Dan Pink Delivers Inspiring Sales Pitch to HR

Author Dan Pink, Tuesday’s keynoter at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2013 Annual Conference, gave his early-morning 78779258audience — most of the event’s 15,000 attendees — a pretty basic and resounding wake-up call: If you’re not selling your offerings and services in HR, you’re not going to make it in HR.

“Back in HR’s beginning,” said Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, Drive and other best-sellers about the changing world of work, “HR had to come up with ideas to sell their ideas to workers,” a concept that needs to be constantly reignited if the profession is to move forward.

Today, he said, most people in business spend a large portion of their time convincing other people to give up something of value for something they offer. “Like it or not,” he said, “we’re all in sales now … and my guess is HR people spend even more time than most,” or should be spending more time than most, selling their wares.

Drilling his repetitive mantra of “always be selling [through] ‘attunement,’ buoyancy and clarity,” he went on to illustrate each of those selling techniques as they might relate to programs and initiatives HR leaders are trying to get off the ground.

“Get out of your own head and see the world from their point of view,” he said. “Stay buoyant in a sea of rejection, and [be crystal clear] by constantly distilling information so everyone can access it and by focusing on finding [people’s] problems rather than solving them.”

What can you do to increase your HR sales prowess? First, reduce your feeling of power, because power “distorts the ability to take someone’s else’s perspective,” Pink said. Second, don’t be an extrovert or an introvert, but be what he calls an “ambivert,” someone with a good mix of both qualities. “Don’t be a glad-hander; be more like yourself,” he said, citing research by Adam Grant from the University of Pennsylvania proving “ambiverts” make the best salespeople.

Pink also stressed the importance of giving people “an off-ramp, an offering to make it easier to act” the way you want them to, be it through a behavior change or a choice to buy in to an initiative or idea. Auto-enrollment, he said, is a good example of this.

Getting good at this is getting ever more crucial, he said. With information available to everyone now, “buyers” aren’t taking you at your word anymore. They’re coming to the conversation armed with their own research, so you’d better be ready for that and at the top of your game.

“We’ve left the world of buyer beware and entered the world of seller beware,” he said, and selling is increasingly defining and redefining the HR profession.