To Sell Is Human – Daniel H Pink

By November 12, 2013Blog

Book Review Classified Post, written by Nick Walker

A new book argues that persuading others to buy is hardwired into our species

Nobody has ever calculated the percentage of Hong Kong’s workforce in sales, but it’s likely in the Asia-Pacific top 10, along with the most McDonald’s per square kilometre, smartphone market penetration, and the – over the last year – Candy Crush addiction.

The business of Hong Kong is business – and a huge, though thus-far uncalculated proportion, is in sales.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, by Daniel H. Pink, deals both with selling goods and services, and the all-important business of selling yourself in one of the most fluid job markets on the planet. It also covers the selling – or the pitching – of your ideas to your employee to stay ahead of the power curve.

So, like it or not, most of us are in sales, one way or another.

To Sell Is Human looks at the curious mix of art and science of selling in gratuitous detail and, in places, wry humour. There are surprises here too, such as Pink’s opinion that extroverts don’t make the best salespeople.

Here you’ll also find six successors to the “elevator-pitch”, the three rules for understanding your potential customer’s perspective, the “five frames” by which you can enhance the persuasiveness of your message, and more. The result is a perceptive and practical work with applications for job-hunting, work, even study.

But before we go any further, who is this Pink fellow? Just another US business guru-cum-keynote speechmaker? Well he’s a bit more than that. Pink’s served at the highest levels of politics and public service, having worked as an aide to US secretary of labor Robert Reich, and – from 1995 to 1997 – was chief speechwriter for former vice-president Al Gore.

Pink can write with verve. At times, he uncannily reads the mind of the reader and offers simple but compelling metaphors to illustrate a finding or concept.

Pink’s basic premise is simple. He posits that he we all spend considerable energy each day trying to get others to do what we want or request – a purchase, a new job, an agreement, a deal, sometimes simple obedience.

One professional he interviewed expressed it most lucidly. “Almost everything I do involves persuasion. Whether you directly sell products, participate in teamwork efforts, attempt to direct the behaviour of others or run your own business, you are, in effect, selling or, more specifically, moving others to do something.”

Pink reviews the historical protocol for selling and determines that it has morphed with the zeitgeist. The instantaneous access to information through the internet has completely altered the balance of power in sales exchanges. Consumers know far more, and will – in the middle of your sales presentation – look up what you just said on their smartphones. Pink’s book offers strategic advice on how to adapt to this harsher paradigm.

He tells us that far from being a world of “us and them”, we are now in some shape or form all in sales: whether it’s selling a product old-school style, selling our skills to a potential employer or selling an idea to have it supported and funded.

He argues that the first thing homo sapiens did was sell to each other. I disagree – I’m sure they had sex, discovered fire, and invented the wheel before sales become part of the human condition. But one gets his point.

“The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are,” he writes.

And although he talks of “honesty, directness, and transparency” now being the more fruitful long-term route, most of us who have caught others attempting to take advantage of us will know that there are still plenty of ignorant and nefarious sellers out there – something that Pink reminds us of.

Following his view that increasing numbers of us are involved in selling, he goes on to suggest how we can be better sellers – the first step being to see “rejections as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal, and external rather than personal.”

He also acknowledges the grimly inevitable. “Anyone who sells – whether they’re trying to convince customers to make a purchase or colleagues to make a change – must contend with wave after wave of rebuffs, refusals, and repudiations.”

Many of his points are reassuringly fresh. “To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources – not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.”

All in all, a highly practical book on the crowded “How to Sell” shelf of your nearest bookstore. And head and shoulders above the competition.


Michael McNulty, who hails from Camberley, England, and now works in London and Elmbridge, has been providing professional development advice for over a decade, through his company, The Performance Business. He echoes Daniel H. Pink’s ideas, and shares some insights of his own:

Be flexible “If you are in a meeting with a prospective buyer, they will need the opportunity to share their perspective, hopes and desires. Co-create the solution with them rather than for them.”

Be reassuring “A prospective client needs to be sure you have their interests at heart. You must understand and address any fears or concerns they have so that they can be confident that your product or service is the best option for them.”

Listen and connect “What is your client really saying? Are you sure you have really heard what is important? Are you sure you haven’t made any assumptions? If you are unsure, ask questions to clarify and check back with your prospective client. Once you are aligned with your client and their needs, you can match your products and services to give wings to the shared vision.”

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