Leading On Business: Seven Gems from Daniel Pink’s book “To Sell Is Human”


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I just finished reading Daniel Pink‘s latest book, “To Sell is Human The Surprising Truth About Moving Others“, as part of my commitment to reading #100 books in 2013, and mainly because I’ve enjoyed each one of Pink’s books to date. (no affiliation – just a fan)

I think that, in life, we most enjoy those things that resonate with beliefs and values we already hold: the things we teach and preach. And although growth comes quickest from mistakes and mis-steps, one can also grow when a new perspective is shone on something we already know and believe in.

I felt that Pink’s book did exactly that for me. It reaffirmed many of my beliefs, with the added bonus of examples and quotes and evidence that opened my eyes even wider.

Here are 7 of the many gems I could have mined from the book:

1. We’re all in sales, and selling isn’t just selling.

Would you consider yourself to be in sales? When asked, many people say “I can’t sell” or “I’m no salesperson”, as if sales is a dirty four-letter word. Pink says we need to consider sales in “a broader sense – persuading, influencing and convincing others“. Taken in this context, we’re all in sales, or what Pink calls “non-sales selling“.

2. Agitate don’t Irritate

There’s a great quote on page 40: “Irritation…is challenging people to do something that we want them to do.” By contrast, “agitation is challenging them to do something that they want to do.” Or as I like to say: there’s a huge difference between push selling and pull marketing. Think plaid-coated used-car salesman (oh my, that stereotype sure takes a beating, doesn’t it) vs. the individual who actually listens to what you need/want and provides you with options (do those people exist? )

3. Persisting in the face of adversity

There’s an old saw that says “You gotta hear a helluva lot of no’s before you get a yes”. That may have been true when push-sales worked…when consumers were at the mercy of the salespeople, and without the tools and technology that now empower, inform and educate each and every individual. Nonetheless, we’ll always get some no’s. The trick is not to let those no’s or bad experiences defeat or deflate us. Pink says: “the more you explain bad events as temporary, specific and external, the more likely you are to persist even in the face of adversity“. (page 119)

4. Don’t just solve problems: find problems that people don’t even know they’ll have, and solve those.

One of the sections I found really interesting was Pink’s discussion on clarity, and the research that shows that “we think of ourselves today and ourselves in the future as different people” so in order to move others today we need to “help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn’t realize they had.”

That means we need to be not just problem solvers, but problem finders. We need to be able to suss out a problem that someone doesn’t even (yet) know they have…and provide a solutions(s). It’s like the big I-don’t-know-what-I-don’t know conundrum. When we can help others realize a problem they don’t yet recognize for themselves, we’re in the perfect position to offer solutions.

5. The 5 W’s expanded

We all learned about the 5 W’s in grade school: Who, What, Where, When and Why

Now take the “Why” and ask it 5 times on any problem, as practiced by a design company, IDEO, referenced in the book. Dubbed the “Five Why’s”, Pink describes how their process of asking Why, getting an answer, and asking Why 4 more times for a total of 5 can distill down to the true nut of a problem.

I scoured around to find a hand-out I used to distribute to workshop participants, but for the life of me, I can’t find it. But it went something like this, and showed the importance of asking many why’s to find the true source of a problem:

Why did the equipment break down? Because the pump stopped working.

Why did the pump stop working? Because there wasn’t sufficient lubricant.

Why wasn’t there sufficient lubricant? Because it hadn’t been monitored.

Why hadn’t it been monitored? Because the person previously in charge was delegated to other duties.

Solution: delegate someone to regularly monitor and maintain the pump.

It’s not 5 Why’s, and I’m not even sure where I read that, but it’s a great example of how asking multiple Why’s can suss out the source of a problem.

6. The Pixar Pitch

Pure gold! I’m not going to be a spoiler on this one. It’s THE most important take-away tool I’m using now in my writing and pitching. You’ll find it on page 170.

7. Dear to my heart

I’ve been coaching (and selling) for…well, let’s just say a VERY long time now. It was heartening to see some of my favourite practices identified in the book. For example:

Listening – There’s an old saw that says “we were given 2 ears and 1 mouth to listen twice as much as we speak”. Pink underscores the importance of effective listening, but says many of us do not do it well. “For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting. When others speak, we typically 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.” (page 190) I believe it was Robin Sharma who said (and I might be paraphrasing here): “Listen with the intention of understanding, not responding.” And my favourite line from Lance Secretan‘s book, Living the Moment: “Please be with me and live in my Moment instead of your future“.

Slow down to speed up – Pause…before you respond…during your work day. When you slow down, you allow for space and time to be the gentlest and wisest of counsellors, helping you to absorb what is happening, rather than anticipating that which is yet to come. You will be a better listener…and a happier, healthier person, I might add.

Serve – Pink says: “move from upselling to upserving…upserving means doing more for the other person than he expects or you initially intended, taking the extra steps that transform a mundane interaction into a memorable experience.” (page 226)

Here’s to upserving!

This post has been republished with permission from Kaarina Dillabough

Kaarina Dillabough

Kaarina Dillabough

Business Life Coach at Decide2Do
Kaarina is a business/life coach living in Ontario. For over 25 years her high-voltage energy, expertise and experience has inspired those she has worked with to reach beyond their grasp, to attain great things in business and in life. A former Olympic sports colour commentator and coach, Kaarina parlayed her coaching skills from the gym floor to the boardroom, working with business owners to improve their profitability and prosperity. In doing so, she has seen people grow both personally and professionally. Kaarina is known as an inspiring motivational speaker in areas such as branding, marketing, business growth strategies, and personal growth and prosperity. She is a passionate, seasoned coach and accountability partner with a proven track record, who loves nothing more than helping people achieve their goals in business and in life.
Kaarina Dillabough
Kaarina Dillabough



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