Selling is something we all do in our work and personal lives. Obviously, this does not mean that we all sell things to make a living. It means that, consciously or not, we all establish little strategies to sell something: pushing a new idea, defending your vision of politics, encouraging a colleague to change his behavior to be happier at work, etc. This is what Daniel Pink calls ‘moving other’ in his book “To Sell Is Human”.
I remember I bought this book only moments after typing ‘must-read B2B marketing’ on a very famous search engine (hint: they barely declare any revenue in France). But this book addresses a much broader audience than B2B marketers or sales professionals. Anyone could enjoy this book, because it is full of compelling stories about how humans move other people. This is not a book sharing fancy sales or marketing techniques to sell more. And rest assured that the importance of ethics is a cornerstone of the book.
The concept of ‘non-sales selling’ really rang a bell with me. In fact, a study by Qualtrics shows that people are now spending 40 percent of their time at work engaged in ‘non-sales selling’ activities. To find out more about this concept, I encourage you to start right here.
A concrete example of non-sales selling: A teacher sells his students the idea that the science lesson he teaches them is the most interesting thing ever, and that they need to pay attention if they want to become the best in their domain of activity.
“Selling is more urgent, more important, and, in its own sweet way, more beautiful than we realize. The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives.”Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human (2012)
Daniel Pink explains in an extremely fresh and well-documented way that, whether it is traditional selling or its non-sales variation (aka ‘the moving business’), we’re basically all in sales now. Most importantly – this is not necessarily a bad thing! Being a good salesperson ≠ ripping old ladies off with aggressive door-to-door sales practices.
And there is a reason for that according to Daniel Pink. “We’ve always seen in movies sales people fueled by greed and founded on mis-deed. We have been cornered by the fast-talking commissioned salesman urging us to sign on the line that is dotted. Sales, even when we give a futuristic gloss like “non-sales selling » carries a seamy reputation.” he says.
Fun fact: If the US nation’s traditional salespeople lived in a single state, the state would be the fifth-largest in the United States.
The book also insists on the crazy velocity of change. The entire app economy didn’t exist before 2007, while today the app production business is responsible for half a million jobs in the US.
The word changes fast and so does the job market. IDC predicted that in 2015 we would be approximately 1,3 billion non-traditional workers (consultants, freelancers, contractors, etc.). Another analyst firm forecasts that independent entrepreneurs will represent half of the US workforce by 2020.
“What an individual does day to day on the job now must stretch across functional boundaries. Designers analyze. Analysts design. Marketers create. Creators market. And when the next technologies emerge and current business models collapse, those skills will need to stretch again in different directions.”Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human (2012)
Another fun fact: according to a study performed by Adam Grant (the University of Pennsylvania) on over 3600 sales representatives, the best ‘sellers’ are what we call ‘ambiverts’ (vs. ‘introverts’ and ‘extraverts’). I invite you to find out whether you fit in this category by reading this article.
A big ‘thumbs up’ to the very interesting chapter (starting page 87) that describes the best ways to start a conversation, which, not so surprisingly, is key to sell.
One of the reasons why I enjoyed To Sell Is Human so much, is that it is full of amazing references. This book is a knowledge goldmine. Thanks to Daniel Pink I have discovered the work of Julie Norem (from Wellesley College) on ‘defensive pessimism’. This is just a side note, but I had to shed light on this discovery, which helped me put words on a part of my own personality.
Another thing to keep in mind for anyone running a business and who is willing to create a service-selling startup: “The services of others are far more valuable when I am mistaken, confused, or completely clueless about my true problem”.
An amazing section of the book is held in chapter 6: ‘Clarity’. This gives light on how framing people’s options in a way that restricts their choices can help them see the possibilities more clearly and avoid overwhelming them. Less can be more. Message clarity also depends on contrast. Daniel Pink tells the interesting story of Rosser Reeves, the guy who invented the concept of USP (Unique Selling Point), and who is at the origin of one of the most famous stories in advertising. Check out the full story here.
The book also focuses on how our curation and credibility were key contributors to moving other. Curating the right thing is not enough though: organizing it in a meaningful way, adding value to your curation, almost became an art. Read this excellent article by Beth Kanter about what curation really means.
“In the old days, our challenge was accessing info. These days our challenge is curating it.”Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human (2012)
Ultimately the book addresses the importance of storytelling, and mentions Emma Coats, who has cracked the code of every Pixar film and argues that every single Pixar film shares the same narrative DNA – a deep structure of storytelling that involves six sequential sentences and that you can reuse for any story you want to tell:
- 1. Once upon a time there was …
- 2. Every day …
- 3. One day …
- 4. Because of that …
- 5. Because of that …
- 6. Until finally …
A critical aspect of successful sales and marketing is to aim for a ‘Win-Win’ situation. In 1989 Stephen R. Covey, introduces this concept in his book 7 habits of highly effective people. Establishing this habit of thinking ‘Win-Win’ is not easy, because ‘most people have been deeply scripted in the Win/Lose mentality since birth.’ But the only way to truly influence others is to adopt ‘a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.’ The guy said it all. Absolutely brilliant. Complementary idea: you want to be one of those ‘servant seller’ – you serve first and you sell next. You shall not upsell, you should upserve.
Then Daniel Pink gets into the topic of the structure of sales commissions, which clearly has a role in the success (or failure) of a company, and on its ability to be successful in the long run. The author tells the amazing story of Mike Little, running a semiconductors company called MicroChip, who just killed the commission system in this company. While the benchmark at the time was 60% base salary / 40% commission, he established a new plan in which ‘salespeople received 90% of their compensation in a high base salary, and the other 10% was linked to corporate (rather than individual) measures such as top-line growth, profits, and earnings per share.’ Result? ‘Total sales increased. The cost of sales stayed the same. Attrition dropped. Retention rose. And Microchip became a $6.5 billion public company.’ (source HBR, read the full story on their website).
I am going to end this book review with this mind-bowing statement from Daniel Pink:
“In every encounter, imagine that the person you are dealing with is your grandmother. This is the ultimate way to make your story personal. (…) And if you’re skeptical, try this variation. Treat everyone as you’d treat your grandmother, but assume that Grandma has eighty thousand Twitter followers.”Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human (2012)