Like it or not, project managers are in sales

Like it or not, project managers are in sales

Daniel Pink is one of my favorite general business authors that’s in the same league as a Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and others who use sound research from industry and academia to position a point, but do so in a way that’s articulate, easily digestible and popular.  This is why he usually tops the best selling list for business publications.

In his latest book, “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” he argues that we are all salesmen and saleswomen in our daily work whether we know it or not, or admit it or not.  So it was with great interest that I found an interview of him for his latest book on the UPenn’s Wharton school of business website, and what especially piqued my interest was the section where he outlines how project managers and leaders have to engage in sales whether they know it or not:

There are a couple of animating ideas in the book, Adam. One of them is that — like it or not — we’re all in sales. If you look at the labor data, one in nine people in the economy today make a living selling stuff. They are car dealers, real estate agents. But I had an instinct about those other eight in nine. I went out and did some survey research and found that those other eight in nine are people who are nominally in sales. They are managers; they are project team leaders; they are teachers and art directors. They are spending an enormous amount of their time in what I call non-sales selling.

They’re selling. They’re convincing you to make an exchange. Give me something you have in exchange for something that I have. But it’s not denominated in dollars. It’s denominated in time; it’s denominated in attention; it’s denominated in effort. If you look at how white-collar workers are spending their time — whether they are in traditional sales or in some other kind of function — a lot of their time and efforts are spent convincing, persuading, cajoling and influencing people. The truth is that when you tell people you’re in sales, a lot of people don’t like it very much at all.

Some or many project managers may not like the idea of having to be involved with sales, but the entrepreneurial minded project manager or projectpreneur would find noting surprising about this and would probably say “it’s about time someone articulated and popularized this!”  This is because the ability to sell is more vital and heightened by the new realities of the constant re-organizations, outsourcing, off-shoring and automation of business processes and functions that is going on with corporations around the world that require you to retool, reinvent and transition yourself at many points throughout your career that require excellent sales skills.


But as Pink argues in the interview, this sales perspective does not have to be the kind of stereotypical and archetypal image of the “sleazy, slimy, smarmy, low-brow, low-rent” car salesman imagery that is typically conjured up as was popularized in the move “Glengarry Glen Ross“, but a new kind of salesmanship that is more symmetrical, collaborative and mutually beneficial for the buyer AND the seller.  So he upturns the ABC slogan made infamous by the Alec Baldwin scene “which is the pushing, steam-roller, drive, drive, drive” to one where he outlines as “the new ABCs — attunement, buoyancy and clarity. A, attunement — perspective taking. How do you understand someone else’s perspective? B, buoyancy — sales people in general… And then clarity is really important for leaders and even business school students… This move from problem solving to problem finding is clarity.”

I think the savvy projectpreneur would understand the need to take this sales initiative outside his/her organization and to start utilizing the self branding and platform building popularized by Tom Peters in his landmark article “The Brand Called You” published by Fast Company back in 1997.  The 24/7 online and ubiquitous nature of the internet allows one to create, brand and build this platform that can be deployed in an instant while also establishing a repository of your work, insights and knowledge that can be viewed by individuals and organizations so as to solidify your reputation and accomplishments.

With that being said, here’s the video interview in full which I highly recommend you view to get the full insights:

For those who want to delve more deeply into this topic, you can click the link below to buy the book.

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