To Sell Is Human

“1. If the person you’re selling agrees to buy, will his or her life improve?
2. When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, you’re doing something wrong.”

To Sell is Human, page 232

In the closing words of To Sell is Human, Dan Pink puts his mouth where the money is. Whether we like it or not, selling is a very human experience. Those of us who like it, in fact, have a distinct advantage over the inhumane practices we’ve come to associate with the word “salesman.”

Research confirms what we already knew: the word most associated with “sales” or “selling” is pushy, followed closely by sleazy, slimy, manipulative, and dishonest. Back in the bad old days, a salesman had all the information. You were at his mercy (if such existed.) Caveat emptor; buyer, beware!

Thanks to the internet, today we all have the information. Pink coins a new phrase: caveat venditor. Yes, in a world where information is ubiquitous, buyers know as much as or more than the seller. Not only can we protect ourselves from bad products and services, any seller dumb enough to behave unscrupulously can be pilloried in pixels around the world.

While many believed that universal access to information would make sales irrelevant, the surprising discovery is that a large segment of workers are still engaged directly in sales. If we include what Pink calls “non-sales selling,” that number becomes “all of us.”

Golden Egg

We Are All in Sales, and That’s Okay

“In the United States alone, some 1 in 9 workers still earns a living trying to get others to make a purchase . . . More startling, though, is what happened to the other 8 in 9. They’re in sales, too . . . They — make that ‘we’ — are engaged in what I call ‘non-sales selling.'”

To Sell is Human, page 3

Though it wasn’t the demise of the salesman, the internet did have a sweeping effect on business.

It made us all salesmen.

Look through your email for the past week. Consider every meeting you’ve been to in the past month. Think about the phone call you’re about to make.

Your business life is fundamentally about moving people to take action, make a decision. Much of your personal life is about precisely the same things.

This is not to say that we should all go out and buy plaid polyester sports coats. The traditional image of the pushy shyster hucking overpriced broken-down cars to the unwary isn’t the true picture of sales. In fact, it turns out that too much extroversion isn’t good for sales.

The folks who do the best in the new “equal knowledge” caveat venditor selling are, not extroverts, nor introverts, but those balanced people who share characteristics of both, the ambiverts.

Isn’t it great, then, that we’re virtually all ambiverts, to some extent?

We lean one way or the other, certainly, but we can enhance the personality traits that create better balance, moving us toward the middle.

We do that with the new ABCs of selling.

Gem #1

The ABCs of Selling: Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity

“Attunement, buoyancy, and clarity: These three qualities, which emerge from a rich trove of social science research, are the new requirements for effectively moving people on the remade landscape of the twenty-first century.”

To Sell is Human, page 68

The two most visceral and universal images of selling seem to be the word pushy, and the scene in Glengarry Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin assaults the sales team with the phrase “Always Be Closing!”

While I dispute whether that was ever the best method, these days, it’s very nearly the worst method.

Instead, Dan teaches us three new principles: attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.

Attunement is the ability to bring your actions and outlook into harmony with other people and the context you’re in. Buoyancy is the ability to stay afloat, mentally and emotionally, through an ocean of rejection. Clarity is the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn’t realize they had.

We’ll focus on buoyancy’s actionable process. Actions we take before, during, and after our efforts to move someone help us develop and maintain buoyancy.

Before: Interrogative Self-Talk

Declarative self-talk (“I’m a winner and I can do this!”) risks bypassing our motivations. Questioning self-talk (“Is this the right service for them?”) reveals our “why” and makes a deeper connection and increases our buoyancy even before we’ve taken the first wave.

During: Positivity Ratios

How much positivity makes up “a positive attitude,” anyway? It turns out that it’s between 3:1 and 11:1. Seriously. Those who have between 3 and 11 positive thoughts for each appropriate negative thought are the most effective in moving others, staying afloat despite failures.

After: Explanatory Style

A giant of contemporary psychological science, Martin Seligman discovered and named “learned helplessness.” When we believe that failures are personal (“I’m not good enough”), pervasive (“I fail at everything”) and persistent (“I’ll never be any good”) we learn to fail. Seligman pioneered learned optimism: when we fail, we need to look for logical reasons why it wasn’t a moral shortcoming in us, but external circumstances. Remind yourself of other areas where you’ve succeeded, and of other times you’ve done well at this same task. Teaching ourselves that our failure to move someone else to action is not personal, persistent or pervasive creates buoyancy.

Gem #2

6 Successors to the Elevator Pitch

“Today, we have more opportunities to get out our message than Elisha Otis ever imagined. But our recipients have far more distractions than those conventioneers in 1853 who assembled to watch Otis not fall to his death.”

To Sell is Human, page 159

You know the elevator pitch: that 30-second blurb you’ll blurt when you discover you’re on the elevator with the CEO of the company, and you have until the 23rd floor to sell him your genius.

Except these days, the CEO is often just an email away, or actively soliciting feedback at an all-hands meeting or some social event. Waiting for the elevator is a waste of time and talent.

Instead, Pink gives us 6 other ways to pitch; practical methods to move others by how we present our position: the “one-word” pitch, the “question” pitch, the “rhyming” pitch, the “subject line” pitch, the “Twitter” pitch, and the “Pixar” pitch. Most are self-evident (though not as simple as they may sound.) Let’s talk about the Pixar pitch.

Every Pixar movie follows the same pattern. Since they’re the only movie studio in history to turn out 100% hit movies, it’s worth analyzing.

Once upon a time there was . . .
Every day, . . .
One day, . . .
Because of that, . . .
Because of that, . . .
Until finally, . . .

You can fill in the blanks from every Pixar movie you’ve seen. This 6-sentence format gives you the power of story within a concise, disciplined format.

Take an hour and work out your Pixar pitch for whatever it is you spend your time moving folks to do. It’s one of my year-end projects, perfecting my Pixar pitch for both of my businesses (and then perfecting it for each of my books.)

Every single day, we invest time and effort attempting to move others to see or do things a certain way. Whether it’s selling in the traditional sense of getting them to exchange money for goods and services, or it’s non-sales selling, it’s a fundamentally human endeavor.

To sell is human. How can you make your own selling even more human?

Joel D Canfield

ABOUT Joel D Canfield

I'm a creative who works mostly with words, sometimes accompanied by music. I write because I have to, and I have very little patience with money and its attendant issues...
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