To Sell is Human (a new book by Daniel Pink)

By Andrew Thorp

When an opportunity arose recently to listen to one of the most popular TED speakers of all time, I jumped at the chance. Last week Liverpool John Moores University hosted a talk by Daniel H Pink, multiple author, former speech writer for Al Gore and a close observer of human behaviour. His celebrated TED talk (Oxford 2009) covered some surprising things about motivation, and Pink expanded on this in Liverpool to promote his latest book ‘To Sell is Human’.

Here are some of the main insights from his talk about selling in the modern era:

Most of us use negative terms when asked to describe our feelings about ‘sales people’ – pushy, sleazy, manipulative. But according to Pink, most of us are involved in sales in some form or another. That’s because he defines selling as “convincing or persuading people to give up something they value (attention, effort, money, time, etc) for something you can offer.” This would include anything from asking for an autograph to persuading your teenage son to tidy up his room.

Selling isn’t what it used to be. Traditionally as a sales person, you had the advantage of knowing a lot more than the customer (‘information asymmetry’). But the internet has changed that – our prospects have checked us out first and may know as much as we do. Instead of ‘buyer beware’ it’s now ‘seller beware’! That means as salespeople, we need a whole new set of skills.

Pink’s research suggests we need THREE key attributes to be a good sales-person:


Can we adopt the perspective of the other person? Do we know what it’s like to be in their shoes? Are we able to show that we’re on their wavelength? Interestingly, the more we rise in status (to senior positions), the more this skill tends to degrade.


As salespeople we face an ocean of rejection – how can we stay afloat? In this sense buoyancy refers to resilience (a football manager once referred to this as ‘bouncebackability’).


Information is everywhere and we have equal access to it. The key is to be able to distill what is relevant for the customer. Pink claims that good management consultants are really problem FINDERS (rather than solvers). Their skill is in seeing what the real problem is, when the client can’t.

Pink asked us whether we thought that introverts or extroverts make the best sales people. In actual fact, AMBIVERTS make the best performers! These people are (like most of us) somewhere in the middle, but they’re very good at ‘leaning’ one way or the other when the situation requires it.

Great sales people engage in what Pink describes as ‘social cartography’ – if you look at the image here you’ll see a meeting he studied where CROSSES indicate where someone spoke and the ARROWS shows the direction of the communication. In a meeting, someone with this ‘social sense’ would figure out who the decision-maker is in the room and who likes to blow hot air but has no authority.

In this picture, JW says a lot but most people direct their comments at AB (the more authoritative figure). SL is a wallflower!

What fascinated me is how vital these social skills are in modern-day sales. It’s subtle and seems to be closely associated with dating, where a chemistry emerges between buyer and seller. Pink’s overall message in “To Sell is Human” seems to be that sales is not something that’s designed only for extroverts with the gift of the gab. It’s happening more widely all around us, but it’s essentially a human process – socially intelligent sales if you like. Well worth a read.


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Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at
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