Book review: Dan Pink ‘To sell is human’

This is Dan Pink’s most recent book and follows ‘A whole new mind’ and ‘Drive -the science of motivation’ and the accompanying TED talk on motivation which can be found here if you’ve not seen it. I’m a big Dan Pink fan so I’m a little biased. Drive should be read by everyone – parents, teachers and business people alike.

As indicated by the title it clearly explains a lot about motivation – which we could all benefit from understanding more about. The other thing I like about Pink’s writing, is that it’s backed up by research and lots of it. Mostly social science and behavioural psychology research which he uses effectively as cases studies and evidence to reinforce his points.


On the back cover is the line ‘We’re all in sales now’. And we are – in the new economy, whether we realise it or not. He goes onto explain, ‘Each day millions of people earn their keep by convincing someone else to make a purchase. They sell planes to airlines, oil shares to sheiks, cars to drivers. They sell consulting agreements, magazine subscriptions, time-shares, double glazing, broadband, fitted kitchens, car insurance, life insurance, pet insurance! Some work in fancy offices with glorious views, others in dreary cubicles, but most look exactly like you.

In fact, each and every one of us spends a lot of our time trying to persuade others to part with resources – money, time, effort, attention – though most of the time we don’t realise we’re doing it. Parents sell their kids on going to bed. Spouses sell their partners on moving the lawn or putting the cat out. We sell our bosses on giving us more money and more time off. And in astonishing numbers, we go online to sell ourselves on Facebook, on Twitter, and in profiles. What businesses, politicians and academics seem not to have realised yet is that we’re all in sales now.”

I remember being part of a ‘traditional’ sales team a few years ago – complete with a mobile phone and company car which were displayed like badges of honour, and people saying to me ‘I could never do what you do. I could never sell to people’. But I agree with Dan Pink in that ‘we’re all in sales now’. So if we are, why not understand how we can be better at it, to consistently get more of what we want and to make the process easier and more likable for all involved as no one likes being ‘sold at’. The answers lie within the pages.

I won’t rewrite the whole book here and spoil your voyage of discovery if you choose to read it but these are some of the highlights;

Pinks new sales process follows ABC – not ‘Always Be Closing’ which is the traditional sales approach and one I was taught, but rather ‘Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity’

Attunement is about really listening to and understanding customers or potential customers and has three rules to success;

  1. Increase your power by reducing it
  2. Use your head as much as your heart
  3. Mimic strategically

Buoyancy is about mind set, the questions we ask ourselves and about ratios of positive to negative emotions we experience and the effect they have.

Clarity is just that. Clarity of message or ‘pitch’ and what it is exactly that you want others to do.

Within the sections, Dan Pink continuously reveals useful and actionable insight.

In attunement, he dispels the myth that to be in sales and perform well, you need to be extroverted. In fact, quite the opposite as extroverts tend to talk too much and listen too little which is the opposite of attunement. He introduces ambiverts who from research far outperform extroverts in sales. They just tend not to fit the stereotypical view of sales people.

In Clarity he discuss the shift in perspective from problem solving versus problem finding due in part to the new status of information asymmetry between buyers and sellers. Buyers now have access to a wealth of information, product reviews and views on the internet and through social media, which redresses the previous imbalance where the seller held and controlled all product information putting the buyer at a distinct disadvantage.

He also talks in Clarity about frames of reference which leads to a great questions when framing your own offering by asking ‘compared to what?’ Being able to answer this and see things in different frames or perspective as your customer does is a subtle art but one that’s worth pursuing to great effect. Other frames he discusses include experience frames and purchases – material purchases versus experiential purchases with the latter being more fulfilling and memorable to people who bought for the experience rather than the possession or item itself.

The two questions for instant influence borrowed from ‘Instant Influence’ by Michael Pantalon are intriguing. I think I’ll try these first on the kids though to perfect, before unleashing on prospective customers but I can see them working!

One thing I have applied straight away is Pink’s six pitches. He touts it as a successor to the elevator pitch. You know, it’s what you’d say in about 60 seconds if you happened to get into a lift with your prospect and you’ve got 60 captive seconds with them before they get out.

It’s a really insightful and a great exercise to do. I’ve written all six pitches and it really makes you think clearly about your message and what you’re trying to convey.

The 6 pitches are; pixar logos

  1. The one word pitch
  2. The question pitch
  3. The rhyming pitch
  4. The subject line pitch
  5. The Twitter pitch
  6. The Pixar pitch

The ‘serve’ chapter at the end of the book pulls everything together by looking at what it is to truly serve with a personal and purposeful approach. He outlines research experiments by Adam Grant and David Hofmann that indicate that purpose is a performance enhancer and a significant one to boot. In one study, two groups from a U.S University call centre were tasked to raise money from previous alumni for the school. Before starting work the target group read case studies about pupils who have benefitted from receiving scholarship from the school and how it had changed their lives. The stories made the work personal and purposeful. The control group just read random stories. The result was that the target group more than doubled the amount of money raised compared to the control group. That’s double. Who wouldn’t want their sales team to double their performance?

Pink’s parting gift at the end of the book is that “you ask and answer these two questions at the core of genuine service;Dan Pink selling quote

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

If the answer is no to either of these, you’re doing something wrong.”

This book will definitely be a go to reference source for me to make sure I get the most out of it. I hope you do too.


Use technology to manage customer expectation

Shopping trolley on button of computer keyboardI’m not a shopping fan at the best of times but internet shopping I can live with because I can browse without being harassed, I can do research into products and then buy when I’m ready and then get my order delivered to the door – perfect.

Web sites vary in terms of customer experience and usability, as does delivery method choices and timescales. When it works, it works very well in my experience and I’ve rarely had an issue with an internet order. Amazon is a great model and is often touted as best in class for customer experience. However, recent experiences with ASOS suggests that there’s another company who’ve mastered delivering a great customer experience from online to front door.


The event was a family christening and the women of the house, my partner and her daughter absolutely had to have something new to wear.
We went to another christening several month ago that I bought something new for, so being a man I figured this would be perfect for a second outing. Not good enough for the ladies though and in true fashion they’d left choosing right to the last minute. My partner works full time and clearly didn’t have time to actually go shopping so it was a virtual shop. ASOS was picked as the online store of choice and after 24 hours of deliberation, clothes were picked, bought and ordered for delivery next day.

The order confirmation arrived by email fairly instantly and then within the next hour, a text message arrived indicating delivery as requested next day between 7am and 9pm which was fine. A fairly standard experience so far for internet shopping. No one was going to be in on the day of delivery but another recent purchase from ASOS was left with neighbours which I prefer rather than a parcel being returned for a second delivery attempt.

On the morning of delivery however, we received another text indicating a delivery window of 60 minutes between 12.30pm and 1.30pm. Impressive both from the accuracy of the timeslot and managing expectation about the delivery itself. In addition, within the text we were given three options, 1-Deliver to neighour 2. Fri 3. Mon

Given we knew we weren’t going to be in we selected option 1 to leave with a neighbour as we’d done previously.

True to their word the package arrived in the time slot they indicated. In the end I was around to take delivery and so could testify for the accuracy of the timescale. Their courier partner is DPD and clearly they’ve got a good relationship. DPD delivered on the ASOS promise.

Now it could be argued that this is how companies should be operating, and clearly for ASOS they are. Reliable, consistent and trustworthy. Do what you say and deliver on your promises. Can you imagine the situation if the goods hadn’t arrived? Albeit the late order was down to my partner and her daughter but that wouldn’t have been a pretty sight and I’m sure heated conversations and tantrums would have ensued and that’s just me!

Fortunately that was all avoided though. Interestingly, ASOS didn’t do anything to ‘wow’ us as customers but everything went to plan, it was effortless and it worked. The upshot is a blog and a significant likelihood to recommend – go on try them!

However, it’s not like this in many instances. Inconsistency is one of the biggest enemies to a good customer experience whether that be online, high street or in a business to business relationships. And what should be expected to be delivered as the basics in a good customer experience often isn’t.

Clearly ASOS have got it right which sets the bar higher for everyone and rightly so. Organisations that can deliver consistently on their promises will keep customers, win new ones and reap the financial benefits this brings with it.