Reviewed in India on 19 June 2016
At every stage in our lives and practically almost every day, we are constantly selling to others – it may be idea, beliefs, but most of the time, stories. Dan has taken this simple fact and tried to convert into a wholesome handbook on how to improve selling capabilities. I had read his earlier book – “A Whole New Mind” – and was highly impressed. So, I went into this book also with some great expectations.
The world of selling has changed with the asymmetry in information being removed. As Dan summarises , it has changed from ‘caveat emptor’ [buyers beware] to ‘caveat venditor’ [seller beware] . Well, that we knew very well from our daily experience both as consumers and marketers. Today, the biggest challenge for major electronic retail outlets (in India ) is the consumer looking at the price tag and immediately going online (while standing in the store) to check the prices online !! But, Dan does make an extra point with the example of CarMax that if maybe as an eager provider of information, you may do sell more.
With that backgrounder, Dan moves on to the new ABC’s of moving others – Attunement, Bouyancy, Clarity. Very creative – but the problem is that these are not self explanatory by a long shot. Do, you have to read the book to understand these. And in each of them , he goes ahead to challenge some of the practices or approaches which is sworn to be effective by many practitioners. I will list out a few which did rattle me
Attunement – simply put together, it is about perspective taking. That is quite natural and the basic of most marketing. But, then Dan goes about with some contra ideas on doing this like
Increase you power by reducing it – There is an inverse relationship between power and perspective taking. So, if you start the interactions with the assumption that you are in a position of lower power, you may see the other side’s perspective more accurately
Use your head as much as you use your heart – a very interesting take on having empathy for customers. Dan submits that while pushing too hard is counterproductive (given the current ‘caveat venditor’ environment), but feeling too deeply isn’t necessarily the answer either – because you might submerge your own interest. He quotes research to state that it is more beneficial to get inside their heads than have them inside own heart. Well, to a large extent, that is what exactly insighting is all about and one may read more about it in the recent book “Small Data” by Martin Lindstrom.
Mimic strategically – Well, this is where I had some difficulty in going along with Dan. Personal feelings apart, Dan makes a point ( based on behavioural studies) that mimicking the mannerisms of your negotiating partner can help to get a better deal. The trick is to keep it so subtle that the other person does not notice it or worse takes offence. Yes, this is trick which is used very commonly for ice breaking, but I personally find it difficult to take it beyond a point. And am not sure whether one will end up losing an identity in doing so. Well, as I said, these are my personal thoughts.
Thereafter, Dan goes ahead to challenge a notion that Extraverts are the best salesmen and brings out the fact that Ambiverts are actually the best. But, this topic has been dealt in depth by Susan Cain in her book “Quiet”, so I did not find anything new to write about.
Buoyancy – It is about staying afloat amids the ocean of rejection one might face in the course of selling. Some of the concepts which Dan proposes here :
Self questioning instead of self affirming – Affirmation has been an acknowledged technique to boost confidence and to maintain a positive frame of mind. However, Dan refers to some behavioural studies (do read about it in the book) to point out that self questioning group are more successful that self affirming groups, as the former put themselves through various interrogations on how they would fail and in the process get better prepared. But, I would still see a danger in a creeping negativity from too much self questioning.
Maintain positivity ratio – So, as if taking a clue from my closing thoughts on the earlier section, Dan brings in the need to maintain positivity as a component for buoyancy. But as against a highly sweetened talk on positivity, he comes with some social research outcomes (well detailed in the book and very interesting) to support that while it is ok to have both positive and negative emotions, people generally flourish when the positive emotions outnumbered the negative emotions by 3:1. Now, what is more interesting is that once the ration hits 11:1, it starts doing more harm than good – it becomes kind of a delusional life (a perpetual high ?)
Explanatory style for negative outcomes – This is all about how you explain the negative outcomes to yourselves. The worst would be to give up and believe that bad events are permanent, pervasive and personal – a pessimistic explanatory style. Bahioural research supports that such a response does not sustain a person for long and they quit faster than other. So, Dan admits that optimism isn’t a hollow sentiment after all. It leads to persistence and also gives confidence.
By now, I am quite much in knots as to what is exactly Dan trying to say if we read all the above. So, he quotes Seligman to forward something called “flexible optimism – optimism with its eyes open”. Doesn’t help me at all .
Clarity – This seems quite self explanatory to me, but given the shocks I received till now, I had a caution approach to this as well. Was quite relieved that here Dan sticks quite to the trodden path. The ability to move others hinges less on problem solving than on problem finding (does the various cases of Apple products sound familiar in this background).
Clarity depends on contrast – I found this to be simple yet brilliant. The case of Reeves and the begging man was an eye opener for sure. So how does one go about comparing and contrasting, especially if the mission is to find problems? Though Dan does propose a few methods, but most of them meander. I would agree that it would take much more of a personal knack (and am going back to Steve Jobs) to get this.
Nonetheless, Dan offers various frames through which one may compare their offerings, contrast with alternatives and clarify its virtues:
The less frame: Giving fewer choices helps in higher sales. This concept has been well detailed by Barry Schwartz in his book “The paradox of choice”
The experience frame: Move from explaining the product features to what the consumer will experience. Rarely does the consumer realise all the features (or even use them, check how many features are there on your TV)
The blemished frame: Do share some blemishes in the product or service (or maybe what the product will not do), once all positives things have been extolled. This may help in clarity
The potential frame: This is more about selling ourselves – emphasise on potential. Potential is more interesting than accomplishment
Dan also suggests to have an off ramp so that people also have the clarity to act, once they have been given the requisite clarity to think
For the end piece, Dan could not help but continue with a discourse on real selling. He outlines various methods of pitching, but I some of them I found it hard - like the one word pitch, rhyming pitch (more attuned for jingles maybe). The question pitch and subject line pitch is quite extensively used. Pecha-kucha is an interesting concept though.
Dan does marries a stage concept of Improv with sales pitch. This will definitely help to enhance the listening capacity while selling. He brings out a good point that for many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening, its waiting. When someone is talking, we typically divide our attention between what they are saying now and what we are going to say next. The rule of making eye contact and waiting for 15 seconds can help tremendously.
Another good concept that Dan forwards is “up serve” rather than “up sell”, give a totally different context and could give similar result.
On the whole, a few interesting concepts, but with some controversial takes and some confusion makes this book a not so easy read, as compared to Dan’s earlier book on Right brain dominance. Dan starts out making this as a book for every one, but towards the end tries to also make it a handbook for sales men. I found this book trying hard to pander to many and thus falling in between many stools.