5 Sales Lessons from Daniel Pink's 'To Sell Is Human' - rocketMBA
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5 Sales Lessons from Daniel Pink’s ‘To...

5 Sales Lessons from Daniel Pink’s ‘To Sell Is Human’

Daniel Pink is a world renowned expert on improving sales. I recently finished reading one of his classics, To Sell Is Human (I recommend you pick up a copy), and here were my takeaways:

1. We are are all salespeople in today’s economy

In virtually every job, we all need to persuade someone to do something. Therefore, learning the principles of how to sell effectively has a high return on your time.

2. The Internet has led to reduced information asymmetry, and has changed the nature of sales

In the old days, salespeople often had an information advantage over customers, giving rise to the image that salespeople are slick. Today, however, buyers are more informed than ever. Therefore, effective selling is more about listening to customers’ needs and helping them solve their problems, rather than just selling them products. Additionally, the rise of online customer reviews (think Yelp for restaurants) has made a positive reputation even more beneficial and a negative one even more devastating.

3. Selling leads to a lot of rejection; a key characteristic of those who are great at sales is what Daniel Pink calls “buoyancy”

Pink presents some key ways to improve buoyancy and deal with rejection: 1) Use interrogative self-talk (i.e. ask yourself “Can I make a great presentation?”) to shift your mindset to a “can-do” attitude, 2) Positivity – believe in what you are selling and have positive emotions (i.e. gratitude and contentment) outnumber negative emotions by at least 3:1, and 3) Explanatory Style – the self-talk after an event sees any rejection as temporary, specific, and external rather than personal

4. Contrast can be more persuasive than just presenting an option by itself

Presenting a solution to a problem by contrasting it with another option tends to be more persuasive than just presenting one solution in isolation.

5. The most effective “elevator pitches” include the person receiving the message as a collaborator rather than someone to just convert to your own way of thinking.

Pink also presents a helpful list of different types of pitches, including the “One-Word Pitch,” the “Question Pitch,” the “Rhyming Pitch,” and the “Subject-Line Pitch.”

Other Interesting Points

  • A study showed that waiters/waitresses who touch touch their patrons on the upper arm lightly or repeat back their customers’ orders receive larger tips
  • Ambiverts, not extroverts or introverts, are the best salespeople
  • Taking the perspective of the other party can help achieve better outcomes during the sales process
  • Listing the positives of a product, then listing a minor negative (called the blemish effect) actually makes a sale more likely
  • Selling potential (X is “up and coming”) can be very effective; this may be why sports prospects who have a lot of upside in the minds of scouts often get drafted higher than their current skill may warrant
  • If you are competing with other salespeople, go first if you are an incumbent but last if you are a challenger; avoid the middle if you can because you are more likely to be forgotten by the audience
  • Use the principles of improvisational theater – Truly listen (don’t just wait to speak again), use “Yes and” rather than “Yes but” to move discussions forward in a constructive way, and make others look good
  • Use Robert Greenleaf’s concept of “servant leadership” in sales by seeking to “upserve others” and deliver more than they expected

After reading this book, it is easy to see why Pink is considered such a thought-leader in the sales space. I encourage you to get a copy of the book, as many of the lessons apply to your life no matter what you are doing. As Pink points out in the book, we are all in sales now.


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Before graduating from Stanford GSB with an MBA in 2016, Alex worked for three years in public equity investing. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Alex enjoys hanging out at the beach with friends, playing basketball, and learning about history. He currently works in Equity Research in Downtown LA.

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