To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others

by Daniel H. Pink

This book is about sales, but also “selling in a broader sense—persuading, influencing, and convincing others… Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class.”

The old-school image of a dodgy salesman relied on what Daniel Pink calls information asymmetry—the seller had access to information which the buyer did not have. Clearly that environment has changed. The author replaces the old sales training mantra Always Be Closing with “the new ABCs—Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.”

“Attunement is the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you’re in.” Amazon demonstrates this mindset by including an empty chair in important meetings. “It’s there to remind those assembled who’s really the most important person in the room: the customer… What’s going through her mind? What are her desires and concerns? What would she think of the ideas we’re putting forward?” The author offers this tip to improve listening skills: “To reduce your ratio of talking to listening… simply slow down… Take five seconds before responding.”

Buoyancy is about staying afloat in the inevitable sea of rejection. “Yes, positive self-talk is generally more effective than negative self-talk. But the most effective self-talk” is in the form of a question. “The interrogative, by its very form, elicits answers—and within those answers are strategies for actually carrying out the task.” Furthermore, “Questioning self-talk elicits the reasons for doing something and reminds people that many of those reasons come from within.”

C is for Clarity. (Don’t tell Cookie Monster.) “A specific request accompanied by a clear way to get it done” yields the best results. “Clarity on how to think without clarity on how to act can leave people unmoved.”

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the best salespeople are extroverts. Conventional wisdom would be wrong. Wharton’s Adam Grant has discovered that the most effective salespeople are ambiverts, those who fall somewhere in the middle of the introversion-extraversion scale.” Want to know if you are an ambivert? Answer 18 multiple-choice questions on the author’s website to find out.

Conventional wisdom would also suggest that good salespeople are problem solvers. “But today, when information is abundant and democratic rather than limited and privileged, it matters relatively less… The services of others are far more valuable when I’m mistaken, confused, or completely clueless about my true problem. In those situations, the ability to move others hinges less on problem solving than on problem finding.

Pink offers six successors to the elevator pitch. “The purpose of a pitch isn’t necessarily to move others immediately to adopt your idea. The purpose is to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant, and eventually arrives at an outcome that appeals to both of you. In a world where buyers have ample information and an array of choices, the pitch is often the first word, but it’s rarely the last.”  A message will resonate most when it is personal and purposeful. To demonstrate the concept, the author shows two versions of a sign: “Pick up after your dog” and “Children play here. Pick up after your dog.”

In closing, Pink offers this advice. “Treat everyone as you’d treat your grandmother, but assume that Grandma has eighty thousand Twitter followers.”

Pink, Daniel H. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012. Buy from

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