Earlier this year author Dan Pink released his latest book on the masses, and his first since his New York Time Bestseller, Drive: The The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In his new book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,  Pink continues down the same road of the behaviour economics surrounding motivation, this time reframed slightly to focus on the influencing and moving of others.

To Sell is Human by Dan Pink

Dan Pink’s book is not aimed solely at professional salespeople. Instead Pink explains that everybody has a need to influence others at some point, and in todays business environment nobody is siloed within a particular skill set.

Being able to skillfully move others is important to convey your point of view, influence opinions, and gain support for your ideas. However there are lessons for salespeople too.  The sales environment is changing, with more informed consumers that are empowered with social feedback tools, Pink reasons that there has been a shift from Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor. The seller beware.

So who can sell? Dan Pink discusses, with research and examples, that neither extroverts nor introverts are naturally positioned to influence others.  Instead it is the large middle of the bell curve, classified as “ambiverts”, that are most capable of embodying the qualities of attunement, buoyancy and clarity that it takes to be a star in the sales profession.

These three characteristics are elaborated on in great detail and with convincing examples and empirical evidence.


1. Attunement

Ambiverts, Pink suggests, are those who listen enough to be attune to the needs of others but who are also capable of clearly communicating their own ideas. Introverts may listen carefully but not ask the probing questions discover problems, and may not frame their statements in the correct way in order in exert influence.  On the other hand, Extroverts may ask the right questions but miss the point entirely because they are so mesmerised by the sound of their own voice and eager to launch into their pitch.

2. Buoyancy

In order to staying afloat in a “sea of rejection”, To Sell Is Human breaks down how to be buoyant before, during and after a meeting.
Before: Practice Interrogative Self-talk. This is designed not to undermine your self confidence but instead to produce strategic answers that will actually assist you to give a better presentation.
During: Positivity. This is nothing new. Being positive is contagious and can broaden the range of the conceivable to produce creative solutions.  However Pink does warn not to be delusionally positive. Some negative emotions are natural and provide important feedback on your performance and what works.
After: Embrace an explanatory style for negative events. This is an important one and it draws on Pink’s previous lessons in Drive. Don’t explain negative outcomes as due to permanent events or personal shortcomings. Instead adopt an optimistic outlook and see hurdles as temporary and external. see Purpose, Autonomy, Mastery blog post 

3. Clarity

In order to embody clarity, Pink recommends several tactics such as; contrasting the option so it is not viewed in isolation, offer less options to make it easier to decide, and, somewhat counterintuitively, that offering more for the same price doesn’t always convey greater value – but rather it can undermine the value of the original offering.
Furthermore, the book goes into detail about what individuals should do to move others. Breaking actions down into three key areas of Pitch, Improvise, and Serve.


1. Pitch

On Pitch, To Sell Is Human introduces six interesting ways to pitch ideas in today’s business environment.

  • The One Word Pitch – Condense your offer to one word that you can own. What companies come to mind with the words “Priceless” or “Search”?
  • The Question Pitch – Ask a question that directs you audience towards a reason why you’re the best option.  “Can you remember the last time your CRM actually helped you close a specific deal?”
  • The Rhyming Pitch – People remember rhymes and they are easily acceptable and digestible.
  • The Subject Line Pitch – Get your emails opened by offering the right combination of Utility, Curiosity & Specificity for your audience.
  • Twitter Pitch – People respond positively to tweets with questions, fresh & informative links, and any useful information (even if it is self serving)
  • Pixar Pitch – Frame your copy in the style of a Pixar synopsis, starting with “Once upon a time….” presenting a problem and closing with a solution – your product.

2. Improvise

When I hear improvisation I think “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, and according to Pink there are selling lessons to be learned from the likes of Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie.  Improvisation comics are attuned to “hearing offers” so that they know when to engage and take the lead. Similarly, an attuned salesperson will be understand when an objection is not really an objection but an offer to further the conversation. See Six Steps to Perfect Objection Handling

As well as hearing offers, if you’re to be successful in moving others, dialogue should be reframed to produce constructive answers which solve problems. Pink suggests that instead of replying to ideas with “Yes but…” instead say “Yes and…” to solve the problem. e.g. “We need to grow our sales team” followed with: Yes, and I can collect some good resources to train them” instead of: Yes, but who would know how to sell our product?”
Finally the topic of improvisation goes back to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Improvisors Think Win-Win, they deliberately make their partner look good, because it isn’t a zero sum game.  Salespeople similarly should be looking to make those they sell to look good. In the post information asymmetry world, where buyers are doing their research and are well informed, attempting a win-lose outcome will likely only result in you being shown the door.

3. Serve

One of the most important topics Pink discusses is the importance of serving your customers. It may seem obvious but too often even small business become faceless brands to their customers. Keep it personal.  Display the human element behind your business, allow your customers to know you are there to serve them. Send them handwritten notes or give them a personal email or phone number in case they have complaints, you might just get some feedback that will help you to better serve in the future.
To serve effectively it needs to be purposeful, as serving without a purpose is like studying without there being an exam – what’s the driving reason behind it all? Whose life are you improving, whether it is solving your customers problem, providing a standard of living for your family, or generating revenue which provides jobs in your company, there are many altruistic reasons for selling.
Near the end, Dan Pink also touches on rethinking sales commissions in favour of non-monetary forms of motivation, a topic that is very similar discussions in Drive. Pink presents an example of Microchip Technology, a $6.5b company who have abolished sales commissions thirteen years ago with positive results. While Pink admits this compensation structure is not for everybody he presents a quote from the words of Microchip’s VP “Salespeople are no different from engineers, architects or accountants. Really good salespeople want to solve problems, and serve customers.  They want to be part of something larger than themselves.”

Dan Pink’s book is a worthwhile read for anybody who has an interest in influencing others, and presents some great sales techniques as well as reframing some existing theories in light of a changing sales environment.

Header image used with permission by Festoon House Lighting

There are currently no comments.