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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others


NOBODY has ever calculated the percentage of Malaysia's workforce in sales, but it's likely up in the Asia-Pacific Top 10, along with the most Manchester United fans outside of the United Kingdom, smartphone market penetration, and the over-the-last-year Candy Crush addiction.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink deals both with selling goods and services, and the all-important business of selling yourself in one of the most fluid job markets on the planet. And also the selling (also known as pitching) of your ideas to your employee in order to stay ahead of the power curve.

So, like it or not, most of us are in sales, in one way or another.

To Sell Is Human looks at the curious mix of art and science of selling in gratuitous detail and with, in places, wry humour. There are surprises here too, such as Pink's opinion that extroverts don't make the best sales people.

Here you'll also find six successors to the "elevator-pitch", the three rules for understanding another of your potential customer's perspective, the "five frames" by which you can enhance the persuasiveness of your message, and more.

The result is a perceptive and practical work with applications for job hunting, work, and even study.

But before we go any further, who is this Daniel Pink fellow? Just another American business guru-cum-keynote speechmaker? Well, he's a bit more than that. Pink's served at the highest levels of politics and public service, having worked as an aide to US Secretary of Labour Robert Reich, and from 1995 to 1997 was chief speechwriter for former US Vice-President Al Gore.

This is Pink's fifth best-selling book focusing on the "changing workplace" that has appeared on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. The others are: Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko – The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, A Whole New Mind – Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, and Free Agent Nation – The Future of Working for Yourself.

His articles on business and technology have appeared in the usual list of illustrious American publications, from the Harvard Business Review to Wired.

Pink can write with verve. At times, he uncannily reads the mind of the reader and offers simple but compelling metaphors to illustrate a particular finding or concept.

Pink's basic premise is simple. He posits that we all spend considerable energy each day trying to get others do what we want or request. A purchase, a new job, an agreement, a deal, and sometimes even just simple obedience.

One professional he interviewed expressed it most lucidly. "Almost everything I do involves persuasion. Whether you directly sells products, participate in teamwork efforts, attempt to direct the behavior of others or run your own business, you are, in effect, selling or more specifically, moving others to do something."

Perhaps when a reader of The Star hears the word "sales", one of the images that might come to mind is the annoying cable-TV salesman, attempting to convince you to overpay for service and a multitude of channels that you don't actually need.

Pink reviews the historical protocol for selling and determines that it has morphed with the zeitgeist. The instantaneous access to information through the Internet has completely altered the balance of power in sales exchanges. Consumers know far more, and will – in the middle of your sales presentation – look up what you just said on their smartphones. Pink's book offers strategic advice on how to adapt this harsher paradigm.

The former speechwriter for Al Gore tells us that far from being a world of "us and them", we, in some shapes or forms, are all in sales: whether it's selling a product old-school style, selling our skills to a potential employer or selling an idea to have it supported and funded.

In fact, he argues that the first thing that homo sapiens did was sell to each other. I disagree, I'm sure they had sex with each other, discover fire and invent the wheel before sales became part of the human condition. But one does get Pink's point, and he alludes to it elegantly.

"The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards and enhanced our daily lives. The capacity to sell isn't some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are."

And although he talks of "honesty, directness and transparency" now being the more fruitful long-term route, most of us who have caught others attempting to take advantage of us will know that there are still plenty of ignorant and nefarious sellers out there – something that Pink reminds us of:

"The decline of information asymmetry hasn't ended all forms of lying, cheating and other sleazebaggery."

He goes on to suggest how we can be better sellers – the first step being to see "rejections as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal and external rather than personal."

He also acknowledges the grimly inevitable. "Anyone who sells – whether they're trying to convince customers to make a purchase or colleagues to make a change – must contend with wave after wave of rebuffs, refusals and repudiations."

Many of his points are reassuringly fresh. "To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources – not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end."

All in all, a highly practical book on the crowded "How To Sell" shelf of your nearest bookstore. And head and shoulders above the competition.

Thre  Do's and one Don 't gleaned from 
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

  • Do be mindful of the importance of taking the perspective of others.
  • Do subtly mirror the movements of your potential customer or customers in order to make them more receptive to you.
  • Do remember that the quality of a solution depends on the complexity of the problem.
  • Don't feed people with reasons to agree with you. Rather, guide them to find their own reasons for doing so.

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