The ABCs of Sales: Attunement, Buoyancy, & Clarity

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "To Sell Is Human" by Daniel H. Pink. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the modern ABCs of sales? How can you use attunement, buoyancy, and clarity to close more sales?

The old ABCs of sales were to “always be closing.” However, this kind of pushy, sales-focused method doesn’t work in the modern-day. The new ABCs of selling are attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.

Continue below for definitions and tips for the modern ABCs of sales.

The Modern ABCs of Sales

The economic and technological changes gave rise to a whole new philosophy of selling, also called modern ABCs of sales.

A: Attunement 

Attunement allows you to connect and adapt to people, communities, and contexts in order to serve their needs. You can practice attunement using 3 tools.

Tool #1: Mimicking

Humans trust others who share their mannerisms or are subtly mirroring them in other ways. Mimicking without drawing attention to it builds trust between seller and buyer.

For example, say you are a seller, and you notice that a buyer is very physically expressive when they talk. To practice mimicry, you can add more physical gestures to your communication. This should help to create a dynamic of camaraderie. 

Tool #2: Perspective-Taking

Develop a deeper understanding of the buyer and the context of their needs by putting yourself in their shoes. You can use your imagination to consider the buyer’s bigger picture and see needs to serve that you would have missed with a focus on your perspective or experience.

For example, say you’re selling a car to a buyer. They’re a new driver, and they’re looking at trucks, initially. You notice they’re a fairly small person, and considering that factor along with the new driver status, you suggest a line of smaller sports cars. You think they will be easier to navigate for a new driver, especially one who is on the smaller side. The customer buys a cool, safe sports car. They say it’s a perfect fit, and they’re glad they didn’t go with one of the trucks. 

Tool #3: Power Shift

Treat the buyer like they are the ones with the power. This creates a dynamic of service, where you can serve their needs, and you are not as attached to your perspective. 

For example, when you are selling to someone, consider sitting down on an equal level with them and asking, “What are you looking for, and how can I help?” This physically puts you on an even playing field, and the question sets you up for a dynamic of service.

B: Buoyancy 

Buoyancy facilitates resilience. Any type of selling involves more yes than no, so you need to believe in what you’re selling enough to maintain optimism and determination. Buoyancy is what gives you the motivation to see a transaction through, even when a buyer might initially be resisting a purchase. 

For example, say you’re a door to door salesman, and you manage to get into conversation with a potential buyer. The buyer hasn’t closed the door in your face yet but seems to be rejecting everything you have to say. With a practice of buoyancy, you will be able to remind yourself in the moment to be optimistic about the outcome and show the buyer how much you believe in your product or service. Even if the buyer ultimately doesn’t purchase, you develop resilience for the next potential buyer. 

You can develop buoyancy by using three practices (one for before, during, and after a sales interaction).

Practice #1: Interrogative Self-Talk

This practice can be used to prepare for a sales interaction. It involves asking yourself targeted questions that allow you to deepen your understanding of your sales goals, which acts as a confidence booster. Asking questions positively impacts your thoughts and actions in the long-term, which creates better sales results. Additionally, it gives your sales goals meaning, which increases your motivation for achieving them.

For example, before a potential sale, you can ask yourself questions like, “How can I best be of service to this buyer?” Or, “How can I show the buyer this purchase is worth it?” 

Practice #2: Positivity Ratio

This practice can be used during a sales process to maintain optimism. 

Research indicates that there is a golden ratio of positive to negative experience. When you experience three positive sensations to one negative sensation, your well-being improves. Alternatively, when you experience 11 positive sensations to one negative sensation, your well-being decreases. It’s important to create a positive environment during a sale, both internally (for the seller), and externally (for the buyer). A healthy ratio of positive to negative sensations makes the buyer more receptive, and more likely to take positive action (like make a purchase). Additionally, as a seller, when you feel positively about your product, as well as the sales process, you are more easily able to attune to the buyer. This increases buyer trust. 

Put this information into practice by creating a friendly atmosphere, communicating positive information with a minimum 3 to 1 (and maximum 11 to 1) ratio to negative information, and speaking with conviction about what you are selling. For example, if you’re selling a car, share a number of positive aspects of the car, and then throw in a negative. Smile often, and speak highly of the across the board quality of the cars you sell.

Practice #3: Optimistic Explanatory Style

This practice is beneficial after a sales interaction. Studies show that the way we describe an experience after the fact influences how we feel about it. To build buoyancy, always use these three assumptions when describing a sales experience. 

Assumption #1: Negative experiences are temporary.

  • For example, let’s say a buyer is rude to you. You can say, “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” and this helps to remind you that the negative experience is over, and new positive experiences can take place.

Assumption #2: Negative experiences are circumstantial.

  • For example, you might have a buyer who is about to make a purchase, but their credit card is declined. They get angry and walk away from the sale entirely. To remind yourself this experience occurred for specific reasons, you can say, “They were just embarrassed.”

Assumption #3: Negative experiences are not personal.

  • For example, let’s say you’re a used car salesman, and your buyer is so suspicious of your intentions during the sales process that they decide not to buy the car. To remind yourself that the experience is not personal, you can say, “They probably have been taken advantage of by car salesmen in the past.”

C: Clarity 

This is the value of being a “problem finder” rather than a “problem solver.” It means identifying problems others may not be aware exist, and then providing solutions.

For example, say you’re a tutor and a life coach. Your current tutoring client is a 12-year-old boy who can’t get his grades up. You notice that he’s very smart, and you realize his grades are only low because he doesn’t have strong self-discipline skills. You offer to provide him with life coaching instead of tutoring. His grades quickly improve.  

There are 7 important aspects to clarity.

#1: Problem-Finding

When you don’t know you have a problem, you are more open to the services of others. Success in modern sales is not about making the sale (problem solving), but supporting buyers to develop clarity on their needs (problem finding). You can enhance problem finding skills by being thorough, asking good questions, considering multiple perspectives, and staying adaptable.

For example, when you work with a new buyer, get to know them as much as possible by asking questions. The information you discover will give you clarity on their needs.  

#2: Contrast

Research shows we understand things more clearly when they are seen in contrast with other things. You can help buyers develop clarity on their needs by showing them multiple potential paths, or using an unfavorable option to highlight the benefits of a more favorable one. 

For example, if you’re selling a car, have multiple cars ready to show to the buyer, and ideally, make sure one of those cars is of lower quality than the others. Not only do you provide the buyer with multiple options, but you use one of those options to highlight the benefits of the other cars.

#3: Fewer Options

Research indicates that an abundance of options inspires excitement in buyers, but causes overwhelm, and doesn’t move them to purchase. Condensing the options you provide will help buyers to focus deeply on them, which facilitates clarity.

For example, if you’re selling a house, you might show the buyer 1-2 houses per week, instead of scheduling multiple back to back showings. The buyer will be able to fully process their options, which will help them refine what they’re looking for.

#4: Emphasis on Experience

Rather than selling products, sell experiences. Experiences facilitate connection, and opportunities to improve self-awareness. Framing a sale through the lens of experience is more likely to inspire action in buyers.

For example, don’t sell a “cellphone,” sell a “tool for staying connected to the people you care about.”

#5: Clear Tone

Establishing a positive label for what you’re selling is crucial. It makes the buyer more open to a sale, especially if you use contrast to enhance to ascribe the positive tone.

For example, if you’re selling a life coaching service, paint the service with a positive tone by demonstrating the negative tone of not having the benefit of a life coach. 

#6: Potential

Studies show that the possibility of someday being skilled at something is more appealing than already having the skill. This is because potential is uncertain, and uncertainty makes you process ideas more deeply. Deep processing inspires you to see more potential.

Consider the non-sales selling context of social media. If you’re trying to move your Instagram followers to pay you with their engagement, you might create posts that describe your dreams, or the person you want to become.  

#7: An Exit Route

People are moved to action when they have a clear path to walk on. Provide buyers with a straightforward path to solving their problem (ideally one that requires the least amount of effort possible).

For example, imagine you’re a therapist doing a consultation with a potential client. You can assess their therapy goals, then provide them with a structured timeline for meeting those goals. To keep it simple, you can offer them a package of sessions instead of having them pay as they go.

The ABCs of Sales: Attunement, Buoyancy, & Clarity

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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