To Sell is Human Book Review

Dan Pink shows that persuasion is critical to our survival in To Sell is Human. We are all in sales, even if we are not convincing someone to make a purchase. Selling is moving others. We move others by convincing them of our ideas, influencing them to follow our strategies, or persuading them to help on our projects.

The salesperson isn’t dead. The salesperson is alive. Because the salesperson is us.

Vendor Beware!

We associate sales with being pushy, manipulative, and dishonest. Sales should be none of that. Those pejoratives are leftovers from the days when the salesman had all the information. By abusing that information gap, the salesman gained a bad reputation. But those days are over. It is no longer buyer beware—it is vendor beware. Information is everywhere. The customer knows the product. And if you do that customer wrong, she will let the whole internet know. Pushiness, manipulation, and dishonesty have no place here. Today, excellent service is the only path for sales.

car salesman: slapping roof of car meme hamilton lindley blog

The New ABCs of Selling

Moving others involves following the ABCs. But those ABCs aren’t the “Always Be Closing” phrase from the dank Glengary Glen Ross salesroom. It is Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity. Our listener has all the world’s information on her phone. So today’s salesman must guide the listener through all that noise so that she can make the best decision. 

always be closing hamilton lindley blog
First prize–a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize–a set of steak knives. Third prize–you’re fired.


The best sellers assume that the buyer has the power. So exit your own perspective by aligning yourself with others. Increase your power by reducing it. For example, we innately trust others who mimic us. Attune yourself by practicing strategic mimicry. Watch what the other person is doing. Wait once you’ve observed. Wane after you’ve mimicked a little.

What is the best personality type for sales success? It’s not extroverts. They talk too much and listen too little. Introverts are too shy to initiate and too timid to close. The best personality type is right in the middle—ambiverts. The good news is that most of us are ambiverts! Test where you are on the scale by clicking on this link


Staying afloat in the ocean of rejection is an essential quality to move others. So remain buoyant. Buoyancy is the realization that you can’t win them all. One of the ways to remain buoyant is by preparing for the interaction. A host of self-help gurus have suggested declarative self-talk like telling yourself “I can do this” will boost your confidence. But that bypasses your motivations. It doesn’t create ideas. In contrast, questioning self-talk provokes answers. Ask yourself “Can I move them?” Your answer will inspire thoughts and strategies. It will remind you why you’re moving them. In fact, you should write down five reasons why you can move these people. Your answers will help you be more effective and remind you of improvement strategies.

floating hamilton lindley

We each evaluate our performances after interacting with others. That process of evaluation is called your “explanatory style.” It is how you perceive your interactions with others. Those who learn helplessness explain bad events as permanent, pervasive and personal. But we need to believe that rejections are temporary, contained and due to external factors. We are buoyant when we see rejections as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal and external rather than personal. This is called “flexible optimism.” The more likely that you explain bad events by answering no to the following questions, the more likely that you will persist.

  • Is this permanent?
  • Is this pervasive?
  • Is this personal?

Rejection is not permanent, pervasive or personal. Persistence is achieved by buoyancy.

what it seemed like versus what it was hamilton lindley blog


Clarity helps others see their situations in a fresh way. To describe with clarity, Pink asks that you imagine that your future customer is a time traveler from 300 years ago. This strips us of assumptions. How would you describe buying a Big Mac to a 300-year-old? That time traveler will wonder: What is a car? A person you don’t know makes your food? There are a lot of assumptions that we use when describing things. Make it simple. So don’t explain it like I’m five. Explain it like I’m 300.

explain it like i'm five. hamilton lindley blog

The best salespeople must be skilled at curating information and asking questions – uncovering possibilities, issues, and unexpected problems. You accomplish this by minimizing the options for buyers. Too many options leads to information overload. Frame the offer so that the contrast between options is clear. Clarify what happens next after the sale.

Emphasize the experience of using the object instead of the material object itself. In the Wolf of Wall Street, a salesman is asked to “sell me this pen.” The winner explains what the buyer will do with the pen, inking a million dollar deal. In contrast, the losers describe the object itself. Similarly, when selling yourself, don’t focus on past accomplishments. Instead, focus on future potential.

For busy buyers, a good strategy is to show a small negative attribute after emphasizing the positive ones at a ratio of three to one. That contrast enhances clarity.

A good seller finds problems. Reveal how to fix the challenges faced by your future customer and put them in a better position with your product. Finding a hidden problem is more persuasive than solving the articulated problem.

Clarify motives with two irrational questions:

  1. One a scale of one to ten, how ready are you?
  2. Why didn’t you pick a lower number?

This will influence people to announce reasons why they are ready.

stevie wonder even i can see what you did there. hamilton lindley blog.


Think of a “pitch” as a beginning of a conversation. It is not closing a deal. Instead, it is an opportunity to collaborate in the development of your idea. People are more distracted than ever. So an elevator pitch is outdated. Everyone has one. As you prepare a pitch, ask yourself three questions:

  • What do I want them to know?
  • What do I want them to feel?
  • What do I want them to do?

Use the answers from those questions to develop a pitch from these six new ways to pitch ideas.

  • The one-word pitch: Reducing your point to a single word demands efficiency. Examples are Google “search” and MasterCard “priceless.”
  • The question pitch: When the facts are on your side, the question pitch is very powerful. An example is “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” from the Ronald Reagan campaign.
  • The rhyming pitch: Rhyming increases our brain’s processing. One of the best examples is “if it doesn’t fit you must acquit” from the OJ Simpson trial.
  • The subject-line pitch. The most effective subject lines promise a benefit, drive curiosity, or include ultra specificity. For example, “Four tips to improve your golf swing this afternoon.”
  • The Pixar pitch. This is a way to format your pitch in story form like you would see in a Pixar movie. Every Pixar film has a similar DNA:
    Once upon a time____________.  Every day____________.  One day____________.  Because of that, ____________.  Because of that,_____________.  Until finally___________.
  • The Twitter pitch. Keep your pitch within the 140 character limits of a tweet. For example, “1,000 songs in your pocket,” or “the world’s thinnest notebook.”
the sales pitch from the hamilton lindley blog


The best sellers practice improv because today’s economy is dynamic. Improv is about flow. So is sales.

A basic tenet of improv is listening for offers. Surveys show that physicians interrupt patients within 18 seconds. This leads to false diagnoses. But it isn’t just doctors. Imagine that a future customer says they love your product but they don’t have the money in the budget. Objections are offers in disguise. Ask when that budget will be evaluated and offer a free trial until that date. This shows you’re actually listening. Pink describes an exercise where one person would share a personal detail and the other had to wait 15 seconds before responding. This exercise is to provoke the idea that anything is an offer.

Using “yes and” (instead of “yes but”) agrees and adds a suggestion. It makes the buyer look good and decreases argument. This is effective because it is constructive rather than destructive.

Make your partner look good. Find a solution that benefit both sides instead of pushing your own agenda. Selling is not a zero-sum game. Go with the flow and stay positive.


When you are tempted to upsell, upserve instead. We do better when we move beyond solving a puzzle to serving a person. The best sellers serve others. They believe in their product and its impact on the buyer. Make it personal. You will perform better when you recognize the person you’re trying to serve. And you should personally put yourself behind whatever it is you’re trying to sell. If your answer to either of these below questions is no, then you’re selling it wrong.

If the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve?
When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began?

This is called servant selling. Those who move others aren’t manipulators, but servants. They serve first and sell later. Sellers should treat everyone like they would your grandmother.

Hammer Time

You will read dozens of selling examples in Daniel Pink’s easy to read To Sell is Human. His writing is efficient and easy to understand. It takes a few hours to read. This book isn’t just for salespeople. I recommend it to anyone seeking to move others. Whether it is to persuade your first-grader or create a business strategy, all of us spend our days at least “sales adjacent.”

five hammers hamilton lindley

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