a boss is trying to motivate workers to try something different and new. That's selling too. The advent of technology and the internet may have cut the amount of people who call themselves salespeople but it certainly hasn't changed things to such a degree that the art of persuasion is no longer vital to doing business.

That's why it's interesting, from a purely dramaturgical perspective, that Pink alludes to Death of a Salesman. The plays' title not only refers to the fall of the Willy Loman character but also to the shifting cultural tides that render Willy's abilities and way of life obsolete. Yet perhaps most vital in studying the work is that Willy's downfall stems not from a failure to sell his wares but from his inability to sell himself as an honorable man. The dead salesman is not one of Pink's one in nine; it's one of the other eight who has lost his ability to sell beyond the sales structure. In this way, Arthur Miller would probably agree with Pink's assertion that sales is universal.

What's your take on Pink's argument here. How does the sales mentality affect everyday non-sales negotiations? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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