To Sell is Human

Key Takeaways from ‘To Sell is Human’

My most recent listen on Audible, a monthly audio book subscription app, has been Daniel Pink’s book To Sell is Human. In this blog I will share a few of insights gleaned from it, and how to put them into practice.


Everyone is a Seller

Pink makes the case that everyone is selling something. From selling kids on the usefulness of mathematics to convincing nurses to wash their hands to limit the spread of germs and infection, most of us are trying to move people on some level.
In a survey of 7000 US workers, Pink asked, “What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value, attention, effort, money, time etc. for something you can offer?” The answer was forty percent. The average worker (and we’re not even talking directly about sales people here) spends forty percent of their day “selling” to others. Yet “selling” can still conjure up the image of the conniving used car dealer trying to rip you off for many people. With the shift of knowledge imbalance between buyer and seller, Pink suggests some ways of being and acting in sales that can make the process more human.


To be able to sell anything effectively we need to able to tune in to the emotions, perceptions and motivations of others. This can involve humility and empathy, which means truly listening to the other, and seeking to understand things from there perspective; walking a mile in their shoes.
To make a connection Pink also suggests using active mimicry, mirroring or matching the body language, style, and demeanor of your buyer. He also notes that we should learn to be good ambiverts. Extroverts can come across as pushy, and introverts too timid to get to a close, but if we can harness the extrovert’s push to respond, and the introvert’s focus on inspection and investigation, we’ll be the most flexible and attuned.
I’ve experienced the need to adjust to my audience on number of occasions. Providing part-time sales in a variety of setting from software to construction sites, to laboratories, it takes a certain amount of flexibility to match your buyer. Sometimes you need to be reflecting on both what they are thinking, and what they’re feeling. I find the best way to do this is to just ask them, “So what do you think? Does this feel like a good fit for you?”


Anyone who has been in sales for more than a week knows that you come across a lot more failure than success. Whether it’s sending emails, cold-calling, or making a pitch it can be hard to hear ‘no’ time and time again.
To become more buoyant and resilient Pink suggests that failures should be explained as temporary, specific, and external. I try to learn from every ‘no’. Sometimes it’s around a concern or issue that my prospect raises, or even how I’m presenting the product. Pink suggests that self-talk should be interrogative not declarative: “What can I do better next time” versus “This just isn’t working, I’m a failure.”
He also points to research that outlines the need for a positivity ratio of at least 3 to 1. That is, for every negative emotional experience, we need three positive ones to balance them out. I’m blessed to be able to make a lot of my sales calls from home. If I face a lot of rejection on the morning, I just need to walk upstairs and watch my one-year old running around the living room laughing for about 30 seconds to hit the reset button on those negative emotions.
Whatever it means for you, seek out positive interactions throughout the day and savour your victories when you get them.


While many of us are geared to be problem solvers, Pink suggests a good sales person should be a problem finder. This can be done by asking good probing questions. Check out Steve Gruber’s blog post on the topic. When asking the right questions, you help your buyer reveal problems they didn’t know they had… problems you can help them clarify and address.
A second way to create clarity is through constraining options. Studies show offering fewer choices result in more sales. For this reason, its rare to see more than three or four options on the pricing pages for most SaaS offerings. Give your buyer clear options, and they’ll invite you to improvise and adapt as necessary.


Inspired by Second City Improv, here are a few tips from the improv acting world that Pink believes can help you keep moving sales forward:

  1. Hear Offers: In improv, you have to roll with the scene that’s placed before you. Instead of shutting down the conversation, hear out the offers and concerns that are brought to you.
  2. Yes and: By replacing no or but with ‘yes and’, you keep the conversation flowing.
  3. Going for win-win: you can get further ahead when you have an abundance mentality. Franklin Covey who coined the term states “Win-Win means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial, mutually satisfying.”
  4. Slow down: while it can seem like an eternity, slowing down and pausing for five seconds provides room, and allows for greater creativity and insight.


Concluding Thoughts

Listening to Pink’s book did remind me of a couple core principles of selling:

  1. Humanity: We are human and the people we are selling to are as well. They’re not bots (yet) but are people that want to be inspired and provide clarity around the product that we offer.
  2. Process: Having a clearly defined sale process is important. Even while we’re making a personal connection, there’s still work that needs to be done. Whether it’s regularly curating content that our contacts will see on LinkedIn, or identifying good probing questions to have on hand, we can improvise, relate and engage more successfully when we have all our resources and information in order.

Looking for help with your sales process? Contact us at VA Partners!

Key Takeaways from ‘To Sell is Human’