Clare Lindeque

Head of Quantitative Analysis

August 2019

Book Review - To Sell is Human

The “sales” profession often gets a bad rap for requiring aggression and insensitivity. But in To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink upends and broadens our perception of sales, and what counts as a sales job, by contending that almost everyone is in sales, one way or another. If you interrogate the intentions underlying most of your meetings and discussions with colleagues, friends and family, you’ll find that the root of many of them is persuasion – bringing someone around to your point of view. Much of this is likely a by-product of the Information Age, as technology and knowledge-intensive enterprises take a more prominent role in the economy, but some of it is simply part of what it means to be human. At some point each of us will be called upon to assume a guiding role, be it as a coach, teacher or advice-giver. Parents may be doing these things all day, every day. 

The Internet has also transformed roles that are explicitly sales-based, presenting customers with choice and richness of information far beyond what was available 50 years ago. The asymmetry of knowledge that used to be to the salesperson’s advantage has tipped in the other direction, forcing a rethink of what a useful sales role looks like. Pink contends that we have moved from a world of caveat emptor (buyer beware) to caveat venditor (seller beware), because truth and transparency are now a salesperson’s only viable approaches. 

Pink offers three characteristics that are most relevant for persuasion, rewriting the salesman’s ABC (“Always Be Closing”) to Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity. He draws on a wide range of research to illuminate the qualities that foment harmonious interactions, optimism and the ability to make sense of complex situations, while identifying the problem you can solve for your colleague, loved one or client. When your product is potentially complex, and addresses a wide range of needs for a wide range of people, as do Prudential’s investment funds, a collaborative, information-driven approach is essential. 

Following the ABCs, which are attitudinal, Pink suggests a suite of abilities that matter the most in this brave new world – what to do. He suggests techniques from improv theatre as resources to enhance your persuasive powers, and provides a library of techniques for pitching your idea or point of view. Even if a strictly rhyming pitch seems too outlandish, brainstorming one could provide the necessary impetus to improve your message. 

Following every chapter is a “Sample Case”, in which Pink collates scores of tips, tools, checklists, reading suggestions, and exercises aimed at putting into practice the techniques he describes. 

Whether or not you buy (sorry!) Pink’s hypothesis that many of us spend most of our time “selling”, To Sell is Human offers a compelling suite of attitudes to cultivate and behaviours to make you more convincing. His final chapter is about service in its broadest, most gracious sense – “improving others’ lives, and, in turn, improving the world”. This elevates the art of persuasion beyond the aggressive sales pitch and repeated follow-up calls, transforming it into something worthy.

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