Sales is a strange topic for RIA fiduciaries. It almost cuts against the grain of everything they believe in.

Only one in nine Americans actually works in sales. But that understates its importance, Harvard professor Daniel Pink told attendees this week at the annual Schwab Impact conference in Washington. When asked how they spend their time, the average American worker says they spend 40 percent of their time trying to persuade others to do something or understand their viewpoint.

RIAs spend a great deal of time trying to convince clients to take actions in their best interest, Pink noted. In reality, they are selling, even though “the cash register isn’t ringing.”

“Like it or not, we are all in sales,” Pink said. Many professionals, however, fall distinctly into the “or not” category.

Pink cited a study of 7,000 Americans who were asked the first word they associate with sales. Among them were pushy, sleazy, hard, car, annoying, smarmy, dishonest, slimy and manipulative.

“Even smarmy makes the top list,” Pink joked. “Smarmy should never make any top 25 list.”

Only five of the top 25 words associated with sales were positive, including challenging, necessary and fun.

These results reflect ordinary Americans’ experience as buyers of products in a world of information asymmetry. But in the last two decades as information availability has proliferated, the world has changed, allowing buyers to put sellers on the defensive.

In financial services, information is ubiquitous. It used to be “Buyer Beware;” now it’s “Seller Beware,” Pink said.

So how can RIAs be more effective in sales?
1. Increase your effectiveness by briefly reducing your own feelings of power. Take the perspective of the client, Pink said. Reassess and recalibrate the context of the discussion so you are not the important one. More powerful people tend to be less capable when it comes to seeing other people’s perspective. Act powerless.