To Sell Is Human, by David Pink


David Pink has a smooth writing style transitioning beautifully from one idea to the next.  He provides data from research to support the ideas he presents practically.  I love how Pink connects each chapter and sets the premise for what you are about to read in the next chapter by building off of what you’ve learned so far in the book.

The overall theme is sales has moved from a seller’s to a buyers market with the rise of technology where ease of information can be accessed.  Our goal in sales is to rise with it as one who serves and is attuned to the other person.  It takes perseverance to succeed in sales and more than ever it’s important to provide a  clear message for your prospects to be able to feel comfortable to weigh the decision to purchase from you.  

In the end, whether you are a stay at home parent or working a 9-5, we are all in sales and to sell is human.  I related to the popular books pointed supported through research and exciting stories that we are not born salespeople and the skills necessary to sell can be learned.


  • Rebirth of the Salesman
  • From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor
  • Attunement
  • Buoyancy
  • Clarity
  • The Pitch
  • Improvise
  • Serve
  • Glossary

Rebirth of the Salesman

What the digital age did to the CD, the decline of the video store and bank teller, so too has technologies rendered salespeople irrelevant.  Via online research, Sass products that pit vendors against one another, buyers can now find anything with a keystroke.

1 out of every 9 Americans works in sales.  Each day, 15 million people earn their living trying to convince someone else to make a purchase.  Between 2006 and 2010, 1.1mm sales jobs disappeared. Even after the biggest downturn, sales remains the second most significant occupational category behind administrative work.

Now more than ever, those not in sales are in the business of non-selling which is persuading, influencing and convincing.  Whether at work in nonsales roles or on a side gig like selling crafts on Etsy, more than ever to sell is human.  Anyone who has had to teach another is in the sales profession.  The technologies that were supposed to make salespeople obsolete in fact have transformed more people into sellers.  Today with the rise on of the smartphone you can have a storefront in your pocket.

Sales today is trying to elicit from people what their goals are for themselves and having the flexibility to frame what we do in that context. Also described as the difference between “irritation” and “agitation,” irritation is challenging someone to do something we want them to do. By contrast, agitation is challenging them to do something they want to.  Sales have truly moved to helping people understand how your products can help them achieve their goals.  It means trying to elicit from people what their goals are for themselves and having the flexibility to frame what your product does in that context.

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.

From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor

When it comes to words that come to mind about salespeople, a focus group named only five words that were positive out of 25, and the rest negative such as pushy, hard, slimy, manipulative, sleazy, dishonest, boring, etc.

In today’s world of information parity the old guideline Caveat Emptor, buyer beware, has switched to Caveat Venditor, seller beware.  Sellers are no longer the protectors of and purveyors of information in the technology Information Age. They’re the curators and clarifies of it.

Persistence and empathy are the two key traits in today’s world of sellers, and this is how you thrive in the Caveat Venditor, seller beware.

In the past, the best salespeople were skilled at answering questions because they had the information their prospects lacked. In today’s world, they must be good at asking questions and uncovering possibilities. The days of sales car speak “woodyaiff,” is ending.

An example in sales relevant to today’s world comes from a famous car salesman coined the phrase Girardi’s Rule of 250.  That each of us has 250 people in our circle who if we get to buy from us, know 250 other people.  He would pay $50 to anyone who referred him someone who eventually bought from him.  He also is a believer that after the sale it’s about service, service, service.

The myth is that some of us have sales chops and are gifted at innately moving others and the rest of us are out of luck.  There are no “natural” salespeople, in part because we are all natural salespeople.


The new version of always be closing ABC is Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity and represent the three fundamental ways we can move others to buy something.  Attunement is the difference of examining something only from our point of view to stepping outside our own experiences and understanding the emotions, perceptions, and motivations of another. Perspective taking is at the heart of our first essential to moving others in today’s world.

Increase your power by reducing it. High powered people are 3x’s as likely to be self-centered as low power individuals.  The ability to move people now depends on the inverse, understanding another person’s perspective, getting inside their head, and seeing the world from their perspective.  However, attunement is not about being a pushover.  

Use your head a much as your heart.  Being very intuitive is vital as is the case in the world of waiters as they call it “having eyes” or “reading the table.”  It allows the servers to interpret the group dynamics and adjust their style accordingly quickly.  You want to have a mental cartography of all decision makers biases and preferences.  

Attunement is not only about intuitive mental power. Top salespeople have high emotional intelligence, and they are curious, asking questions that drive to the core of what the other person is thinking.

Mimic Strategies. Syncing our mannerisms and vocal patterns to someone else so that we both understand and can be understood fundamental to attunement. The Chameleon Effect is when you subtly cross your arms when the other does or sip water at the same time, it is “monkey see, and monkey do.”  This is evolutionary as we evolved within the same groups and as time went by the connection cues aspect just became a lot more sophisticated.  Cues are key to how our brain perceives trusting another person.  Synching to another’s vocal patterns is fundamental to attunement.

Mimicking back what you heard also is very useful.  Waiters who repeat back the orders to guests receive 70% higher tips.  Repeating what you listened to a buyer says creates attunement.  

Touching is a close cousin to mimicking when done with deftness.  A light touch on the arm whether waiting tables or selling cars can increase results and attunement done subtly.

Mimicking doesn’t mean in the days of Caveat Emptor that we say we’ve been to the same place even if we have not, that’s lying and not attunement.  The key is to be strategic in mimic strategies by merely being human.

The Ambivert Advantage. These are people who are neither overly extroverted nor widely introverted. Most of us are ambiverts, sitting near the middle, happily attuned to those around us, which naturally makes us born to sell.  Studies on sales teams have found that the most sociable of sales performers are the poorest sellers.  


Start a Conversation.  The best first question to ask someone is where are you from?  This question gives the other person a myriad of ways to answer the question.  What do you do? Is another question you can ask yet it is a bit more intruding especially if someone does not like what they do.

Mirror Mimicry. Use Watch, Wait & Wane method.  Observe what the other person is doing, do not jump into mirroring that, let it breathe and when you notice a trait again wait another 10 seconds and then do it.  You are not in a contest to pile up points per mimic.  After you’ve mimicked a little, try to be less conscious and wane from doing it for a few minutes. You will become unconsciously competent at this with practice.

The idea here is to be natural not false.  Be human.  This form of “flattery” is a physical dance of charm, and if that kind of flattery does not close a deal, it just may be that the prospect is not buying.

Pull up an empty chair.  Jeff Bezos leaves an empty chair in all their meetings to remind everyone about their members being the most critical person in the room.  This practice reminds you to climb into other heads, not yours.

Have a conversation with a time traveler.  Think of all the things that have happened since the 1700’s and pick one from your list.  Now describe it to another person. This exercise is challenging because you need to think of all the other factors around the invention of say a Big Mac to the other person.  This activity immediately challenges your assumptions about the understandability of your message.  You are forced to care a lot more about the worldview of the other person.

Moods. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being negative, create a “mood weather map” with beginning, midpoint and end ratings.  This map helps increase your attunement.

Play mirror, mirror.  With a partner, stand face to face for 30 seconds. Then turn around back to back. Each person changes one thing about their appearance.  Note when conducting this with a group make sure you don’t tell the people what you are going to ask them to do. Wait sixty seconds. Turn back and ask what changed?  This also shows the importance of observations before figuring out the change.  How might this change your next encounter with a colleague, client?

Find uncommon commonalities. We are persuaded or so by those we like.  And one way we like them is they remind us of….us!  In a group pose the question what do we have in common.  For 5 minutes make a list. We dismiss this as small talk yet people are more likely to move together when they share common ground.


Each day when you make your rounds you confront the ocean of rejection.  In the past autosuggestion was the recommended method for a salesperson to carry with self-talk affirmations of how good they were.  The new way is not declarative self-talk, it is questioning self-talk which elicits the reasons for something.  It reminds people that many of those ideas come from within.  

And question self-talk can be done in an interrogative way which works great when preparing to move others.

You need both levity and gravity to see the realities of growing while realizing there is a bigger picture out there thus leaving you buoyant.

Negative emotions are essential for survival but can be limiting in only seeing the “tree” and not the “Forrest” as is the case with optimism.

You have to believe in the product you are selling.  The idea that some people could sell anything whether they found in it or not might have held true in the past when sellers had the information advantage. In today’s world believing leads to a deeper understanding of your offering, which allows the seller to better match what they have on what others need.  And genuine conviction can produce emotional contagion of its own.

Your explanatory style is a form of self-talk which defines you as either helpless or optimistic and usually occurs after, not before something happens.  When a salesperson sees’s rejections as temporary, specific and external they are confident.  The salesperson who understands it as permanent, universal and personal is helpless.  

In the end, you simply have to keep going.  Stay in the game!


Practice Interrogative Self-talk: Instead of building yourself up, ask interrogative questions, “can I move these people?”  Can I make a high pitch? Questioning self-talk elicits the reasons for doing something and reminds people that many of the ideas are from within. The write down five specific reasons why the answer is yes.  These goals will tell you of the strategies that you’ll need to be effective.

Monitor your positivity Ratio: You want a 3:1 ratio.  Some negative is good because it will show you where to improve.  Too much and you go into a negative spiral.

One way to do this is to list the ten positive emotions: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.  In the course of the day display 1-2 of these emotions.  This tracking will give you a psychological boost and lift the people around you and increase your chance of moving others.  The reason this is so effective is the reality that we feel our thinking, meaning our feeling is what drives our thinking, not the other way around.

ABCD+E Method.  Learned optimism technique, By Martin Seligman.

Count Your  No’s.  You might be surprised how resilient you are or that you have not received enough no’s.

Say “what if” 5 x’s to your problem.  

Write yourself a rejection letter. By reading the letter it might reveal soft spots of what you’re presenting.


Clarity is the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn’t realize they had. The ability to move others hinges less on problem-solving than on problem finding. If I know my problem, I can likely solve it. If I don’t see my problem, I might need some help finding it.

Using a combination of number crunching and using their expertise, salespeople can move from selling a product to selling insights about the industry.  Finding the right problems to solve is the most important thing to do.

And one question sits at the top of the list. “Compared to what”?

Finding Your Frames:

The Less Frame . Reducing options on a menu from 24 items to 6 proved to increase sales ten fold.  In a world filled with so many alternatives, framing people’s options in a way that restricts their choices can help them see those decisions more clearly instead of overwhelming them. Less is more.

The Experience Frame. Several types of research have shown that people derive greater satisfaction from purchasing experiences than they do from buying goods. Experiences give us something to talk about beyond buying a product. Avoid selling the great leather seats in the car and focus more on the new places, friends to visit and memories that will come from the purchase.

The Label Frames. Framing in comparison to what with others can elevate your standing.  Being told you’re in the neat group will tend to make the group be neater than the control group for example.

The Contrast Principle. We often understand something better when we see it in comparison with something else than when we see it in isolation. Contrast operates from within and often amplifies, every aspect of persuasion.

Blemished Frame. Can a negative be a positive when it comes to moving others?  The “Blemishing effect” is when adding a minor negative detail in an otherwise positive description of a target can give that description a more positive impact. The negative information must follow the positive information, not the reverse. The core logic is that when individuals encounter weak negative information after already positive information, the weak negative information ironically highlights or increases the salience of the positive information. Being honest about the existence of a small blemish can enhance your offerings true beauty.

The Potential Frame. When selling ourselves the sensible instinct is that we ought to use an achievement frame, deals we’ve done, divisions we’ve turned around and awards we’ve accumulated. What we really should do is emphasize our potential. The potential to be good at something can be preferred over being good at the very same thing. People often find potential more interesting than accomplishment. For example, a Facebook ad touting a comedian as the next best thing vs. could be the next best thing was more popular.

Finding an Off-Ramp: Once you find the problem and the proper frame, you have one more step. You need to give people an off ramp.  Giving a clear set of directions to follow is the key to have others take action.

Pantalon Two-Question Technique. First question on a scale of 1-10 how ready are you to do XYZ?  Second question, why isn’t your number lower?  This technique helps clarify others motives with two irrational questions.  Instead of saying coercing, promising rewards or threatening as you would do to a child for not behaving, this technique taps into the person’s inner drives. Rational questions can be ineffective for motivating resistant people.

The Five Why Questions For Better Clarity.  Asking a person why five times might be annoying but it will force them to examine and express their behavior and attitudes. And that can help you uncover the hidden problem that needs solving.

Find the One Percent. For More Clarity, think about the one percent that is the essence of what you are exploring. The one percent gives life to the other 9 percent. Ask yourself, what is the one percent?

A jolt of the Unfamiliar. Helps remind us how blind we are to our everyday surroundings. Mini, half and full jolts are effective as taking a different route to work, sitting in a different seat at work, taking a half day to do something different, to traveling to another country.

Becoming a Curator. 1) Seek, once you’ve defined the area in which you’d like to curate, put together a list of the best sources of information and read them at least twice a day for 15 minutes. As you scan, gather the most interesting information. 2) Sense, here is where you create real value by creating meaning out of the material you’ve assembled. Tend to this list of resources every day. 3) Share, once you’ve got things Organized, share via email, blogs, and social media, so others see their situations in a new light.

Right Question Institute Question Formulation Technique. List any question that comes to mind without any editing and writes them down. If you list statements to turn them into questions. Then organize them into close ended yes or no answers and open-ended. Then think about the advantages and disadvantages of each variety of question. For closed questions come up with some open-ended and do the same for the open-ended ones by coming up with closed questions.  List the three most important questions.


The purpose of a pitch is not to move someone immediately to adopt your idea.  The goal is that it offers something so compelling that it begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant and arrives at an outcome that appeals to both people.

The 6 Successors to the Elevator Pitches

The One Word Pitch:  The only way to be heard is to push brevity to its breaking point. To define the one characteristic associated with your brand and then own it.  This is one-word equity in marketing terms.  When anyone thinks of you, they utter that word.  Nowadays, only brutally simple ideas get through. Two words are not God!  2012, Obama campaign strategy was built on one word, Forward.

The Question Pitch: Questions can outperform statements in persuading others. By making people work just a little harder, question pitches prompt people to summon their reasons for believing something and therefore more likely to act on.

The Rhyming Pitch: Rhymes boost what linguistics call processings fluency.  The ease with which our mind slice, dice and makes sense of stimuli.  Taste Great!  If the glove does not fit, you must acquit.

The Subject Line Pitch: Email has become more like a habit in our lives than an application.  We may not realize it, but every email we send is a plea for someone’s attention and an invitation to engage.  Research at Carnegie Mellon found that your email subject line should be either:

  • Obviously useful “Found the best and cheapest photocopier
  • Mysteriously intriguing “A photocopy breakthrough.”
  • The headline previews and promises what the message contains.  It should not guarantee both of them.

The Twitter Pitch: In a study readers assigned the highest ratings to tweets that asked questions of followers, confirming again the power of the interrogative to engage and persuade.  The Twitpitch idea here is to make your pitch in 140 characters or less, so it’s so compelling your reader will want to act.

The Pixar Pitch: There is a formula to movies they produce such as Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.  Once Upon a time_________, Every day,_______.  One day______.  Because of that,________.  Because of that,__________.  Until finally_____________. This six-sentence format is both appealing and supple.  It allows pitchers to take advantage of the well-documented persuasive force of stories, but within a framework that forces consciousness and discipline.


Keep A Notebook. Pitches are an art form of their own, so you too, should act like an artist.  For example, keep a pitch notebook.  Jot down the great pitches you hear moving through the world. It could be a parent, a commercial, a line from a newspaper article.  It will make you aware of all the pitches in your midst.  And it will help you see which techniques move others and which merely drift into the wind.

Record Your Pitches.  Try recording your practice pitches.  Call yourself and leave a voicemail with your pitch or dictate it using a smartphone dictation app.

Images. A picture is worth a thousand words.  Support your pitch with a visual. A photo image or video using QuickTime.  Try using a Pecha-Kucha powerpoint presentation, 20 slides appearing for 20 seconds each.  That’s it.  The rules are rigid, and that’s the point of it as in 6 minutes and 40 seconds total.  The format promotes clarity through constraints.

Numbers.  Be granular with your numbers.  “Lasting up to 2 hours” vs. “lasting up to 120 minutes”, when responders in a study asked which would last longer, they said the 120 minutes would.

Get Feedback. Take time to hear what others think you’re saying.  Recruit 10 people.  Ask them which three words come to mind in response to 1 of these three questions:  What is my company about?  What is my product or service about? What am I about?  Knowing is the prelude to improving.

The One-Word Pitch:.  Write a 50-word pitch, edit to 25 words, then to 6, one of those half dozen is almost certainly your one-word pitch.

The Question Pitch. Use this if your arguments are persuasive.  Donald Trump does this all the time when he knows the answer is apparent.  Avoid this if your arguments are weak, or better yet, find some new arguments.

The Rhyming Pitch. Use a rhyming dictionary at

The Subject Line Pitch. Review the subject lines of the last 25 emails you have sent.  How many of them appeal to either utility or curiosity. Rewrite the ones that fail that test.

The Twitter Pitch. Instead of 140 characters use 120 so others can easily pass it on.  Keep it short and sweet.

The Pixar Pitch.  Practice it.

Answer these 3 Questions after someone hears your pitch….

  • What do you want them to know?
  • What do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them you to do?

If you have strong answers to these 3 questions, the pitch will come together more easily.


Improvising is akin to being a sales whisperer.  

In the era of the sales revolution, America’s Pioneers sought to replicate theater’s staged approach.  The theater has always relied on scripts.  Actors have the discretion to interpret material their way, but the play tells them what to say and, in many cases, how and where to say it.

There are three essential rules of improvisational theatre:

  • Hear offers
  • Say yes and
  • Make your partner look good

Hear Offers.  Now that sales have changed dramatically, the very idea of turning people around might be less valuable, and perhaps less possible, than it’s ever been.  The improvisational theater has no room for overcoming objections because it’s built on a diametrically opposite principle. The bread and butter of improving are hearing offers.

Is anyone anywhere taught how to listen?  How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well, is a natural gift for which no training is required? How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole educational process to help individuals learn how to listen well?

For most of us, the opposite of talking is not listening.  It’s waiting. Waiting while others are speaking to divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next-and end up doing a mediocre job at both.

The solution is to slow down and shut up as the route to listening well.

The key to listening well is to listen without listening for anything.

The job of the listener is to take in anything and everything someone says as an offer you do something with.  So not matter what the person says accept it and build on it.  The ability to listen allows the conversation or in the case of an actor the scene to move forward.  Good improvisers seem telepathic; prearranged. This is because they accept all offers made. The first principles of improvisation are you can’t tell who is leading and who is following.

If we listen to this way during our efforts to move others, we quickly realize that what seems outwardly like objections are often offers in disguise.

Offers come in all shapes and sizes, but the only way to hear them is to change the way you listen and then change the way you respond.  

Say “Yes and”: In sales, we hear plenty of no’s but we also send many no’s back out to the shores on our end and that is why in improv actors are urged to check this behavior and say “Yes and” instead.  Saying “yes and” is the foundational skill for improv actors.  Yes but is the polar opposite of this.  

Yes and is not a technique, it’s a way of life.  There are people who prefer to say yes, and there are people who say no. Those who say yes are rewarded by the adventures they have.  Those who say no are rewarded with the safety they attain.  You can’t win a tennis match by always playing defensive.

Negotiations. The purpose of a negotiation is not to make the other side lose but to help them win. It is the same in improv.  The goal is always to make the other person look good.  Negotiations are not a zero-sum game.  If both parties look for mutual gain, then both sides are better off than when they began.  

In improv, you want to let your partner shine. Doing this creates a better scene.  Making your partner look good doesn’t make you look worse; it makes you look better.

As goes improve. So go sales and non-sales selling.  If you train your ears to hear offers if you respond to others with “Yes and,” and if you try to make your counterpart look good, possibilities emerge.


Yes and. Have a conversation by replying to someone else with yes but.  Then have the same conversation with yes and.  Do the Ad Game where a group of people invents a product.  Each person builds on what the previous person says by building on with yes and.

Play One Word At A Tim. A group of people in a circle collectively craft a story, the hitch is they can only use one word to build on the story.  Sometimes the stories are great, and sometimes they fizzle as the tale unfolds.  The exercise is great for helping you to think quickly and to tune your ears to offers.

I’m Curious Exercise. With a partner choose a controversial issue that has two distinct sides.  Have one person decide their position on the issue.  Then the other takes the opposite stance.  Each person can only reply to the other with questions to the person explaining their position.

There are three rules to the questions:

  • You cannot ask yes-no questions
  • Your questions cannot be veiled opinions
  • Your partner must answer each question

Take Five. The stoic Greek Epictetus said “nature hath given men one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.  Designate one day this week to be your slow day. Then when you have a conversation, take 5 seconds before responding.  Every time it will seem odd at first.  And your conversation partner might wonder if you were recently bonked on the head.  But pausing a few additional seconds to respond can hone your listening skills.

Thumb Game.  Have each person partner and hook their fingers.  They will assume the goal is to pin the others thumb down.  However there are other approaches like asking the other person where to put their thumb, they could unhook their thumb and put it down.  The point is to show you can work with the other person.


Make it Personal. How you make people feel is what matters most. Showing you care whether your clients are happy and that there’s a human behind that caring is what matters most. “Call my cell” is one way to make it real personal. Hand written notes are also effective ways to connect on a personal level.

Make it Purposeful.  By not focusing on self but rather on the target group that is perceived as most important, raises the salience of purpose. Making it personal works better when we also make it purposeful. Stories can make the work or activity personal; the contents make it purposeful. This is what it means to serve and move others. Improving another’s life and, in turn, improving the world. This is the lifeblood of service and the final secret to moving others.  Your Why!

Servant Leadership. AT&T executive Robert Greenleaf found that quieter leaders made the best managers because these humbler types animating purpose was to serve those nominally beneath them. Accept and empathize rather than reject.

Servant Selling. Those who move others aren’t manipulators but servants. They serve first and sell later.  Sellers are in the hospitality business. Will their life improve and will the world be a better place? In this regard, to Sell is human.

Move from Upselling to Preserving.  Instead of upselling strive to Up serve. Doing more for the other person than they expect and talking the mundane to a memorable experience.  Anytime you are tempted to upsell someone else, stop and observe instead. Don’t try to increase what they can do for you. Elevate what you can do for them.

Rethinking Sales Commissions: Eliminating commission breath is the idea that excellent salespeople want to solve problems and serve customers. They want to be part of the something larger than themselves. Making salespeople authentic and the agents of their customers rather than their adversaries. Inverting for a 60/40 to 90/10 base commission structure has proven to increase sales and employee retention while keeping sales cost the same or better.

Recalibrate your notion of who is doing who a favor. The remedy is a simple one in our efforts to move others.  Why not always act as if the other guy is doing the favor?  The wisest and most ethical way to move others is to proceed with humility and gratitude. This approach connects to the quality of attunement.

Treat everyone as you would your grandmother.  Imagine the person you are dealing with is your grandmother.  This is the ultimate way to make it personal and to genuinely serve.  

Emotional Intelligent Signage: By reminding people of the reasons for the rules of the sign and trying to trigger empathy on the part of those it is addressing, the sign increases the likelihood of the action to be adhered to and the experience to be a great one as opposed to a mundane one.


Try this assignment, take a sign you see on a regular basis and make it more emotionally intelligent by making it personal and purposeful.

Origin of Sayings

Throughout the book, you learn where some of the common catch phrases in sales originated from.

A foot in the door came from door to door salesman working for the Fuller Brush Man company. They sold all types of cleaning brushes and mops for the house and would offer a vegetable brush for free as a way to get a “foot in the door.”

Novelist Upton Sinclaire coined the term “white-collar worker.”

Advertising Executive Roster Reeves developed the “unique selling proposition.”


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