In today’s digitally driven world, it’s the seller — not the buyer — who should beware, according to best-selling business writer Daniel Pink.
“I realized in 20 years of writing about business, I hadn’t written anything explicitly about sales,” Pink said. “I started looking into the topic and realized that it was actually an unbelievably fascinating topic and one that … wasn’t taken very seriously.”
Pink, whose work has sold millions of copies worldwide, was the featured speaker Wednesday at the Virginia Festival of the Book’s Leadership Breakfast. Attendees gathered at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel to kick off the 20th annual five-day-long celebration of all things literary.
“Here we are this grim, cold rainy morning. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. We’re in a windowless room. Let’s talk about sales,” Pink quipped, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
Unfortunately, Pink said, in that humor there is also truth. While conducting recent book-related research, he found that when asked to describe sales in one word, most people stated something negative.
Pink urged people to rethink that sentiment, because even if no money is changing hands, “a lot of what we do on the job, whether we like it or not, is selling. We’re trying to persuade, influence, convince [and] cajole.”
In Pink’s most recent book, “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,” the author says that quite a few people in America — one in nine — work in sales. And despite predictions to the contrary, the number of people in the industry has held steady over the past 15 years.
“We’ve gone from this world where buyers had not much information, not many choices and no way to talk back, to a world where they’ve got lots of information , lots of choices and all kinds of ways to talk back. That’s a fundamentally different world,” Pink said.
When it comes to selling, “We can all learn to do it better and be more effective in whatever our capacity is,” said Sean Carr, executive director of the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. “Selling a product or service is part of what innovation is all about. If you want to create something new, you need to get other people on board.”
Katie Huang, visiting Charlottesville and America for the first time from Quanzhou, China, said she was taking away just as much from the culture at the festival as she was from the featured books and authors.
“I’ve learned how Americans do these kinds of cultural events and I’m also participating as a [festival] volunteer,” said Huang, who directs cultural events at a Quanzhou museum.
Festival Director Nancy Damon said Pink’s appearance Wednesday was an opportunity to reflect and look ahead at a quickly evolving industry and culture.
“When I started 20 years ago, there were just books,” Damon said. “And now you can get online books, you can get print on demand books — there are lots of different ways to get books.”