To Sell is Human, Just as Humans Buy From Humans

Everyone is Mastering Sales: Lessons from Daniel Pink's "To Sell is Human"

Selling isn't just for salespeople. Whether you're pitching an idea, influencing a team, or trying to get buy-in from stakeholders, understanding the human side of sales is crucial.

Bastian Moritz
May 2024

Selling isn't just for salespeople. Whether you're pitching an idea, influencing a team, or trying to get buy-in from stakeholders, understanding the human side of sales is crucial. Daniel Pink's "To Sell is Human" breaks it down into straightforward concepts that anyone can use.

Attunement: Seeing Through Their Eyes

Attunement is about aligning yourself with others' perspectives. It’s not just about understanding their needs but also seeing the world through their eyes. This concept extends beyond empathy—it's about stepping into someone else's shoes to understand their motivations and challenges.

Attunement is about tuning into other people's perspectives.

Think of it like this: If you're trying to help someone learn a new skill, you need to understand their starting point. Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, was great at this. When explaining complex ideas, he always started with what his audience already knew, then built on it.

For example, if you're selling a tech solution, first understand your client's current challenges and workflows. This way, you can present your solution as a natural next step rather than a disruptive change.

Buoyancy: Staying Afloat Amidst Rejection

Sales and rejection go hand in hand. Buoyancy is Pink's term for the resilience needed to stay positive in the face of rejection.

Sales come with a lot of “No's”. Buoyancy is about staying positive and persistent.

I face rejection every time I first propose a new idea from somebody. But it is the idea that gets feedback, I am not questioning myself (although people might associate me with the idea, but that’s mainly their problem and bias) I can remain confident, stay optimistic, and learn from each setback.

In sales, this means prepping yourself with the right questions ("Can I really help this client?"), staying positive during interactions, and analyzing what went wrong after a rejection to improve next time.

Pink's strategy to stay positive in the face of rejection:

  • Before: Engage in interrogative self-talk. Instead of pumping yourself up with affirmations, ask yourself questions like, “Can I do this?” This prompts you to prepare and strategize.
  • During: Maintain a positivity ratio. Balance positive and negative emotions to stay motivated and effective.
  • After: Adopt a constructive explanatory style. When faced with failure, see it as temporary and specific rather than permanent and pervasive. This mindset helps you learn and improve rather than becoming discouraged.

Clarity: Finding the Real Problem

In the information age, customers don't need more information—they need clarity.

Clarity involves helping others see their situations in new ways and identifying problems they didn't know they had.

This is where innovative problem-finding comes into play. Instead of merely solving existing problems, businesses should anticipate future challenges and opportunities. Clarity also involves framing information effectively and using contrasts to highlight benefits, making it easier for customers to make informed decisions.

Clarity is about identifying problems that customers don't even know they have.

You become a master problem-solver when you look at problems from fresh angles. It’s about problem-finding over problem-solving.

For instance, if your product helps streamline project management, don't just solve the visible problem (missed deadlines).

Dig deeper to uncover root issues, like poor communication or unclear roles, and address those. This makes your solution more valuable.

Pitch: Making Your Message Stick

Crafting the perfect pitch is key.

Whether you're pitching a product, an idea, or yourself, the ability to capture attention and persuade is crucial.

Use simple, engaging explanations to make complex ideas understandable.:

  • The Summarizing One-word pitch: Condense your message to one impactful word. For instance, "efficiency."
  • The Encouraging Question pitch: Ask something thought-provoking, like "What if your team could save 10 hours a week?"
  • The Rhyming pitch: Use a catchy rhyme to make it memorable.
  • The Compelling Subject-line pitch: Think of your pitch like an email subject line. It should make them want to hear more.
  • The Twitter pitch: Summarize your idea in a tweet-length message. Brevity is powerful.
  • The Pixar pitch: Tell a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. For example, "Once upon a time, your projects were always late. Then we introduced our tool, and now deadlines are a breeze." With the Pixar pitch you use storytelling techniques to craft a narrative that resonates.

These pitches are designed to make your message stick, whether in a boardroom or a casual conversation.

Improvisation: Adapting on the Fly

Sales aren't scripted. You need to think on your feet.

Pink draws lessons from improv theater to enhance our ability to respond to the unexpected, the unpredictable,

  • Yes, and: Build on what others say to foster collaboration.
  • Hearing offers: Stay open to opportunities that arise spontaneously.
  • Making your partner look good: Support and elevate others to create a positive, cooperative environment.

Improvisation skills help you navigate the dynamic nature of customer interactions, ensuring you remain agile and responsive.

Use the "Yes, and" technique from improv: build on what the client says to keep the conversation flowing. Always be ready to pivot based on their needs and feedback.

Serving: Putting Others First

Finally, selling is about serving.

This aligns perfectly with Seth Godin's idea of focusing on whom you want to serve.

Seth Godin emphasizes the idea of serving others as a central theme in several of his works, notably in "This Is Marketing" and various of his most famous blog posts. He consistently poses the critical question: "Whom do you want to serve?"

Because neither effective marketing or sales is about shouting louder or manipulating consumers. Instead, it’s about understanding the people you want to serve and creating value for them. Successful marketing and selling are about genuine service. It's about creating products, services, and experiences that truly meet the needs of your audience.

The greatest teachers we had didn't just teach us – they inspired us – they focus on what their students need. Similarly, in sales, prioritize helping your customers over just closing the deal. Understand their goals and tailor your approach to meet those goals. That’s what the most successful salespeople focus on: meeting their customers' needs and aligning their offerings with a higher purpose.

Personal and purposeful by genuinely caring about your customers and their goals, you build deeper connections and trust. In turn, this approach not only boosts sales but also contributes to sustainable, long-term growth.

Human-Centric Sales for Real Growth

Daniel Pink's "To Sell is Human" is all about making sales more human.

By understanding and using attunement, buoyancy, clarity, pitching, improvisation, and serving, you can improve how you sell, pitch, and influence. These concepts help you connect better with others, solve real problems, and drive sustainable growth.

So, next time you're in a selling situation, remember these principles and channel a bit of Feynman's clarity and curiosity.

Daniel Pink's "To Sell is Human" highlights a selling that emphasizes empathy, resilience, clarity, effective communication, adaptability, and a service-oriented mindset, all principles that builds stronger relationships with customers, drives long-term growth, and helps you navigate the complexities of the contemporary market with finesse.

If you are striving for customer-centric strategies and sustainable success, Pink's insights offer valuable guidance. By understanding and implementing these concepts, you can transform your approach to selling, ensuring it aligns with the needs and aspirations of your audience.

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