Dan Pink: Like It or Not, You're Probably a Salesperson

Fewer people today call themselves "salespeople" than in years past. According to author Dan Pink, that doesn't mean the rest of us are selling any less. We're just not peddling products.

Dan Pink:  The Death of a Salesman might be a great play but it’s far from the truth about what’s happening in the workforce today.  If you look at the U.S. economy you have about one in nine people in the U.S. workforce are in sales sales.  That is their job is to sell stuff.  They’re selling wholesale seafood or consulting services or motorcycles.  But if you look at those other eight and nine, eight and nine people in the workforce they don’t have sales in their job title.  They don’t have sales on their business card.  But 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.  You’re selling but the cash register’s not ringing.  You’re selling but money’s not changing hands.  You’re selling but the denomination isn’t dollars, it’s time, effort, attention and energy. That’s a big amount of time and one of the conclusions that you get from looking at both the labor market data and some interesting ways that people describe their own work is that today, like it or not, we’re all in sales.

First of all there are a couple of interesting things here.  One of them I already noted which is that people are spending on average as I said about 40 percent of their time on the job persuading, influencing, convincing, cajoling.  What’s interesting is that if you look at actual sales sales in the United States it’s about one out of nine.  But the labor markets around the world seem all to converge around this number.  In Japan it’s about one in eight.  In the UK it’s about one in ten. In the EU it’s about 13 percent.  So despite having this incredible communications and information firepower at our fingertips it seems like the economies of the world still need a certain portion of people simply to sell stuff.  And this idea that salespeople would be rendered obsolete, that the Internet would create the death of a salesman just hasn’t happened.

We did a really interesting survey of about 7,000 adult full-time workers where they said they’re spending enormous amounts of time on the job in this thing called non-sales selling.  Now what is that?  That means that they are an individual who’s trying to get their boss to free up resources for a project.  They’re selling.  You’re a boss trying to get employees to do something different or do something in a different way.  You’re selling.  You come to a meeting and pitch an idea.  You’re selling.  And it’s a big part of how we spend our time.  What’s also interesting is we ask people to talk about how important that aspect of their work was to their overall effectiveness.  And what was very interesting about that is that people rated the importance of it – of that task, of non-sales selling very, very high.  Indeed in excess of the amount of time they were doing it.  So what we got from people was saying yeah, this is a big part about what I do but in order to be effective on the  job I actually have to do it a little bit more.



Only one out of nine members of the U.S. workforce are in sales. This is a fairly constant percentage around the world. But if you look at the other eight of nine people you find that most of them perform sales-like roles in some capacity while on the job, whether it's persuading a boss to adopt a certain position or convincing a co-worker to join on to your project. We as members of society spend a larger chunk of our time selling than we realize.

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