Daniel Pink, Author of To Sell is Human: "We're All in Sales Now"

In his new book To Sell is Human, bestselling author Daniel Pink reveals the surprising truth about moving others.
Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com
January 22, 2013

In his new book, To Sell is Human, bestselling author Daniel Pink argues that selling has changed more in the last 10 years than it did over the previous hundred.

"We’re all in sales now," Pink says." One in nine Americans—some 15 million people—make a living trying to get others to make a purchase. But the other eight in nine work in sales too—we’re persuading and influencing others to give up resources in exchange for something we have."

In fact, based on Pink's research, we’re devoting upwards of 40 percent of our time on the job to moving others via “non-sales selling”: cajoling and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. And it is critical to our professional success.

We are selling ourselves online more than ever—whether it’s products on Etsy, funding ideas on Kickstarter or ourselves on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why We're All in Sales

As he did in his book A Whole New Mind, Pink identifies three crucial elements of macro socioeconomic trends driving the changes in sales and selling. He calls them "the 3 E's":

1. Entrepreneurship. The enormous rise of small entrepreneurs in the economy means more of us are in sales. The research firm IDC estimates that 30 percent of American workers now work on their own. Some analysts project that independent entrepreneurs could become the majority of the workforce by 2020.

2. Elasticity. Workers can no longer rely on doing one task at work. The new breadth of skills demanded by companies means that more people are engaging in both selling and non-sales selling. As elasticity of skills becomes more common, the ability to move others becomes crucial.

3. "Ed-Med." Education and health services are by far the largest job sectors in the U.S. economy, as well as a fast-growing sector in the rest of the world. Education and health care have more in common with selling than ever before—convincing someone to part with resources to leave them better off in the end, whether that means studying for a test, doing physical therapy or adhering to a drug regimen.

The New ABCs of Selling

The old ABCs of sales were "Always Be Closing." The new ABCs, Pinks writes, are "Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity."

Attunement is "the ability to blend one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people." This ability hinges on three principles:

  • 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 person’s perspective more accurately, which will help you move them.
  • Use your head as much as your heart. Top salespeople have strong emotional intelligence, but they don’t let their emotional connection sweep them away.
  • Mimic strategically. Learn to be a chameleon.

Buoyancy is "the quality that combines grittiness of spirit and sunniness of outlook." To be buoyant means to apply three components before, during and after any effort to move others.

  • Before: Think interrogative self-talk, which means, instead of making statements, ask yourself questions such as “Can we fix it?" Questioning self-talk elicits reasons for doing something and reminds people, and you, that many of those reasons come from within.
  • During: Think in terms of positivity ratios. 3 to l is the magic number. For every three instances of feeling gratitude, interest or contentment, people who experience only one instance of anger, guilt or embarrassment usually flourish.
  • After: This involves the the self-talk that occurs after an experience. Salespeople with an optimistic explanatory style, who saw rejections as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal, are better at moving others.

Clarity is "the capacity to make sense of murky situations." To create clarity, you first need to find the right problems to solve, then find the right frame for the problem. Every problem needs a contrast, so ask yourself the question: “compared to what?” Finally, you need to find an "off-ramp," which Pink defines as providing a clear directive for people to act.

Beyond the Elevator Pitch

Pink argues that even pitching is changing, depending on the idea, the locale and the person being pitched. A single, one-size-fits-all elevator pitch is no longer relevant. Instead, Pink suggests having six different pitches.

  • The one-word pitch: One word can connect with others. For example, what technology company do you think of when you hear the word “Search”? What credit card company comes to mind when you hear the word “Priceless”?
  • The question pitch: Ronald Reagan’s effective use of the question during the 1980 election has become a classic of the question pitch, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
  • The rhyming pitch: Johnnie Cochran’s use of this sentence in the OJ. Simpson trial: “If it doesn’t fit ... you must acquit.”
  • The subject line pitch: Your email subject line should be either obviously useful, mysteriously intriguing or ultra-specific.
  • The Twitter pitch: University of Iowa Tippie College of Business used a 140-character contest to award a scholarship package. The winner? A haiku: “Globally minded/Innovative and drive/Tippie can sharpen."
  • The Pixar pitch: A six-sentence format that’s led to Pixar’s most successful films: Once upon a time there was_____. Every day, _____. One day _____. Because of that, _____. Because of that, _____. Until finally _____.

Improvise and Serve

Pink concludes To Sell Is Human with an emphasis on the "human" aspect, arguing that learning the skills of an improvisational actor can radically increase your ability to move others. In other words, if you train your ears to listen for both explicit and non-explicit offers, if you respond to others with “Yes and,” and if you always try to make your counterpart look good, possibilities will emerge.

Sales and non-sales selling are ultimately about service, Pink maintains. At its best, moving people can achieve something greater than merely an exchange of resources. That’s most likely to happen when you do two things: Make it personal, and make it purposeful.

In the end, selling is about moving others. And moving others doesn’t require that we neglect these nobler aspects of our nature. Today it demands that we embrace them. It begins and ends by remembering that to sell is human.

Read more sales and marketing articles.

Photo: Thinkstock 

Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com