Book Summary: To Sell is Human: Daniel Pink

to sell is humanTo Sell is Human Daniel Pink

  • ISBN-10: 0857867202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857867209

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Dan Pink in this book discusses the changing landscape of Selling where buyer is now the King and all of us are sellers in one way or other. He challenges a lot of accepted norms of selling. He also proposes new ways that has worked for people who thrive in this new environment. Dan has divided the book into three parts. Lets us now examine each part of the book individually.

Part One:  Re-Birth of a Salesman

Non-Sales Selling

Dan here distinguishes between Selling and Non-Sales Selling. Non Sales selling involves persuading the other person to do something which does not involve a purchase. As parents, teachers, employers, employees, interviewees are involved in the latter even if  not in the former. So it is important for all of us to learn and master sales skills.

A number of companies have eliminated typical sales department and are using their technical staff to educate and close sales with their customers.


From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor

Lemon and Peach examples of a Used car sales is a very famous case study of the Information asymmetry in a market. This highly complicated term just means that the seller knows much more than a buyer about what he is selling and has vested interests. As a result there are high chances of a Buyer getting cheated. Hence Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware.

This information assymetry has been eliminated today by the internet. Buyers are equally if not more aware of the products that they intend to buy. We are now in the age of ‘Customer is the King’ where many sellers are willing to take loss to ensure a good experience for the buyer. Hence Caveat Venditor or Vendor Beware.

So in the new world of selling, honesty, transparency and directness are highly rewarding.

Part Two : How to Be

ABC’s of Selling. The old ABC of Selling was ‘Always Be Closing’ where the focus was on closing a sale. New ABC’s that Dan defines here are Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.

ABC's of Selling
ABC’s of Selling


Attunement is the ability to connect with the other person. Dan suggests ways to be able to connect better with our prospect.
1) Increase the power by reducing it – In a transaction the one with lower power we tend to be more empathetic to the other person. So always assume yourself to be of the lower power to be more empathetic.
2) Use your Heart as much as you use your Head  Thinking what the other person would Feels vs what other person thinks increases chance of mutually satisfying deals by 76%. Co-operate rather than compete.
3) Mimic strategically – Mimicing other person’s body language subtly improves our influence over others.

Ambivert Advantage

Ambiverts sell more than extroverts or introverts – So if you are an introvert initiate more often, if you are an extrovert, hold back, dont be pushy, listen to understand rather than to respond.

Sample Cases :

1)Connect and build rapport. Discover better ways to start a conversation. Try ‘Where are you from’ rather than ‘What do you do?’
2) Practice Strategic Mimicry – Watch Wait Wane. After a while it becomes automatic and effortless like leading a partner in a dance.
3) Empty chair – Always consider the perspective of the audience. Amazon achieves this by putting an empty chair in their meeting to denote their customer who is not present in the meeting.
4) Check you levels of introversion/extroversion here.
5) Conversation with a time traveller – Try explaining traffic lights, take out pizza to a person from 1700’s. This exercise challenges assumption about the understandablity of your message.
6) Discussion Map : Observe in a group conversation who talks to whom and map it. This gives a visual representation of who spoke to whom, who spoke the least, who said the most etc. This helps understand the group dynamics.
7) Mood Map: During a discussion that involves persuasion, at the start of meeting rate the mood on a scale of 1 to 10 , where 1 is being negative and restraint to 10 being positive and open.  Give the number again towards the middle as well as the end of the meeting. Did it improve or did it deteriorate?
8)Find uncommon commonalities – Commonalities makes other person more relatable..more like us.  Eg: Is the other person from same town as yours? Do they also love scuba diving ? Did they also go hiking in the Himalayas the prev. year?

Buoyancy (A state of floating)

Before: Interrogative Self Talk over auto suggestion

Auto Suggestion: Eg: I’m the best. This will be a breeze for me. – gives temporary self-boost.
Interrogative Self Talk – Eg: Can I handle this presentation? – Positive answers to this kind of self-questioning lasts longer and deeper. It may also provide strategical advice such as ‘Last time I spoke too fast, I must slow down’ etc. The effect is lasting as mind interprets this as intrinsic motivation while it considers positive self- talk as extrinsic pressure.

During : Positivity Ratios

During Negotiations smiling and being positive improves chances of a deal , rather than being straight faced or antagonistic.
Positive : Negative Emotions – 3: 1 ratio people flourished . Harmful when over 11:1 as appropriate negative emotions provide feedback.
Positive – Gratitude, contentment, hope, compassion, amusement, awe, interest, joy, love, pride, desire. Negative –  anger, contempt, disgust, embarrassment, fear, guilt, sadness, and shame.
Infuse positive emotions through the day by interaction with friends, gratitude prayer, etc

After: Explanatory Styles

Is your explanation about a negative event – Permanent, pervasive and personal  or temporary, specific and external

i.e My boss is such a jerk. He always does this to me. I’m sure my promotion will now be on hold forever  Vs. My boss is just having a bad day. I’ll probably have this discussion later with him

Those with positive explanatory styles sell more (37%)  and are less likely to quit (25%) than those with negative styles.

Sample Case: Buoyancy

1) Practice Interrogative self-talk: Ask can I move these people ? Answer directly and in writing.
2) Monitor your positivity ratios
3) List and practice the ten positive emotions on your wall – joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, pride, amusement, hope, inspiration, awe, love.
 4) Tweak your explanatorystyle: Is this permanent ? Is this pervasive ? Is this personal? Explain bad events as temporary, specific and external.  Dispute and de-catastrophize the negative explanations by poking holes in the story and identify contradictions.
5) Enumerate: Count your No’s during the week and know that you have survived them.
6) Embrace: Embrace your No’s and keep going. Remember some of the best actors/sportsmen have been rejected many times over
7) Don’t forget to go negative once in a while. Appropriate negativity : provides feedback and ability to reflect upon our actions in the past to improve.
8) Defensive Pessimism: ‘What ifs?’ enable us to picture the worse scenario that enables to better manage anxieties.
9) Send yourself a rejection letter – Once the rejection is in writing, its consequences seem trivial. Try Rejection Generator Project.


A conceptual shift : capacity to see their situations in a new light: identify problems in a new light.
Example Problem: People do save enough for their retirement.
Solution: Seeing an older version of oneself makes people feel more conscious about saving for retirement.
Problem Finding is more valuable than problem solving. Info from sellers is more valuable when buyer is confused, mistaken or clueless rather than when they know what exactly their problem is.

What are the most valuable selling Skills now?

1) Curating information rather than accessing info in the age of information overload.
2) Asking the right questions rather than answering them.
3) Finding your frames – Contrast principle Eg: Better than ___
Less Frames – less choices than more to make more people buy. Adding an inexpensive add on to a valuable product reduces its value in the eyes of the buyer.
Experience Frame – People derive greater pleasure in acquiring experiences rather than in acquiring goods.  So framing a material purchase as experiential improves satisfactions Eg: Mastercard Ad
Label Frame – Naming a game as community game improved co-op by 1/3 rd. Positive labeling improves compliance over mere advice/ suggestion.
Blemished Frame – Strong positive info followed by a weak negative works better than presenting only positives.
Potential Frame – is the next big thing vs is possibly the next big thing – possibility is considered more valuable. Focus on promise of tomorrow rather than accomplishment of yesterday.
4) Clarity on how to act: Providing specific instructions on call to action significantly increases the response.

Sample case :

1) Irrational questioning : to persuade.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how likely/ready are you to ___ ? and once the number is recd like 3 or 2 etc ask why is it not lower. When the person themselves provide justification on why they need to do something they are likely to be more convinced and do it themselves.
2) Try a Jolt of the unfamiliar 
Mini – Try a new route to work , a new cuisine at restaurant, a new seat at a conference table
Half – Spend half a day in a non familiar setting
Full – Travel to another country with a different culture
3) Become a curator – Seek a niche, Make sense of the myriad info and share it with the audience who wants to know.
4) Ask Better Questions : Produce , Improve, Prioritize your questions
5) Read the books –  Nudge, Switch, Made to Stick, Influence, Mindless Eating
Ask the 5 why’s to find the real problem and distinguish it from surface level reasoning
6) Find the 1 % – the crux of the rule for which the other 99% exists to facilitate.

Part 3 : What to Do

Pitch. Improvise. Serve


Six pitches that work:
  1. One word Pitch – Write a 50 word pitch. Reduce to 25 and then to 6. Pick that one word. Eg Search – Google, Priceless – Mastercard
  2. Question Pitch – Use this if your arguments are strong. Else use a statement or ind a new argument.
  3. Rhyming Pitch – Woes unite foes vs woes unite enemies. People rate rhyming pitch to be more accurate than the equivalent although both sentences mean the same. Try a rhyme dictionary like Rhymezone
  4. Subject Line Pitch – Emails that get opened (1) Utility (2) Curious (3) Ultra – specific (Eg: 3 ways to ___). Ex: Review the Email subject lines of the last 20 emails you sent, how many have utility or curiosity. Try re-writing those that don’t have.
  5. Twitter Pitch – pitch in less than 140 characters Eg: Tippie MBA application – Winning Application – Globally minded Innovative and driven Tippie can sharpen. short sweet and easy to retweet
  6. Pixar Pitch – Pixar story format follows the template:
    Once upon a time __     Every day              One day _     _Because of that       because of that         Until Finally                 . Read 22 of the Pixar storiesformat rules.
Answer three questions: Clarify your purpose and strategy and by answering these questions: strong answers = strong pitch
1) What do you want them to know
2) What do you want them to feel
3) What do you want them to do
1)Keep a pitch notebook and collect your and other peoples pitches.
2) Add visual to your pitch
3) Experiment with pecha kucha –  the art of concise presentation of 20 slides for 20 sec each
4) Pay attention to sequence – Go first if you’re incumbent, last if you’re the challenger
5) Pay attn to numbers – upto 2 hrs vs 120 minutes. Ppl find the second more reliable and trust worthy.
6) Ask ppl to describe your invisible pitch in three words – what is my company about? what is my product/service about? what am I about ?


Improv is a form of theatre where the artists spontaneously improve upon their scripts on the spot onstage. What does Improv teach us about sales:
(1) Hear Offers : Listen without listening for anything. Exercise : Wait for 15 seconds before you respond. Listen with intimacy (listen to understand) rather than passive and transactional (listening to respond) Everything that the other person is an offer you can do something with. In this way even objections are offers in disguise.
Eg: I can’t make this purchase right now Response : Shall I get back to you in two weeks then
 I can’t give you $ 200. Response : How about a $100 then.
(2) Yes and  – Accept all offers and add on it. Instead of the usual yes but…, try yes and ..Accept the offer of the person and add on to it.
(3) Make your partner look goodExercise : Choose a controversial topic, and assign pro and con team. When the other person expresses a view polarisingly opposite view, you are to respond with a genuine query and not a sarcastic comment.
Tip: Respond with ‘That’s an Interesting view. Did you consider…’

Sample Case: Improvise

(1) Slow day: Take 5 sec before you respond to someone. Try it one day a week.
(2) Say ‘Yes’ and : Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have.
Those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.
(3) Play ‘Word at a time‘. Every person can adds only one word and only when its his turn to build a story.
(4) I’m Curious : Pick a controversial topic and big opp sides with a partner. Partner makes case and respond with questions. Rules a) You cannot ask Yes-No questions b) cannot be veiled opinions c) your partner must answer each question.
5)Read these books on Improv:

6) Use your thumb : Activity : Get your Partner’s thumb down : Most people will take it to be as an activity of thumb wrestling. However easiest way to succeed is by co-operation.

Serve :

Empower : Let users know they can intervene and stop unacceptable behavior. Eg: Posters asking the passengers to intervene and stop the drivers from rash driving significantly reduced accidents.

Make it personal : Attaching a photo of the patient to the scan made the radiologist more aware when examining the scans. Also helped in deduction of incidental findings.
A personal appeal (with his picture) from the Owner asking for customers to call him for feedback if their experience was poor.
Make it purposeful : More doctors washed their hands when reminded of reduced infection for patients rather than when reminded of their own safety. Sales people who were told stories of how their work had impacted people were more effective than those who were given motivational message by more than 200 %
Servant Leader – Serve your customers/followers

Sample Case : Serve

  1. Move from Upselling to Upserving – Upserve by preempting customer needs and suggest solutions rather than trying to push your way to more sales.
  2. Rethink Sales Commissions: Reducing the sales commission component of salary and increasing fixed component has positive effects for salesforce by improving sales, reduction of attrition and no change in cost of sales for Microchip.
  3. Use signs to express empathy, personalization and purpose. Eg: Children play here. Pick up after your dog.
  4. Treat everyone as you would your grandmother– remove the cloak of anonymity and personalize each interaction.
Utility Test – If the person buys will his life improve ? Will the world be a better place because of your interaction with the buyer?
Don’t be the salesperson who sells ice to Eskimos. Serve Value to thrive.

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Priya Krishnamoorthy

Exploring the Journey of life everyday with a new outlook

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