To Sell Is Human

Rating: 4/5

Dan Pink’s book To Sell Is Human is based off one fundamental assumption – we’re all in sales. Some are selling physical or digital products where others are selling themselves (politics). In fact, he often uses the phrase “moving others” in place of sales. Sales comes with some icky connotations of greasy-haired car salesmen always upsetting you to the more expensive item. In Pink’s view, those tactics work when the seller had a distinct knowledge advantage over the buyer. In today’s world, that’s couldn’t be less true. In fact, now, a buyer has the same amount if not more information than the seller. Times have changed, and sales tactics should change as a result Pink argues.

Pink breaks the book down into three sections, but I mainly focused on two and three, the actionable sections.

“A world of flat organizations and tumultuous business conditions – and that’s our world – punishes fixed skills and prizes elastic ones.”

Section: How to Be

The new ABC’s of selling:

1 – Attunement

Increase your power by reducing it – “Start your encounters with the assumption that you’re in a position of lower power. That will help you see  the other side’s perspective more accurately, which, in turn, will help you move them.

Use your head as much as your heart – “Taking the perspective of one’s opponent produced both greater joint gains and more profitable individual outcomes…Perspective takers achieved the highest level of economic efficiency, without sacrificing their own material gains.

Mimic strategically – Practice mimicking the body language of others in a subtle fashion.

Ambiverts sold more consistently than extroverts or introverts proving that there really is a sweet spot, and extroverts aren’t always the prized sellers we think they are.

2 – Buoyancy

Staying positive among negativity and no’s.

Before the sale: Interrogative Self-Talk

“But the most effective self-talk of all doesn’t merely shift emotions. It shifts linguistic categories. It moves from making statements to asking questions.”

Benefits of questions for self-talk:

  • Gives answers – questions force you to come up with answers that reaffirm your ability
  • Elicits reasons for doing something – “May inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal”

During: Positivity ratios

The golden ratio is 3 to 1.

“Once positive emotions outnumbered negative emotions by 3 to 1 – that is, for every three instances of feeling gratitude, interest, or contentment, they experienced only one instance of anger, guilt, or embarrassment – people generally flourished.”

After: Explanatory style

Flexible optimism – optimism with its eyes open.

Explaining negative outcomes as a result of internal dependencies (“I suck at selling”) is far far more detrimental than explaining the as a result of external factors (“Money is tight in this economy”).

Questions to ask yourself (find a way to answer each one with a “no”):

  • Is this permanent?
  • Is this pervasive?
  • Is this personal?

3 – Clarity

Find the right problems to solve

“Identifying problems as a way to move others takes two long-standing skills and turns them upside down. First, in the past, the best salespeople were adept at accessing information. Today, they must be skills at curating it – soothing through the massive troves of data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces. Second, in the past, the best salespeople were skills at answering questions…Today, they must be good at asking questions – uncovering possibilities surfacing later issues, and finding unexpected problems.”

The most essential question – “Compared to what?” Clarity depends on contrast.

“The lesson: Clarity on how to think without clarity on how to act can leave people unmoved.”

Section: What to do

This section was broken down into three distinct actions: pitch, improvise, and serve.


“The lesson here is critical: 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.”

Pink spent a good a good amount of time discussing the benefits of having “one word” for you brand – think “search” for Google.

I also thought the research he mentioned on tweeting was pretty interesting. According to his research, the best tweets were either:

  1. Asked a question of their followers
  2. Provided new and useful information
  3. Self-promoting that also provided useful information

He referenced six types of pitches, some of which I found valuable:

  1. The one-word pitch – Akin to Google and “search”
  2. The question pitch – Use this if your arguments are strong.
  3. Rhyming pitch
  4. Subject line pitch – The best email lines appeal to either curiosity or utility
  5. The Twitter pitch – Sum yourself up in 140 characters
  6. The Pixar pitch – Referenced here: Pretty brilliant.


This had three main takeaways borrowed from improvisation.

  1. Hear offers – When someone says “no” to your pitch, there’s often a lightly veiled “yes” in there somewhere. For example, if you were to ask someone “Could you donate $20 to my charity?” they might reply “No, I can’t right now.” There’s the easy comeback of “Maybe follow-up in a few months” but there’s also the follow-up of “Would you be available to donate your time instead?”
  2. Yes and… – Saying “no” spirals a conversation downwards into negativity. Saying “Yes and” forces you to be positive and come up with solutions rather than roadblocks. For example, let’s say the first sentence in a conversation is “Let’s have our high school reunion in Las Vegas.” A “No” sentence would be “No, it’s too expensive.” That immediately shuts the conversation down. A “Yes and…” sentence would be “Yes – and if it’s too expensive for some people we can raise money or organize road trips.”
  3. Make your partner look good – “The idea here isn’t to win. It’s to learn. And when both parties view their encounters as opportunities to learn, the desire to defeat the other side struggles to find the oxygen it needs.”

“There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes,’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘No,’ Keith Johnstone writes. ‘Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they retain.”


“But the successful seller must feel some commitment that his product offers mankind as much altruistic benefit as it yields the seller in money.”

Strategies on solving problems and wowing customers every Sunday 👉
Strategies for solving problems and wowing customers 👇