Essential communication tips from Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human”

Mar 8, 2016

Essential communication tips from Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human”

Mar 8, 2016

Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human” is one of several Braithwaite bookshelf favorites, in addition to “Drive” and “A Whole New Mind.” In it, he tracks the evolution of selling over the last century, explores how “sales” became a dirty word, and provides insight on successful selling in the 21st Century.

But this book is not just written for the one in nine Americans the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports are in sales roles. Through a study he commissioned himself, Pink redefines sales as the act of moving others – both sales and non-sales selling.

He found that people spend about 40 percent of their time at work persuading others in some capacity. Pink then notes the remarkable amount of time parents may spend convincing their children to do their homework or go to sleep, or the many ways we sell ourselves on Facebook or

It’s true: we’re all in sales now.

He describes a fundamental shift in today’s era of selling, from caveat emptor to caveat venditor – from “buyer beware” to “seller beware.” The Internet has facilitated a transfer of power; buyers are forcing a more transparent sales process by arming themselves with information along the path to purchase.

To succeed in this new reality, Pink revisits the ABCs of selling, which have traditionally stood for “Always Be Closing.” He recasts the ABCs to align with the latest social science research, making the argument that they should instead stand for Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity. He makes the case that selling today requires salespeople to acknowledge their customer’s perspective, remain positive in the face of rejection, and identify problems their customers didn’t realize they had – as opposed to just offering solutions.

This is a story of resilience in the new world of sales, and along the way we meet the last Fuller Brush salesman, take notes from used car dealers, and even channel our inner Bob the Builder (no, really). Pink closes out the book by introducing the six successors to the elevator pitch, or sales strategies that have proven their effectiveness in today’s marketplace.

Here are some key points from “To Sell Is Human” that resonated with our staff, and which we often recommend to our clients.

Jamie Kloss

Account Supervisor

As a lover of sketch comedy and improv, I enjoyed Pink’s section on the art of breaking script during the sales process. As he noted, “The stable, simple and certain conditions that have favored scripts have now given way to the dynamic, complex and unpredictable conditions that favor improvisation.”

Pink explains that even once you’ve brilliantly employed the strategies behind the new ABC’s of selling, you’ll often need to think on your feet to close the deal. There are three rules that provide structure to improv that translate to the sales process as well: 1) Hear offers, 2) Say “Yes, and,” and 3) Make your partner look good.

This calls attention to one of the most important parts of selling – listening. When going into any meeting, we’re always armed with talking points, case studies and creative ideas in our back pocket. But connecting with someone becomes difficult if we build a wall of words between us in the first 10 minutes. That’s why we kick off meetings by turning the conversation to the other side’s goals, and build off their priorities. It’s more improv than theater, but allows us to develop strategies that better suit our clients’ needs, and can really help anyone be more successful at moving others.

Melissa Kinkopf

Office Coordinator

My key takeaway from this book is that inspiring people to invest in you and your ideas isn’t just for deemed sales people. We all have to ask ourselves, “Can I move these people?” and “What’s the best way to do so?”

Being in a non-traditional sales role, Pink forced me to think about what I do on a daily basis and the affect I have on everyone around me with two main points:

  1. “People are now spending about 40 percent of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.”
  2. “People consider this aspect of their work crucial to their professional success – even in excess of their considerable amount of time they devote to it.”

Whether you’re a crafter, HR manager, designer, account executive, etc., we’re all selling something. It doesn’t have to be a product. It doesn’t have to cost anything. It can be as simple as an idea. As he says, “Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. Whatever our profession, we deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients.”

Simply put, we’re all in the business of making our career successful.

Lee Procida

Lead Content Strategist

Whether because of Alec Baldwin’s classic speech in Glengarry Glen Ross, or because it’s people’s natural impulse to push someone into making a decision, “Always Be Closing” is still how most people think sales are supposed to happen. In our opinion, this leads to a lot of really awful and ineffective marketing messaging, which is why we’re thankful to have Dan Pink carefully and cogently argue against this myth.

The fundamental argument is that the availability of information has changed dramatically in recent decades, upsetting the assumptions of the pushy salesman archetype. Whereas businesses once had much more information than the general public, now there is more than enough out there for anyone to have done ample research before ever encountering a sales pitch.

Any salesman with any real interest in selling effectively would take that into account and adjust his or her approach, which is why Pink’s recommends this new model: becoming attuned to your audience’s perspective, being buoyant enough to understand you can’t win them all in a hypercompetitive environment, and being very clear about the problem you can solve.

Beyond all the big-picture discussion, this is an insanely useful guide in a number of ways, with all kinds of little tips and references to more resources. We have a bunch of copies around our office that we reference frequently, and it’s something we share with clients constantly. The more we’re all on the same page that it’s simply not the 1920s anymore, the more we can take all our work to the next level.

This article is part of our B On The Books series, in which Braithwaite staff explain their favorite ideas from the best business and marketing books. Read more in this series.

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