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To Sell is Human

By: Daniel Pink

Reviewed By: Bob Ruffolo

Selling is a natural part of life.

You’re constantly doing it, even if you don’t realize it.

When you share your vision with your team in hopes of getting them onboard, fired up, and ready to take action – you are selling your ideas.

When you go on a first date, you are selling yourself; a job interview, selling yourself.

Any time you try to convince someone of something or try to get them to take action, you are selling.

Keeping that in mind, what other skill can have a bigger impact on your life than your ability to persuade others?

This is the conclusion Daniel H. Pink reaches this conclusion in his book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

“Selling, I’ve grown to understand, is more urgent, more important, and, in its own sweet way, more beautiful than we realize.” – Daniel H. Pink

We’re All in Sales

Sales has evolved over the last couple of decades.

Companies that profited immensely from traditional marketing strategies like door-to-door sales have gone under, as those practices aren’t nearly as effective as they used to be.

Today, companies are focusing their marketing efforts online. 

One out of every nine workers in the marketplace are in sales roles – roughly 15 million people total - however, the rest of us are also selling.

We might not be directly selling products and services, but we are selling our ideas.

We have to persuade others when we pitch an idea or negotiate a deal. If you’re a thought leader in your industry, you might be using LinkedIn or Twitter to persuade the market that your content is valuable.

According to a study conducted by Pink, the average person spends around 40% of their working time selling something.

Your ability to sell directly impacts almost half of the work you do – and if you’re an entrepreneur or business executive, that percentage is probably higher.

The Workplace Requires More Selling

One of the key reasons that we all sell so much more is the workplace has changed.

Amazon, eBay, Etsy, the App Store, and other marketplaces have led to the rise of small businesses. Startups and small businesses dominate new markets through innovation and flexibility.

However, one thing that allows these businesses to grow quickly with limited resources is the ability of their employees to wear multiple hats – and one hat that gets worn the most is the sales hat.

With so many things fighting for our attention in the digital age, all professions require selling.

Selling Has a (Wrongfully) Negative Connotation

When it comes to the reputation of selling, Pink notes: “To the smart set, sales is an endeavor that requires little intellectual throw weight – a task for slick glad-handers who skate through life on a shoeshine and a smile”

However, deception in selling doesn’t work like it used to. The reason it worked in the past was that prospects didn’t have access to the information they do today.

Thanks to the internet, prospects can research and read reviews before making a new purchase. In fact, there is far more incentive for sellers to be transparent and honest than there is to be deceptive today, as customers will always find out.

The Traits of Successful Sellers

Pink has found that the most successful sellers tend to share common traits. The following are the traits he discusses in the book.

The following are the six traits he discusses in the book.

#1. Understanding Your Buyer Persona

Studies have shown us how to get inside the head of our prospects.

Modern sellers have to assume the buyer is the one with the power, focusing on understanding their thoughts (not their feelings), and mimicking their gestures and language.

Pink also points out that while most assume extroverts are the most successful sellers, studies have found ambiverts to be most successful at selling in the modern age of business.

Their ability to balance showmanship and genuine listening leaves a better impression on prospects.

#2. Buoyancy

Buoyancy, according to Pink, is “the combination of a gritty spirit and a sunny outlook.” In other words, the ability to consistently sell with a positive attitude, despite how many times you’ve been told “no.”

Pink suggests following three practices to withstand repeated rejections:

  • Ask yourself questions beforehand – Instead of pumping yourself up, ask if you can succeed. This forces your brain to come up with reasons for why you can succeed, providing intrinsic motivation.
  • Be mostly positive – A positive attitude is contagious and rubs off on prospects. However, a little negativity helps you stay grounded.
  • Be optimistic – Remember that rejection is only temporary and often out of your hands anyway.

#3. Clarity

Prospects aren’t going to buy if they don’t know what you’re selling. The most successful sellers are able to clarify exactly what their company is offering and why it matters to their prospect.

Not only do you need clarity in how you present your offering, but successful sellers also provide a clear call to action for their prospects to take the next step forward in the decision process.

#4. Ability to Pitch

We are constantly pitching and being pitched on ideas. Especially with the rise of email and social media, there is no escaping the “elevator pitch.” With all of this distraction, it’s hard to get your pitch to stand out.

Pink suggests using one of the following six new ways to pitch:

  1. The one-word pitch
  2. The question pitch
  3. They rhyming pitch (memorable)
  4. The 140-character Twitter pitch
  5. The subject line pitch
  6. The Pixar pitch (a six-sentence narrative structure that’s used in Pixar movies)

# 5. Improvisation

If the techniques so far have failed, Pink suggests improvising by listening to your prospect’s objections and hear them as “offers.”

Respond with “yes and..” – showing that you agree while also making a suggestion.

This is a subtle tactic for persuading without trying to win an argument.

#6. Customer Service

The most successful sellers are dedicated to customer service. They genuinely believe in what they’re selling and know how it can benefit their prospects.

At the same time, they care about providing value to their prospects.

They are quick to provide information and resources that can help their prospects, even if they don’t end up closing the sell.

Key Takeaway

Though "selling" in the traditional sense may not come consciously to everyone, we as human beings are doing naturally in our everyday lives. If you are looking for (or aspire to become) a great seller, look for the six traits above. An individual with these characteristics will be far better equipped to spar with the modern consumer and close more deals.