Must-Read Book: To Sell is Human by Daniel H Pink


It’s hard to fathom what a bad word ‘sales’ has become. These days, it seems as if people go to extra special trouble to eradicate the word from their job title. You have customer relationship this, and client liaison that  – anything but a job with the word sales in it. I really wonder why? 


I learned the value of sales very early in life. To me selling is about doing something of value and getting paid in return. Making a sale is a wonderful feeling – one that you could very easily get used to. Successful sales people say that there is nothing quite like the high of getting the deal over the line. 


I grew up in a small business in the west of Ireland. It was started by my great grandfather John Murray in the 1890s. He emigrated to America in 1886 to provide for his family and to stave off the local landlord  – who was very aggressive in evicting small Irish tenant farmers from their small rented holdings. 


Great grandfather John went to America and fell in love with the idea of the general store. He came back to Ballinasloe and set up his own general store – becoming a local general merchant. Back then everything had value. Our shop on Main Street Ballinalsoe was a trading post. Farmers would come into the general store with their produce – grain, potatoes, carrots, milk and sell or trade them. Everyone had their own account book which kept a record of the produce they brought in and what it was traded in for – money or credit. It operated almost like a bank for farm produce and supplies. 


Growing up in that environment taught me to value sales. From an early age we were shown how to answer the phone properly, how to talk to customers and how to sell. We used to come home from school and hang out in the shop. Summer holidays were spent packing shelves, groceries and potatoes and working on the cash register. I knew very early on that the trade, the order, the sale, or whatever it was called was very important. To sell is everything in business.  


And so the book – To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. I first spotted it within weeks of it being published in 2012 on the magnificent first table in Alan Hanna’s bookshop in Rathmines, Dublin. I am a sucker for a wonderfully curated table in an independent bookshop and there it was smiling out at me, and crying to be read. 


Pink is a world renowned writer and speaker. He has written a number of New York Times best sellers and his Ted talk on motivation is one of the most viewed of all time. At the start of the book he set out with a hunch that he wants to prove. He outlines how he spent a couple of weeks documenting all of his work activities, emails, calls, texts. He came to the realisation that he spends a significant part of his days trying to coax resources from others. He realised that he’s in the persuasion business and if you are in the persuasion business – you are in sales. It doesn’t matter if you are a primary school teacher, a Rabbi or a writer – if you spend your time trying to convince others to your point of view then you are in the sales business. Sometimes the real power is knowing what business you’re in.  


Like all great newspaper journalists turned non-fiction writers, Pink mixes storytelling, research and commentary with ease. His style is a joy to consume and full of lessons that are easy to apply to your own work. He divides the book into three sections. Part one outlines how the traditional way of thinking about sales has changed. It has gone from hard sales to persuasion. He points out that in the USA, for every one person in hard sales there are eight-or nine more directly involved in convincing, cajoling and persuading. 


In Part two, Pink looks at all of the most contemporary research in social science and identifies the three most crucial skills to succeed in the persuasion business. The first is attunement – the ability to get on other people’s wave length. The second is buoyancy, which is a mixture of grit and happiness. And the third is clarity – how to make sense in difficult situations. 


The final part deals with the rubber hitting the road. How to sell. It focuses on pitching, improvising and serving the customer. Pink manages to combine deep intellectual research with a practical approach and the book has plenty of assignments to sharpen sales skills. There is the one line pitch, the elevator pitch and the pixar pitch – plenty of formats to get better at persuading. 


Best of all are the stories of sales professionals Norman Hall the 75 year old door to door hygiene products salesman to Jan Judson the medical professional who knows her job is to convince and persuade. The best compliment I can pay this book is that I’m reading it again – you should read it.