SHRM 2013: The Power of Selling; Concerns About ACA

A hot and balmy 88 degrees on Monday in Chicago turned to a foggy 57 degrees early Tuesday morning, as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2013 confab rolled on.

Daniel Pink, author of a number of best-selling business books, the most recent of which is titled To Sell Is Human, took the general session stage early Tuesday as the day’s opening keynote. I have recently starting reading Pink’s book, focused on the importance and art of selling in this day and age — spoiler alert: everybody is a salesman — so I was interested to hear Pink speak.

What I quickly discovered was that Pink was essentially going to give us his book in speech form, which was fine by me.

The crux of Pink’s argument in the book and the speech is that no matter the profession, everyone is in sales these days. The only difference is the nature of the transaction: instead of a cash register ringing, perhaps you’re convincing a boss to accept a new project plan; instead of dollars changing hands, maybe you’ve influenced a business partner to give you copious amounts of his or her time and effort.

This is something that I’ve thought for some time. As someone who has to write and produce lots of content curated through research and interviews, a lot of my day-to-day work involves convincing people to participate — through their time and effort — in my stories or projects. The transaction taking place here — as Pink pointed out to the audience — isn’t based around money, but on content, information and participation.

The same goes for human resources professionals. They, too, have to influence senior executives or employees at large to participate or buy into an idea or initiative they’ve designed. They’re sellers just as much as the guy trying to get you into a used Volvo in a rusty parking lot in an out-of-the way suburb.

Selling, Pink argues, has changed dramatically. The biggest change: the flow and easy access to information.

In yesterday’s selling world, the seller was at a tremendous advantage. If he or she was selling, say, a car, a salesman had access to information regarding the value and price structure of a vehicle that the buyer was completely unaware of — hence, the term “buyer beware.” Today’s consumers don’t even walk into a store — if they even visit a store at all — until they’ve conducted vigorous amounts of Internet research. In the case of buying a vehicle, the price information that was once exclusive to the seller is now widely available on a number of websites — heck, as Pink points out in his book, CarMax has based its entire business model on price transparency.

Pink offered another example of this concept Tuesday morning, one that I imagine hit close to home for those in attendance.

Yesterday’s job seeker might have been swayed by the recruiter promising a great salary, benefits, professional development and work culture in a job offer. Today’s job seekers aren’t fooled; a few clicks on or tells them beforehand that the company is full of it, the company doesn’t pay well, former employees write that the culture is closed-minded and there are hardly any opportunities for professional development.

Now, it’s become a “seller beware” environment. Because of the free flow of information, Pink said, there is no longer a competitive advantage for either party on this front. That means people need to spend more time curating and distilling what information is important to influence the other side.


Here are some other nuggets from my experience thus far at the conference.

The Affordable Care Act is creating a big business opportunity for some HR tech firms.

This time last year the chatter around SHRM 2012 involved a big question: Would the Supreme Court rule the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” as unconstitutional? The ruling was supposedly due to come down right in the middle of the week of the conference. This had many reporters in attendance hoping to capture the reaction of the benefits folks at the conference the second the ruling got out. Much to those reporters’ dismay, the court pushed its decision back, leaving frustrated writers and broken deadlines in its path.

As we all know by now, the court ruled largely in favor of the law. President Obama was also re-elected, ensuring ACA would become law starting in 2014.

This year, the chatter is around employers working tirelessly to make sure they will be compliant. Get caught up on the details here.

A number of Talent Management’s editors met with the contingent here from Equifax, a company that makes technology software to help organizations remain compliant on various employment issues. Equifax’s big push this year is based on its software aimed to help employers understand the unintended consequences of the new health care law and make sure they remain complaint.

Last year, I also met with representatives from Equifax, and health care legislation wasn’t even brought up. Obviously the law, paired with employers’ general unpreparedness for its full implications, has created a big opportunity for vendors looking to create services that help them make important decisions in this regard.

That’s all I have for now. Check back later for updates as the day rolls along.