To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink: Summary & Notes

Rated: 8/10

Available at: Amazon

ISBN: 1594484805

Related: Drive, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing


Daniel Pink starts by showing that a surprisingly large portion of the workforce is engaged in “moving others” (aka selling) in some form, and that we all constantly do this in our lives.  The rest of the book discusses how we can improve this skill, which, given how much we use it, is extremely important.

I haven’t yet had the chance to go through all the suggested exercises, but I enjoyed the book and found it useful.  It breaks down several myths about selling that cause most of us (myself included) to view “sales” as something negative, and there’s a lot of actionable advice about how to improve our own selling.

I picked the book up originally to help me professionally, and it did, but almost the entire book can be applied to improving our own personal interactions.  Definitely recommend, regardless whether you’re directly in sales or not.


  • The buying process has shifted from “buyer beware” to “seller beware” - honesty and transparency are now a better choice.
  • The “natural salesperson” is a myth.  It’s actually ambiverts (not extroverts or introverts) that perform best in selling (and we are all salespeople, so there are no “naturals”).
  • ABC’s of moving others: Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity.

To effectively attune yourself with others:

  • Assume the position of lower power (but don’t be a pushover).
  • Use both empathy and perspective-taking (heart and the head).  Take into account their perspective, group, situation, context.
  • Mimic strategically, but make it subtle (light touching, etc.).
  • Ambiverts are the best salespeople.
  • Extroverts talk too much and listen too little, and can be too pushy.
  • Introverts can be too shy to initiate and too timid to close.
  • Buoyancy: being able to say afloat in an ocean of rejection.
  • Before: use interrogative self-talk to better prepare yourself (ex: “Can I make a great pitch?”).
  • This helps you give yourself specific advice and actions to make it happen.
  • It also inspires thoughts about intrinsic motivation for reaching a goal.
  • During: keep positivity high (3:1 ratio of positive to negative thoughts), but not too high (less than 11:1).
  • Positivity can infect the buyer, making them less adversarial, more open to possibility, etc.
  • After: be realistic, but optimistic, in explaining rejections and failure.  See rejections as temporary, specific and external (as opposed to permanent, universal and personal).
  • As humans, we are bad at wrapping our minds around far-off events (compared to present ones).
  • Today, the best salespeople must be skilled at curating information, and asking questions - uncovering possibilities, issues, and unexpected problems.

Five ways to frame your offering to be more clear:

  • Less: offer less choices.
  • Experience: frame things in experiential terms, instead of item terms.
  • Label: assign the buyer a positive label that your product will confirm.
  • Blemished: for busy or distracted buyers, offer a small negative bit of info after the positive to highlight the positive attributes.
  • Potential: emphasize the potential of the product, not the achievements.
  • Final step: give people a specific request followed by a clear path of action (an off-ramp).

To clarify the motives of others:

  • Ask: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you to do X?"  (Or similar)
  • Then ask: “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?"
  • To figure out someone’s problem, ask the “Five Whys”.
  • The purpose of a pitch isn’t necessarily to move others immediately to adopt your idea.  The purpose is to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant, and eventually arrives at an outcome that appeals to both of you.

Six successors to the elevator pitch:

  • The one-word pitch
  • The question pitch
  • The rhyming pitch
  • The subject-line pitch: utility to the person, or curiosity.
  • The Twitter pitch: provide useful information or ask a question.
  • The Pixar pitch: formulaic story.

As you prepare a pitch, think about someone listening, and ask:

  • What do you want them to know?
  • What do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • Pecha-kucha pitch: 20 slides x 20 seconds = 6:40 pitch

Sequencing matters:

  • Go first if you’re the incumbent, last if you’re the challenger.
  • Granular numbers are more credible than coarse numbers.

Learn to improvise:

  • Hear offers: “listen without listening for anything."
  • Say “Yes and”: much more positive results than “Yes, but”.
  • Make your partner look good: goal is to learn, and make your counterpart look good.  It’s not a zero-sum game.
  • The final skill is to serve: to improve others’ lives, and in turn, the world.
  • It’s moving people to achieve something greater and more enduring than merely an exchange of resources.
  • To serve, follow two rules:
  • 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.
  • Make it purposeful: we should be tapping into the desire of others’ innate desire to serve a greater purpose.
  • An effective seller isn’t a "huckster, who is just out for profit," he said. The true "salesman is an idealist and an artist."
  • So, too, is the true person. Among the things that distinguish our species from others is our combination of idealism and artistry—our desire both to improve the world and to provide that world with something it didn’t know it was missing. Moving others doesn’t require that we neglect these nobler aspects of our nature. Today it demands that we embrace them. It begins and ends by remembering that to sell is human.

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