Humanizing the World of Sales with Daniel Pink

Bestselling author Daniel Pink was a keynote speaker at the American Council of Engineering Companies Annual Convention. He told us that his talk would follow a format of 2, 3, 4. Two points, then three points, then four points. AND that this information would be applicable to everyone in the room. He fulfilled his promises, leaving each of us with new tools to grow our businesses.

Daniel Pink is a curious guy. So it just makes good sense that he would ask a few questions to satisfy that curiosity. He wanted to find out what people do all day, so he asked them a (seemingly) simple question:

“What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value (attention, effort, money, time, etc.) for something you offer?”

What he learned is that, “Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

Daniel Pink SellingNext up on his list of questions was this: When you think of sales or selling, what’s the first word that comes to mind?

Queue the negative responses – wow. We’ve got a bias against sales. There was a 4 to 1 ratio of negative to positive responses to the question. Since we’re all selling, this is pretty disturbing. Pink pointed out two key features of today’s sales world:

  1. We’re all selling all the time. Each employee serves as a representative of the company. Every impression moves a prospective customer / client closer to or further from purchase.
  2. We’re doing that selling on a re-made landscape: seller beware. Buyer Beware used to be the name of the game back in the day before online information leveled the playing field. Now the buyer enters negotiations with no less information than the sales person. Think about buying a car here – 20 years ago, the car salesperson held all the cards; that’s no longer the case.

This is a really interesting situation we’re in. We all sell. Yet we have all these negative thoughts spinning in our heads about sales and sales people. Pink surveyed some of the top business schools and found that most do not teach sales. What??? Very interesting indeed. Looking at data that’s available through a number of studies, Pink explored qualities of successful sales people and found there are three key elements that make us more effective in our sales efforts:

  1. Attunement – the ability to get out of your own head and into your client’s head. What will this do for you? It will allow you to see the situation from someone else’s perspective and find common ground.
  2. Buoyancy – the ability to stay afloat in the ocean of rejection sales people face every day. A key factor here: self-talk. Check yourself. Is your self-talk encouraging or discouraging your sales efforts?
  3. Clarity – the ability to curate information. In this world of information overload, it’s important to be able to separate what matters from what doesn’t. You want to be the person who can identify the problem to be solved before it surfaces.

Want to take some steps to ensure your sales increase? Of course you do. More data, more suggestions from Pink:

Continuing on with his review of data, Pink investigated whether introverts or extroverts would be more successful at sales. What do you think? Introverts? Extroverts? The advantage here clearly goes to ambiverts: those people whose personalities include a balance of extrovert and introvert features. Think about this when hiring your sales force and avoid the extreme introverts and extroverts. Here are four tips to improve your sales efforts:

  1. Have you ever been told that you should mimic the person you’re talking with so that they’ll feel that you understand them? Good advice or garbage? This would be good advice – mimicry is clearly effective in closing sales. The caveat here: don’t be “an idiot about it.”
  2. Dump the technical jargon. Use your client’s language and don’t make them feel uneducated by correcting their technical language.
  3. Show some social proof if you want to change your client’s behavior (to buy your product). North Americans tend to exaggerate the importance of personality and under value context. Context drives behavior more than we realize, so make it easy for your clients to take action. Pink suggests we ask ourselves: Have I built an off-ramp? An especially apropos question for a roomful of engineers.
  4. Pay attention to others’ posture, gesture, and language. Then reflect those back without being an idiot about it.

Living up to his assertion that we’re all in sales, Pink followed his talk with a book-signing session. And, yes, I hopped in line after buying To Sell is Human. I suspect it will be a valuable sales tool. What are your favorite sales tips and tools? Let me know in the comments below, or connect with me directly.


About Deb

Deb Nelson, principal of deb nelson consulting, is a creative storyteller. She designs and implements communication plans that leverage strategic partnerships and provide innovative solutions for her clients. You can find her on twitter at @nelliedeb.


  1. I like your point about getting out of your own head and into your client’s head. We should be doing this as bloggers as well. We have to speak to our audience, not at our audience. Great tips here.

    • Thanks so much Renee. I agree that the point about getting our client’s head is spot on. Loved listening to Daniel Pink’s recommendations – away from focusing on us and turning toward our clients. Not a new concept, but an important reminder.

  2. I love the part about Attunement too. That really helps me to focus–both on my editorial clients’ needs, and on my readers’ needs.
    Great litmus test for me! Thank you.

  3. One of the first things I learned to be an effective counselor was attunement. Not always easy to do and take practice & willingness. Great points in this article. Useful in life, relationships & business.

  4. I agree, we are all selling at one time or another. I have went from avoiding this area in business to embracing it. You have to or – there is no business. But when we really understand it is not a bad but an empowering service – the whole perspective AND RESULTS shift. Great read with great tips, thank you so much!!

  5. Great tips! I am not sure where I learned it but I have always related to others when speaking with them about my services. The jesters can be tricky for me because sometimes I miss interpret them. Thanks for sharing.
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  6. One of the keys I have learned through my therapeutic art training, sounds very similar to what Daniel Pink is sharing. The ability to truly listen to the other person from their perspective, not from yours. And yes, being able to change how you relate to another person, based on who they are, is essential.

    Personally at times I have a tendency to be over-enthusiastic and am practicing letting the person lead, and then following their conversation. I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday who said exactly what you heard Pink say. People have such a negative idea of selling, as she said to me, “I could never sell anything to anyone”, and yet she is a counsellor, so in some ways, she is selling her authenticity and trust to clients. Sounds like you thoroughly enjoyed the workshop, Deb, and having read Daniel Pink’s earlier book, I know he would be fabulous to hear in person.
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  7. Yes we are all in sales. I truly believe you need to buoyant. That is why most people fail within the first year, whether it is crickets or cruel comments, those things can really take the wind out of your motivation. Keeping it mind that it isn’t personal. There are people reading my blog and when they are reading they will talk to me about my health coaching services as well as the fact that we all have our stories and want to be liked.
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  8. It hadn’t occurred to me that everybody is selling something but those words are so true and make it all the more important to eliminate the negative thoughts about sales (yes, I’ve had some). Understanding what people want and speaking in a way they will understand – without the technical jargon, is more important than ever. We recently had someone here for a quote who got carried away with the technicalities and I believe didn’t really listen to what we wanted because he was so focused on the upsell. Needless to say, he didn’t get the work.

  9. I think it is key to dump the technical jargon; especially in my industry. We have a lot of jargon in mortgage lending. It is like we speak another language.
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  10. OMG… so right… as I posed that question to myself.. it was the same – pushy was my response too… it is a negative response on selling.. wow, thanks for sharing!
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  11. Oh gosh, buoyancy. Yeah, if you’re going to be selling anything, you’d better learn how to recover quickly from rejection. Because it’s coming! And it doesn’t mean you as a person aren’t liked. Not everyone is going to want the product you’re selling, so you have to pick up and move on. Not a field for people pleasers.

  12. I have Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. I like he pointed out that we’re all in the business of selling, and how “tricking others into buying” just doesn’t work
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  13. Engineers, that’s a challenging audience to speak to about non-engineering stuff. But, Pink is correct. We all sell, every day to everyone else. It may not be a product or service, but we’re selling ourselves and ideas for acceptance. I especially like his idea of clarity in being able to curate what matters. So often, we get distracted by the things that don’t matter. Thanks for sharing and lucky you getting signed copy of his book.

  14. Somehow I came across his book, “To Sell is Human,” and I loved the message that we are ALL in sales, even if we hate sales. Any time we try to change someone’s opinion, we’re selling. Any time we’re pushing for a raise or a promotion, we’re selling. And so on. I thought it was terrific; it’s in my go-to reference library. How great that you were able to see him in person!

  15. Hey Deb 🙂
    Excellent tips on what you learned from Daniel Pink about selling 🙂 We are indeed all salesman and we must use it the right way and not abuse it as so many do online and offline as well……Thanks for sharing!! Daniel’s book looks like a must read 😉
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  16. Deb – Great post! I was really surprised that the top business schools don’t teach sales. Also, I love the idea of attunement – getting inside the other person’s head. I have always felt that people great at sales and people great at coaching are much like people who are great at playing the piano. There are a few naturals who can do phenomenal things with zero lessons, but for the most part the rest of us have to plug away and learn bit by bit.

    • Learning bit by bit does seem to be the path for most of us. I’m really enjoying reading Dan Pink’s book – lots of data to support the information he spoke about and many tips to help us move toward becoming good salespeople AND have a positive experience!!

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