Book Summary – To Sell Is Human (The Surprising Truth About Moving Others)

Attune yourself to those around you and to people you’re pitching. Connect more to empathy than to power. Pink advises trying to assume the perspective of the person with whom you’re dealing rather than trying to impose your perspective. Use “strategic mimicry” to mirror your counterpart’s posture, speaking rhythms and “mannerisms.” If the other person scratches an ear or puts an elbow on the table, do the same, but “subtly enough” so you aren’t seen to be mimicking. Remain positive and make “positivity-inflected” pitches. Positivity includes “amusement, appreciation, joy, interest, gratitude and inspiration.” The prospects you’re pitching can read those aspects in your character and manner. And they can certainly perceive the absence of them. Pink directs you to embrace your positive emotions and to let the other person fuel how you make your pitch. He also notes that an “optimistic explanatory style” is far more effective than a neutral tone. Productive salespeople understand more than solving problems. They have the clarity of mind and vision to recognize a client’s problem, even when the client can’t. To induce clarity in clients, offer fewer choices, since that usually leads to a greater likelihood of a purchase.

Pink makes a decent case for his ABC ideas, and his studies clarify them. His argument that these mind-set changes will make you a better salesperson than if you just stick to the original ABCs aren’t as evidence-based as the knowledge that they’ll make you more content and mindful.

Beyond the “Elevator Pitch”

A salesperson must be able “to pitch, to improvise and to serve.” Improvisation – as opposed to studied sales scripts – matters in a “dynamic, complex and unpredictable” sales setting. Pink bases sales improvisation, like improv theater, on listening carefully, making the other person look good and responding “yes, and” to invitations to keep the discussions going. He moves service beyond treating customers well and urges making a “personal and purposeful” difference. Pink cautions that your pitch is never “the last word.” An effective pitch doesn’t try to convert your audience. It draws listeners into a two-way, engaged conversation. Dale Carnegie, author of the 1936 evergreen bestseller How to Win Friends & Influence People, urged having a prepared “elevator speech” so you can easily tell anyone your tasks, your purpose and why you matter. Pink takes a different direction, because, he says, the elevator pitch is no longer applicable. Open offices render it unnecessary. You don’t have to wait for an elevator ride to chat with the CEO. He says that nowadays you can just walk over and say hi. Email, cellphones and websites offer many opportunities to pitch, but your audience has less attention to spare.

Six Pitches

Handling audience distraction is a recurring theme in contemporary business books. Pink insists that modern times demand modern pitches. He offers six potential models – some more convincing than others.

First, Pink suggests a “one-word” pitch – based on a term that suits your product or idea. He claims Barack Obama constructed his 2012 presidential campaign strategy around the single word: “Forward.” Pink offers expert quotes to support this idea, yet “forward” is the one example he offers. Many counterexamples come to mind.

Second, for his “question” pitch, Pink cites Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign query. Reagan asked: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” People hear declarative statements “passively,” but they engage with questions. A question, Pink argues, compels you to create reasons to agree. This advice – also given with just one example, and this one from decades ago – does little to help nurture an understanding of how to create your own question pitch.

Pink also returns to the thrilling days of yesteryear to offer his third pitch, the “rhyming” pitch. He cites Johnny Cochran’s dictum to the O.J. Simpson jury about the infamous black glove: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” This is a weak idea: you probably recall Cochran’s rhyme because it was an act of singular genius. The public has embraced few notable rhyming slogans since.

You want people to read your emails, but capturing their eyeballs requires a potent “subject-line” pitch. Pink’s worthwhile, practical advice is to write a specific, clearly utilitarian or “mysteriously intriguing” subject line. Usefulness and “curiosity” are the most effective triggers for helping people cut through email clutter. This time, Pink offers illustrative examples. His fifth variant, the “Twitter” pitch, works when you ask questions, offer data or provide “useful information.”

The sixth type, the “Pixar” pitch, comes from Emma Coats, a former Pixar Animation Studios story artist. It consists of six fill-in-the-blank sentences that form a pitching paragraph: “Once upon a time… Every day… One day… Because of that… Because of that… Until…” You can put almost any narrative into those sentences and hold your audience’s attention. For example, you can see this short form structure at work in the animated film Finding Nemo: Once a fish told his son not to swim into the sea. One day, the son swam away. Because of that, his dad pursued him. Because of that, the dad ended up in an aquarium…until his son rescued him. Try reciting what you did today, like going to dinner, giving each item a sentence, up to your closing “until.” Notice how your day becomes a compelling drama when told using this rubric.

The Pixar pitch is the one truly valuable new pitch model Daniel Pink recommends. Using its prompts, you can add excitement as well as suspense to a pitch for any product, including yourself.