I read To Sell is Human when it first came out, and it was such a fantastic book…that I never had a chance to write down my thoughts. Oops. I recently went through it again, and was struck by how much still resonates. Dan Pink does a great job of unpacking the negative stereotypes that have been built around the idea of “sales”, and why they might not be that relevant anymore. At the same time he points out something that I started realizing when I started as a salesperson as a 20-year-old kid: We’re all in sales. Not matter what your job title, we are continuously attempting to persuade and influence the people around us.
In our professional lives, we’re all in the role of moving and influencing other people, and “most of what we think we understand about selling is constructed atop a foundation of assumptions that has crumbled.” (pg 3) By understanding a new approach to selling, we can get better at persuading others in our professional, and personal, lives.
Implications, Ideas, and Questions
- To Sell is Human highlights a huge societal shift that is changing how products and services are sold. It’s going to take a while for us to have true perspective on it, but I think that this shift mirrors the recent transition in social communication through technology. His explanation of the difference between information asymmetry and information parity was hugely influential the first time I came across it, and has influenced my approach to social selling significantly. I think that the ease with which prospects can get information about the salesperson’s products and services…and the salespeople themselves, means that you have to be ready for a new level of transparency and honesty.
- When I came up in sales, we tended to quote Boiler Room more than Glengarry, Glenross. But one of the classic lines that transcended the movies is the old sales adage: “The A,B,C’s of closing – Always Be Closing”. Dan has updated to the A, B, C’s to Attunement (the ability to connect and engage with another person), Buoyancy (the ability to not get plowed under by challenge and rejection), and Clarity (the ability to uncover the real needs and wants to a customer).
- When I was a young salesrep at Cutco, I met one of the top salespeople in the history of the company. He was quiet and unassuming. It was one of my first experiences with something Dan calls “the ambivert advantage”. I’ve always considered myself a mix of extrovert and introvert so it was validating to read “The notion that extroverts are the finest salespeople is so obvious that we’ve overlooked one teensy flaw. There’s almost no evidence that it’s actually true” (pg 80). I really do think that most people have the ability to be successful in sales and that it’s not the sole realm of the silver-tongued talker.
- I love the idea of interrogative self-talk. “The most effective self-talk of all doesn’t merely shift emotions. It shifts linguistic categories” (pg 101). The idea of shifting your mind to the possible with a question like, “Can I do this” is incredibly powerful. It pulls you along instead of pushes. And when motivating yourself or others, I’ve found pushing is hard and exhausting.
- There’s a great video clip of Dan explaining how to use the two question process that he explains on page 146. You can view it here!
- The six pitches to practice:
- The One-Word Pitch
- The Question Pitch
- The Rhyming Pitch
- The Subject-Line Pitch
- The Twitter Pitch
- The Pixar Pitch
- I loved the examples of using guidelines from improvisational acting to help improve the sales process (Hear Offers, Say “Yes, And”, and Make Your Partner Look Good). I’ve actually written about my experience along the same lines in this article. I think, though, that emphasizing the free-form nature of a persuasive conversation can gloss over the value of a good sales script. Dan points out that most sales scripts are overly cumbersome and ossify the approach that a salesperson can take. But that misunderstands how a good foundation can create a valuable structure for the sales conversation. I think a useful metaphor is jazz. A great jazz musician learns all of the forms and structures of the music, and then works within them and adjusts their performance based on where the song goes.
- Before you try to persuade anyone, I love this simple question: “What do you want them to know, feel, and do?” (pg 179)
Sound You Read This Book? Who Should Read This Book?
I really am a fan of Dan’s work, and I think he does a great job of balancing theoretical and tactical information throughout To Sell is Human. I would recommend picking it up if:
- You are in sales. It’s not your typical sales book, and some of the ideas will get your defenses up (like the idea of removing commissions). But the chapters about buoyancy and using questions to create clarity are career-changing.
- You are a entrepreneur, solopreneur, or freelancer. If you run your own business, you are a salesperson. This book will set up a very comfortable approach for you, even if you don’t feel have the personality for sales.
- You have to influence others. The general conceit of the book is that we are all persuaders, so it can be useful for anyone who wants to get better at swaying others to their point of view.