The noble art of selling

No matter whether I’ve been studying conceptual and critical thinking or working with global tech enterprises, or with relatively simple businesses, or with organisations dealing with profound social challenges, or with the institutions that claim to represent us in Government, Education, Healthcare provision and Justice, or with those that want to find better ways for us to work and live and interact with each other, or in my work with movements and coalitions for change who are looking at massive subjects like climate change, the future of business, work, consumerism, capitalism, democracy or even society itself, I keep coming back to the same two basic concepts

We are all selling and we are selling pretty much all the time. I have argued that selling must, contrary to popular opinion, be the real oldest human profession!

Selling and buying, whether with ideas and ways to achieve progress where we are inviting others to buy INTO these and join us – or with simple AND complex propositions that we want others to buy FROM us, we are selling.

Despite having never directly worked in ‘sales’ and therefore being the least qualified person in any complex sales organisation (which perversely makes me super qualified to change them btw.), I and everyone I have ever met has in fact been selling – and when we haven’t been selling, we have been buying.

Within these contexts, selling and buying are some of the most exciting, noble, progress-making, change-making, sense-making, empowering and liberating pursuits we can engage in.

History has proven time and time again that selling and buying can change the world. Selling and buying within partnerships, relationships, alliances and coalitions that are all (or should be) driven by common purpose – be that profit or social value creation or both – are compelling, progressive, truly innovative and highly rewarding.

Increasingly, as we understand the interdependencies – and therefore interactions – between sellers and buyers in new ways – which we must – and as we start to use wonderful technologies to enable better interdependent interactions between buyers, sellers, partners and alliances, we should perhaps think about something else –

Maybe we should think less about DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION as a thing, an end goal and more about how current and future technology can SUPPORT a far more important and very real transformation that is taking place NOW and is rooted in something far more important– a social, human, highly emotive transformation in the way that we all, across society, including buyers and sellers, think about our own conduct, value, and place and the conduct, value and place of everybody we are increasingly interdependent with, reliant on and need to interact with better, in the pursuit of common goals.

Maybe in the future it will be less about buying and selling and more about exchanging – ideas, values, needs, wants and aspirations. Maybe the real future place for technology resides in the intersection between all of these and all of us. Maybe as we bring together co-creation, purposefulness, buyer journeys (in all their forms) and the process of selling in its broadest sense, it is the technology enabled human exchanges that become really important.

The intersection between selling and buying (and exchanging) is an almost entirely unique place. I would argue that the second recurring concept throughout my, and everybody else’s, life experience informs this intersection and everything around it.

We are all human beings. It sounds obvious, even underwhelming, to state this but being human is (and it always was) the central driving theme for everything else. Every single simple, complicated and complex challenge I’ve ever addressed has, ultimately, been a human challenge. Everything everyone here has ever done has ultimately been a human challenge, experience and exchange – whether we realised it or not.

Every intersection between sellers and buyers, (no matter how many stakeholders, no matter how broad or deep the ecosystem, no matter how rich or poor the data, no matter how much is at stake and no matter how complex the interactions are), is ultimately a human intersection.

It is where often forgotten human traits live – trust, belief, emotion, intuition, confidence, creativity, perspective, perception versus reality, debate, anxiety, need for proof, need to be liked, need to be a hero, need to feel good about ourselves, need to feel safe – the list goes on and on.

But here’s a thing – in fact here’s THE thing. Over the decades – centuries even – I would argue that the humanity that sits at the intersection of selling and buying and should sit at the centre of technology futures, has been eroded.

The industrial age (which one are we in now?), the pursuit of ever greater economic efficiency and productivity, the emergence of ever more ubiquitous technologies, people’s acceptance of all this and the benefits it all brings may have begun to max out.

As the great Professor Roger Martin states, maybe, like overwhelming love, we can have too much economic efficiency, maybe we have reached a tipping point where the losses to humanity are beginning to be seen as greater than the gains.

This is all being hotly debated in every aspect of society from education to charity, from work to home, from the ways we vote to the ways we define our values and, critically, in the ways we define business and it’s roles and purpose.

So why wouldn’t we seriously debate it in relation to sales, at the critical intersection of all manner of rich and vital human interactions? Why wouldn’t we think about the roles of technology and humanity through a different lens – a lens that is firmly pointing to the future?

I believe that we are living in a new Human Age where we need to re-define almost everything and we certainly need to re-define selling and buying – if not for ourselves then for future generations of humans – buyers, sellers, exchangers – citizens.

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