Book Notes : To Sell Is Human

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing and Influencing Others by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book starts by highlighting how the environment for selling is changing – increasingly the number of people who are in sales are larger than they might realise with the rise of “none-sales” selling. This could be selling ideas or trying to get people to act safely – rather than traditional selling.

Additionally sales used to be based on an imbalance in information where the seller used to have all of the information whereas with the rise of the Internet this imbalance has shifted so both the seller and buyer have near knowledge parity.

The book presents the new ABC for selling:


The ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you’re in.  This hinges on three principles:

  1. Increase your power by reducing it – people in a low power situation are more likely to understand the perspective of the other parties.
  2. Use your head as much as your heart – perspective taking and empathy are closely related but not identical.  Getting the perspective of the thinking of the other party is more conducive to selling than getting the perspective of their feeling.
  3. Mimic strategically – Humans like it when we see echongs of ourselves, these make us feel that we are both in tune.  As such mimicking is a good way to win people over but care needs to be taken since if the other person feels this is forced this becomes fake.

People who are ambiverts (part way between extrovert and introvert) are better sellers than either extroverts or introverts, who both sell relatively similar amounts.


How to stay afloat in an ocean of rejection. There are techniquest before, during and after an interaction.

  1. Before – Asking yourself if you can do this is a powerful way to prepare yourself for a selling interaction.
  2. During – Positivity, people who have 3 – 11 times more positive emotions compared to negative ones allow people to flourish. Sometimes it is good to engineer some positive experiences into your day (e.g. seeing friendly customers to balance our negative ones)
  3. After – Optimistic explanatory style, seeing rejection as temporary, specific and not universal, and external not personal.


  • Finding the Right Problem to Solve – People fall into two groups, problem finders and problem solvers. Problem finders are creative. When you try to focus on helping the customers requires creative solutions e.g. recommending competitors products if this is the best thing for the customer.
  • Finding Your Frames – Clarity depends on contrast.
    • Experiences frame – experiences are generally more valuable to people than material purchases, so selling a car based on its leather interior is less likely to have a return customer than describing the experiences the car could take them
    • Label frame – just labelling a group a something encourages them to be it, e.g a school class the “neat” class results in the classroom being neater.
    • Blemish frame – having a small negative can make the positives more attractive, but only if the negative information follows the positive
    • Potential frame – “the potential to be good at something can be prefered over actually being good at that very same thing”
    • Finding an Off-ramp – providing a clear way for people to take the action which you desire

What to do

The book covers a number of different ways to pitch an idea.

Improvide – from improv theater

  • Hear offers – active listening
  • Say “yes and”
  • Make your partner look good

Serve – make what you do in the service to others makes it more meaningful, move from upselling to upserving

  • Make it personal – e.g. show pictures of patients to x-ray reviewers
  • Make it purposeful – e.g. a sign “Hand hygiene prevents patients catching diseases” outperforms messages about the person washing their hands or a catchy phrase
  • Aim to make the buyers life better. 1. If the seller buys this will their life improve? 2. Will the world be better as a result?

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