To Sell is Human by Dan Pink

To Sell is Human

RATING: 8/10…ADDED AUGUST 30, 2014

Dan Pink exploring the power of selling in our lives, both professionally and personally.

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We’re persuading, convincing, and influencing others to give up something they’ve got in exchange for what we’ve got.

One of the most effective ways of moving others is to uncover challenges they may not know they have.

Consider: The United States manufacturing economy, still the largest in the world, cranks out nearly $2 trillion worth of goods each year. But the United States has far more salespeople than factory workers.

even after the worst downturn in a half-century, sales remains the second-largest occupational category (behind office and administration workers) in the American workforce,

I began by asking respondents to think about their last two weeks of work and what they did for their largest blocks of time. Big surprise: Reading and responding to e-mail topped the list—followed by having face-to-face conversations and attending meetings.

“Regardless of whether you were using e-mail, phone, or face-to-face conversations, how much time did you devote to” each of the following: “processing information,” “selling a product or a service,” and other activities? Respondents reported spending the most time “processing information.”

respondents spent the most time on “processing information.” Yet when they listed the tasks that were most vital in doing their job well, they ranked “serving clients and customers” and “teaching, coaching, and instructing others” higher.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the American economy has more than twenty-one million “non-employer” businesses—operations without any paid employees. These include everything from electricians to computer consultants to graphic designers. Although these microenterprises account for only a modest portion of America’s gross domestic product, they now constitute the majority of businesses in the United States.

In sixteen Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries—including France, Mexico, and Sweden—more than 90 percent of businesses now have fewer than ten employees.

A world of flat organizations and tumultuous business conditions—and that’s our world—punishes fixed skills and prizes elastic ones. What an individual does day to day on the job now must stretch across functional boundaries. Designers analyze. Analysts design. Marketers create. Creators market. And when the next technologies emerge and current business models collapse, those skills will need to stretch again in different directions.

Ed-Med—which includes everyone from community college instructors to proprietors of test prep companies and from genetic counselors to registered nurses—is now, by far, the largest job sector in the U.S. economy, as well as a fast-growing sector in the rest of the world.

To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.

When buyers can know more than sellers, sellers are no longer protectors and purveyors of information. They’re the curators and clarifiers of it—helping to make sense of the blizzard of facts, data, and options.

Attunement is the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you’re in.

Think of this first principle of attunement as persuasion jujitsu: using an apparent weakness as an actual strength. Start your encounters with the assumption that you’re in a position of lower power. That will help you see the other side’s perspective more accurately, which, in turn, will help you move them.

As the researchers say, ultimately it’s “more beneficial to get inside their heads than to have them inside one’s own heart.”

a Dutch study found that waitresses who repeated diners’ orders word for word earned 70 percent more tips than those who paraphrased orders—and that customers with servers who mimicked were more satisfied with their dining experience.

several studies have shown that when restaurant servers touch patrons lightly on the arm or shoulder, diners leave larger tips.

One of Guéguen’s studies found that women in nightclubs were more likely to dance with men who lightly touched their forearm for a second or two when making the request. The same held in a non-nightclub setting, when men asked for women’s phone numbers.

When social scientists have investigated the relationship between extraversion and sales success, they’ve found the link, at best, flimsy. For instance, while supervisors often give extraverts high ratings, several researchers have found that extraversion has “no statistically significant relationship . . . with sales performance” and that “extraversion is not related to sales volume.”26 One of the most comprehensive investigations—a set of three meta-analyses of thirty-five separate studies involving 3,806 salespeople—found that the correlation between extraversion and sales was essentially nonexistent.

Selling of any sort—whether traditional sales or non-sales selling—requires a delicate balance of inspecting and responding. Ambiverts can find that balance. They know when to speak up and when to shut up. Their wider repertoires allow them to achieve harmony with a broader range of people and a more varied set of circumstances. Ambiverts are the best movers because they’re the most skilled attuners.

He says his favorite opening question is: Where are you from?

We dismiss such things as “small talk.” But that’s a mistake. Similarity—the genuine, not the manufactured, variety—is a key form of human connection. People are more likely to move together when they share common ground.

positive self-talk is generally more effective than negative self-talk. But the most effective self-talk of all doesn’t merely shift emotions. It shifts linguistic categories. It moves from making statements to asking questions.

Negative emotions, she says, evolved to narrow people’s vision and propel their behavior toward survival in the moment (I’m frightened, so I’ll flee. I’m angry, so I’ll fight). By contrast, “Positive emotions do the opposite: They broaden people’s ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and . . . making us more receptive and more creative,” she writes.

Once positive emotions outnumbered negative emotions by 3 to 1—that is, for every three instances of feeling gratitude, interest, or contentment, they experienced only one instance of anger, guilt, or embarrassment—people generally flourished.

In human beings, Seligman observed, learned helplessness was usually a function of people’s “explanatory style”—their habit of explaining negative events to themselves. Think of explanatory style as a form of self-talk that occurs after (rather than before) an experience.

People who give up easily, who become helpless even in situations where they actually can do something, explain bad events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. They believe that negative conditions will endure a long time, that the causes are universal rather than specific to the circumstances, and that they’re the ones to blame.

the salespeople with an optimistic explanatory style—who saw rejections as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal, and external rather than personal—sold more insurance and survived in their jobs much longer. What’s more, explanatory style predicted performance with about the same accuracy as the most widely used insurance industry assessment for hiring agents.

Next time you’re getting ready to persuade others, reconsider how you prepare. Instead of pumping yourself up with declarations and affirmations, take a page from Bob the Builder and pose a question instead. Ask yourself: “Can I move these people?”

When something bad occurs, ask yourself three questions—and come up with an intelligent way to answer each one “no”: 1. Is this permanent? Bad response: “Yes. I’ve completely lost my skill for moving others.” Better response: “No. I was flat today because I haven’t been getting enough sleep.” 2. Is this pervasive? Bad response: “Yes. Everyone in this industry is impossible to deal with.” Better response: “No. This particular guy was a jerk.” 3. Is this personal? Bad response: “Yes. The reason he didn’t buy is that I messed up my presentation.” Better response: “No. My presentation could have been better, but the real reason he passed is that he wasn’t ready to buy right now.”

Say you’re interviewing for a new job or trying to raise money from an investor. Take an hour and write yourself a letter from the person you’re trying to move explaining why his answer is “Thanks, but no thanks.” List the reasons he’s turning you down. And, of course, include the irritating phrases—“After careful consideration

When you read your letter, you’ll probably laugh. Once the rejection is in writing, its consequences can seem far less dire. More important, by articulating the reasons for turning you down, the letter might reveal soft spots in what you’re presenting, which you can then work to strengthen.

“To people estranged from their future selves, saving is like a choice between spending money today and giving it to a stranger years from now.”

The researchers’ breakthrough was to identify a new, and previously unknown, problem: that we think of ourselves today and ourselves in the future as different people.

“It is in fact the discovery and creation of problems rather than any superior knowledge, technical skill, or craftsmanship that often sets the creative person apart from others in his field.”

In subsequent research, they and other scholars found that people most disposed to creative breakthroughs in art, science, or any endeavor tend to be problem finders.

After all, my ultimate aim isn’t to acquire a vacuum cleaner. It’s to have clean floors. Maybe my real problem is that the screens on my windows aren’t sufficient to keep out dust, and replacing them with better screens will keep my entire house cleaner when the windows are open. Maybe my problem is that my carpet collects dirt too easily, and a new carpet will obviate the need for me to always be vacuuming. Maybe I shouldn’t buy a vacuum cleaner but instead join a neighborhood cooperative that shares home appliances. Maybe there’s an inexpensive cleaning service with its own equipment that serves my area. Someone who can help me achieve my main goal—clean floors—in a smarter, cheaper way is someone I’ll listen to and perhaps even buy from. If I know my problem, I can likely solve it. If I don’t know my problem, I might need some help finding it.

“The most important thing they do,” he told me, “is find the right problems to solve.”

First, in the past, the best salespeople were adept at accessing information. Today, they must be skilled at curating it—sorting through the massive troves of data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces. Second, in the past, the best salespeople were skilled at answering questions (in part because they had information their prospects lacked). Today, they must be good at asking questions—uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues, and finding unexpected problems.

That’s why the most essential question you can ask is this: Compared to what?

“Adding an inexpensive item to a product offering can lead to a decline in consumers’ willingness to pay,” the researchers concluded.14 In many instances, addition can subtract.

Even when people ponder their future purchases, they expect that experiences will leave them more satisfied than physical goods.

framing a sale in experiential terms is more likely to lead to satisfied customers and repeat business. So if you’re selling a car, go easy on emphasizing the rich Corinthian leather on the seats. Instead, point out what the car will allow the buyer to do—see new places, visit old friends, and add to a book of memories.

The neatest group by far was the first—the one that had been labeled “neat.” Merely assigning that positive label—helping the students frame themselves in comparison with others—elevated their behavior.

“The core logic is that when individuals encounter weak negative information after already having received positive information, the weak negative information ironically highlights or increases the salience of the positive information.”

People often find potential more interesting than accomplishment because it’s more uncertain, the researchers argue. That uncertainty can lead people to think more deeply about the person they’re evaluating—and the more intensive processing that requires can lead to generating more and better reasons why the person is a good choice. So next time you’re selling yourself, don’t fixate only on what you achieved yesterday. Also emphasize the promise of what you could accomplish tomorrow.

The lesson: Clarity on how to think without clarity on how to act can leave people unmoved.

Whether you’re selling computers to a giant company or a new bedtime to your youngest child, ask yourself: “What’s the one percent?” If you can answer that question, and convey it to others, they’re likely to be moved.

The purpose of a pitch isn’t necessarily to move others immediately to adopt your idea. The purpose is to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant, and eventually arrives at an outcome that appeals to both of you. In a world where buyers have ample information and an array of choices, the pitch is often the first word, but it’s rarely the last.

If you’re one of a series of freelancers invited to make a presentation before a big potential client, including a rhyme can enhance the processing fluency of your listeners, allowing your message to stick in their minds when they compare you and your competitors. Remember: Pitches that rhyme are more sublime.

e-mail subject line should be either obviously useful (Found the best & cheapest photocopier) or mysteriously intriguing (A photocopy breakthrough!), but probably not both (The Canon IR2545 is a photocopy breakthrough).

Along with utility and curiosity is a third principle: specificity. Indeed, Brian Clark, founder of the popular Copyblogger copywriting website, recommends that subject lines should be “ultra-specific.”17 Thus a mushy subject line like Improve your golf swing achieves less than one offering 4 tips to improve your golf swing this afternoon.

The types of tweets with the lowest ratings fell into three categories: Complaints (“My plane is late. Again.”); Me Now (“I’m about to order a tuna sandwich”); and Presence Maintenance (“Good morning, everyone!”).

readers assigned the highest ratings to tweets that asked questions of followers, confirming once again the power of the interrogative to engage and persuade. They prized tweets that provided information and links, especially if the material was fresh and new and offered the sort of clarity discussed in Chapter 6. And they gave high ratings to self-promoting tweets—those ultimate sales pitches—provided that the tweet offered useful information as part of the promotion.

Pixar film shares the same narrative DNA, a deep structure of storytelling that involves six sequential sentences: Once upon a time ______________________________. Every day, _______________. One day _________________________. Because of that, ___________________. Because of that, _______________________. Until finally ___________________.

Once upon a time only some people were in sales. Every day, they sold stuff, we did stuff, and everyone was happy. One day everything changed: All of us ended up in sales—and sales changed from a world of caveat emptor to caveat venditor. Because of that, we had to learn the new ABCs—attunement, buoyancy, and clarity. Because of that, we had to learn some new skills—to pitch, to improvise, and to serve. Until finally we realized that selling isn’t some grim accommodation to a brutal marketplace culture. It’s part of who we are—and therefore something we can do better by being more human.

Granular numbers are more credible than coarse numbers. A University of Michigan study asked participants to estimate the battery life of two GPS devices. One device claimed to have a battery life of “up to 2 hours”; the other had an identical, but more finely grained claim of “up to 120 minutes.” Participants estimated the first battery would last 89 minutes, but the second would last longer—106 minutes

Listening without some degree of intimacy isn’t really listening. It’s passive and transactional rather than active and engaged. Genuine listening is a bit like driving on a rain-slicked highway. Speed kills. If you want to get to your destination, you’re better off decelerating and occasionally hitting the brake. The ultimate idea, she says, uncorking a small bottle of Zen in the cramped conference room when the session is over, is to “listen without listening for anything.”

Instead of swirling downward into frustration, “Yes and” spirals upward toward possibility. When you stop you’ve got a set of options, not a sense of futility.

“In improv, you never try to get someone to do something. That’s coercion, not creativity,” Salit says. “You make offers, you accept offers—and a conversation, a relationship, a scene, and other possibilities emerge.”

In developing countries, road accidents now kill the same number of people as does malaria.

One of the skills that separate outstanding radiologists from average ones is their ability to identify what are called “incidental findings,” abnormalities on a scan that the physician wasn’t looking for and that aren’t related to the ailment for which the patient is being treated.

Instead of seeing patients as duffel bags of symptoms, viewing them as full-fledged human beings helps physicians in their work and patients in their treatment. This doesn’t mean doctors and nurses should abandon checklists and protocols.9 But it does mean that a single-minded reliance on processes and algorithms that obscure the human being on the other side of the transaction is akin to a clinical error.

“The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

the test—which, like Greenleaf’s, is the best and the most difficult to administer—is this: If the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began?

“Why not always act as if the other guy is doing the favor?”

In every encounter, imagine that the person you’re dealing with is your grandmother. This is the ultimate way to make it personal. How would you behave if the person walking into your car lot wasn’t a stranger but instead was Grandma? What changes would you make if the employee you’re about to ask to take on an unpleasant assignment wasn’t a seemingly disposable new hire but was the woman who gave birth to one of your parents?

How honest and ethical would you be if the person you’re corresponding with via e-mail wasn’t a onetime collaborator but was the nice lady who still sends you birthday cards with a $5 bill tucked inside?

If the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began?


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