To Sell is Human

Katy Montgomery

Katy currently serves as the Global Director of the Career Development Centre at INSEAD where she manages career services professionals across three campuses: Abu Dhabi, Fontainebleau, and Singapore. Katy previously served as the Associate Dean for Student Development at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

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According to Daniel Pink and his book To Sell is Human, everyone is in sales. Selling is not limited to car dealers, insurance salesmen, and pharmaceutical reps. Stop and think about yesterday. What did you do? Most likely you spent a large portion of your day trying “to part with resources.” For example, yesterday I advocated for a new student program, convinced a student to use a different approach in his job search, and swayed an employer to interview on campus. I was operating in my role as Associate Dean of Student Development, but in reality, I was selling. If you spend a part of your day persuading, cajoling, or promoting, you are in sales, too!

Daniel Pink encourages the reader to think about what sales look like today, how our skill sets must be flexible to survive (and thrive) in business, and what qualities are most valuable in moving others. While selling us on the importance of selling, Daniel Pink also covers improvisation, service, and that important skill all business students must master: pitching.

Here are my favorite takeaways of the book:

  • Irritation vs. Agitation: Irritation is “challenging people to do something that we want them to do.” Agitation is “challenging them to do what they want to do.” This is Larry Felazzo’s concept and he argues that irritation does not work. The key is “leading with your ears instead of your mouth. It means trying to elicit from people what their goals are for themselves and having the flexibility to frame what do in that context.”
  • Ability to Chameleon: Gwen Martin, a salesperson in the Twin Cities, argues that what makes a salesperson extraordinary is the ability to “adjust what they do and how they do it to others in their midst.” Three key steps to doing this: watch (observe the other person); wait (give yourself a few seconds and then mimic the other person); and wane (after mimicking, step back and don’t overdo it).
  • Ocean of Rejection: If you are in any type of sales you need to be prepared for the waves of rejection. But you must also remember that the waves are just part of one big ocean. Buoyancy will allow you to stay afloat amid the rejection. Daniel Pink explores the three components of buoyancy in detail: interrogative self-talk, positivity ratios, and explanatory style.
  • Emphasize Potential: When selling yourself, don’t fixate only on what you have achieved yesterday; emphasize the promise of what you could accomplish tomorrow.
  • Move beyond solving a puzzle and serve a person: Making it personal can make a difference. Numerous studies have found that if you move the focus from yourself or a problem, you will most likely be more successful in your sales pitch.
  • Treat everybody as you would treat your grandmother: Have a difficult time making interactions personal? Pretend the person you are dealing with is your grandmother. Or choose another person. For example, Yehonatan Turner, a radiologist, deals with the “impersonal nature of his job by imagining that every scan he looked at was his father’s.”

If you recognize that selling is human, you can convince just anyone to do anything. Including persuading yourself that selling isn’t so bad.

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