This post is based on an interview with Daniel Pink. If you’d like to listen to the full episode, you can check it out below..
I’m guessing one or two of you have heard of a guy named Daniel Pink.
He’s the author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others and When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
We were incredibly lucky to have him on the FlipMyFunnel Podcast to share some amazing insights about how we are “selling” something every day in our jobs, how the explosion of information in the world has radically changed the job of the salesperson today, and how there’s real science to prove you’re not crazy for feeling drained during different parts of the day.
We’ve condensed the main points from his interview below.
Here’s What We’re Covering Today:
- Everybody is selling all the time
- The part of To Sell Is Human that doesn’t get talked about enough
- To Sell Is Human in a B2B context
- How to structure your workday based on scientific insights
- A challenge from Daniel Pink
Everybody Is Selling All the Time
Daniel always had a hunch that job descriptions bore very little resemblance to what people actually did on the job. In To Sell Is Human, he shared proof that his hunch was right.
Based on surveys, he found that people spend an enormous amount of time on the job trying to get someone to give up something else for something they can offer. It could be “Join my team,” a boss motivating employees to do something differently, or an employee trying to get their boss to stop doing something.
A huge portion of what people are doing throughout the day is kind of like selling. The cash register isn’t ringing, you’re not cold calling another company, but the tasks are very similar.
“We’re all just selling, persuading, cajoling all the time,” Daniel said.
The Part of the Book That Hasn’t Gotten the Attention It Deserves
One reason marketers sometimes blanch at sales—and why every MBA program teaches marketing, but not all teach sales—is because we have this view of sales as pushy, duplicitous, and sleazy. It’s about being slick, not smart.
But that ends up being a foolish notion for this reason:
Almost everything we know about sales has come from a world of information “asymmetry,” where the seller had more information than the buyer.
When the seller has more information than the buyer, the seller can rip you off.
Information asymmetry is what led to “buyer beware.” But in the last 10 or so years, information asymmetry has been rapidly disappearing. That’s a huge deal.
Think of the quintessential sales transaction: buying a car. Twenty years ago, the salesperson knew a lot more about Toyotas than you ever could. Now, you can go into a dealership with the factory invoice price of every car on that lot. You can know what every dealer in the state is charging for a given make and model.
The same goes for a potential employee who can check Glassdoor to check on how you actually treat your employees.
It’s a very different world.
How Information Has Changed B2B Sales
Think about the sales cycle on a scale 0 to 100, with 0 being a prospect with no knowledge of a product or service and 100 being the completion of a sale.
Twenty-five years ago, the prospect would arrive at stage 3 or 4 out of 100. Now, she can come in with huge amounts of information and enter the timeline at 75.
And you have prospects coming in far, far later in the sales cycle, it changes the notion of what expertise actually is.
For a long time, expertise was having access to information that nobody else had. Now, everybody has access to that information. In B2B today, expertise doesn’t come from having access to information. Expertise comes from being able to make sense of a welter of information, to curate the information available.
This changes the central skill in B2B sales.
Many people in sales will tell you, “I’m not really in sales: I’m a problem solver.” That’s fine, it’s just less important now.
If you’re in B2B sales, and your customer or prospect knows exactly what their problem is, they don’t need you. All they need you for is one thing: to be one of two, three, or four bidders to drive down the price. So you’re more valuable to people who don’t know their problem.
The skill has shifted from the skill of problem solving, which is commoditized, to the skill of problem finding. Can you identify hidden needs? Can you see around corners?
B2B sales today is a form of management consulting.
How to Structure Your Workday Based on Scientific Insights
The main idea of Daniel’s book When is that we make most of our decisions based on intuition and guesswork, and that’s a mistake. We should do it based on evidence.
There’s a rich body of scientific evidence that gives us guidance about how to make systematically better, smarter, and shrewder decisions.
There are three big ideas the book presents about units of the day:
- Our brain power does not remain static over the course of the day.
- These changes can be dramatic.
- The best time to do something depends on what it is you’re doing.
Unfortunately, the way we do things in a given day at the office is often with the expectation that cognitive ability is a straight line. It’s not. The fact that your energy and brain power fluctuate throughout the day isn’t a sign of weakness: it’s science.
Some people naturally wake up early and go to sleep early or wake and sleep late. Most of us (around 80%) are in the middle, though.
People who are not natural night owls move through the day in three stages:
We peak early in the day, experience the trough in the middle, and recover later.
During the peak, which for most of us is in the morning, we’re most vigilant and least distracted. It’s the best time for what social psychologists call “analytic work.” That is, work that requires heads-down focus: writing, analyzing data, etc.
If you’re checking your email first thing in the morning every day, you’re probably wasting your precious energy.
During the trough period, which usually comes in early to mid-afternoon, you should be doing your least important work. The trough occurs in almost every domain: kids taking tests in the afternoon versus the morning do not test as well. Anesthesia errors are four times as likely in the afternoon. There is even some alarming data around how judges and juries are less deliberate and more likely to revert to racial stereotypes during afternoon periods.
We all have things we can do that are less important. Those things should be done during the trough—if possible.
The recovery period happens during the late afternoon to early evening. During this period, our mood is elevated but our vigilance is not. However, that combination can be useful for a lot of different tasks.
High mood and low vigilance means you are mentally looser. So this is a good time for tasks such as:
- Iterating new ideas
- Coming up with non-obvious solutions
So, to recap, you should
- Do analytic work during your peak.
- Do administrative work during your trough.
- Do insight work during your recovery.
A Challenge From Daniel Pink
We asked Daniel Pink to share a challenge with our listeners. Here’s what he came up with:
Write down your MIT (Most Important Task) each day. Then do it before you do anything else.
It’s such a simple change that can completely transform every workday.