Book Review: To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

Once upon a time, there was a consultant who wanted their business to be successful far and wide, because she cared about people, the earth and longed deeply to make a difference.

Everyday, she would beat herself up for not being able to sell her wares or write pithy articles that were relevant to their clients.

One day, she read a book – To Sell is Human

Because of that she developed greater skill (and confidence) and credibility with her clients, and more courage to find a financial win-win while helping the people and organizations she cared about.

Because of that, she saw their sales increase.

Until finally, she saw their business grow far and wide, making a difference to more people than ever, (and even wrote a relevant, pithy and timely book review).

(Example of a “Pixar pitch”, one of six successors to the elevator pitch)

“I’m not a salesman. That’s just not who I am…”

A client echoed my own thoughts last evening. Inwardly, I smiled. No, I may not be a sales person, but I am really good at helping people succeed, at holding their vision, at connecting others, and at marshaling knowledge and resources in their service. That, according to author, Daniel Pink, is the new world order of sales – a world where, like it or not, every one of us is in sales.

Information changes everything:

To Sell is Human Kindle Edition

Of course, for many of us, the old world of selling conjures images of real estate agents and car salesmen wielding secret books of data, and the cry of ‘caveat emptor’ – buyer beware! Pink observes that information is now equally available to both sides of the sale. Buyers come to a transaction knowing as much or more than the salesperson, so the value of the sales person as holder of knowledge has greatly diminished.

When we make a major purchase, Gary does his homework. When we got our last car, Gary knew more about price, availability and fit to my preferences than either the sales person or me, steering me to a car I never would have considered. Prescient? No. The information is readily available for consumers, along with the tools to make sense of and personalize it.

This information parity is perhaps most apparent in the real estate industry, where the old guard competes with agents more attuned and more wired to the new reality of how buyers approach their research and purchase. The typical home buyer today, smartphone in-hand, has walked through the house, scanned satellite images and toured the neighborhood, all virtually, before ever asking to step into a home. They have at their fingertips market pricing, school district grades, crime statistics, “Walkability” scores and the impressions and opinions of their social network living in the neighborhood. ‘Caveat venditor’ – seller, beware. (Agent, plug-in!)

If not “gatekeeper to information” what is the value and role of the salesperson in the new order?

The new ABC’s of selling:

In researching the book, Pink has delved into many diverse fields, weaving them into surprising and sometimes counterintuitive insights. He follows with practical resources and useful thought experiments at the end of each section. These little ‘sample cases’ are grist for the reader’s personal reflection, insight and skill development (and yes, make us squirm just a bit).

In the old world of selling, ABC stood for Always Be Closing. Ugh. Thankfully, Pink has come up with new ABC’s:

Attunement – being aware of yourself, your actions and attitudes in the current context,

Buoyancy – mental resilience before and after a sales opportunity, and

Clarity – finding the right questions to ask to help the client gain clarity.

As Gary and I reflect on the evolution of our approach to sales, these principles ring true.

The final section of the book focuses on what to do in the ‘new’ sales process. He draws from Pixar and others as he walks through six ways to ‘pitch’, and reaches into improvisational theatre to help the reader move from a world of scripted sales to deeper listening and awareness in working with customers and peers.

Servant Selling:

In closing, Pink talks about a fundamental shift in values underlying selling. Taking a page from Robert Greenleaf’s “Servant Leadership” philosophy, he creates a version for the new world of sales… He calls it “Servant Selling”:

“ It begins with the idea that those move others aren’t manipulators but servants. They serve first and sell later. And the test – which, like Greanleaf’s, is the best and most difficult to administer is this: 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?”

The book, like Pink’s previous work, is a fast read, a bit cheeky, and packed with useful tidbits. Most important, for the many of us who protest “I am not a salesman!”, it touches our core of doubts, fears and biases. It offers the opportunity and a pathway to change our frame from sales as something to be avoided to sales as a caring service aimed at helping both parties succeed.

This is certainly true for me. I’m far better off for having read this book.

– Ann Ralston

© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.

Link to Kindle e-book at To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Leadership, Main Page, Sales, Values Comments Off on Book Review: To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

The Art of the Start

ArtOfTheStartCoverThe Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything

Sure, that’s a bold tag line, but Guy Kawasaki is the one to pull it off. A brilliant thinker and communicator, old dogs (mice?) in the Apple Computer community know Guy as one of the catalysts behind the success of the Apple Macintosh.

There is SO much good stuff in this book that it is hard to know where to start telling you about it. Starting, Positioning, Pitching, Writing a Business Plan, Boostrapping, Recruiting, Raising Capital, Partnering, Branding, Rainmaking… and being a Mensch! (Yiddish for “ethical, decent and honorable person”.)

Did I also mention that it is short, sweet, funny to read, extremely well presented and memorable?

An example: One of the many valuable distinctions Guy makes is between Mission Statements, Tag Lines and what he calls an “Organizational Mantra“.

Nike has many Tag Lines. Perhaps the most famous is: Just Do It. That’s fine for marketing, but it doesn’t help focus internal business decisions.

Nike has a Mission Statement: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. The statement actually includes the asterisk: “*If you have a body, you’re an athlete”. (from the 2007 Annual Report). This is a high-concept and inclusive statement, and is better, but still awkward for decision-making.

Now according to Guy, Nike’s Mantra is “Authentic Athletic Performance“. In Nike, with it’s culture of innovation, I think this is a phenomenally useful tool. Anyone, from the designer to the marketer to the supply chain manager can ask the question: “Will what I’m doing, right now, deliver increased ‘Authentic Athletic Performance’ for our customers when they use our products?” if the answer is ‘No’, they can immediately ask if they should be doing it. That’s the basis of focus.

My question for you: What’s your mantra? (Write or call, and let’s see if we can help you come up with it!)

If you are in charge of starting and growing something significant, in a business startup, a large corporation, or a Rotary Club, you should be reading this gem, and taking heed of far more of its advice than  is normally wise in a business book. This one’s a keeper.

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Main Page, Marketing, Sales Comments Off on The Art of the Start

The Importance of Demonstrating Understanding

HandshakeGlobePhoto256wWith few exceptions, people want to be understood. They want someone to “get” what they are dealing with, and if possible, in a way that deepens their own understanding and command of their situation, and of their goals.

The same is true for you, the business professional. It is natural to want to establish yourself as credible by first telling people about yourself, your specialty, and your successes.

Unfortunately, deep trust with a colleague or advisor develops in a much different sequence. You cannot lead with what you can offer them. Before others care to listen about you, you must prove you understand their world.

Just passively listening is not enough. How will someone know you understand?

They will know in at least three ways:

1. The quality and relevance of the questions you ask.

2. Your ability to summarize the shape of the situation from the details of the discussion, with no distortion.

3. Your ability to present and test out important implications arising from the discussion – both rational and emotional in nature.

In The Trusted Advisor1, there is an excellent list of what great listeners don’t do.

They don’t:

1. Interrupt

2. Respond too soon

3. Match the client’s points (“Oh, yes, I had something like that happen to me. It all started…”)

4. Editorialize in midstream (“Well, that option’s a nonstarter”)

5. Jump to conclusions (much less judgments)

6. Ask closed-ended questions for no reason

7. Give you their ideas before hearing yours

8. Judge you

9. Try to solve the problem too quickly

10. Take calls or interruptions in the course of a client meeting (it seems so obvious, but watch how often it happens!)

Finally, to demonstrate understanding, you must be deeply present – “in the moment” with the person across from you. Expert in consulting practice development, Alan Weiss, stresses the importance of being in the moment to the success of the consulting professional in this way:

” You come this way once, I think we can all agree on that much. While you’re here, you might as well be cognizant of the world around you so that you can take best advantage of it. Listen. Look. Interact. Question. Poke. Probe.
Get in the moment.
Or the moment is gone.”2

So when you want to explore a deep and trusting relationship with someone, remember it starts with his or her world. Be present – in the moment and aware. Listen intently. Ask questions that get to the heart of the matter. Summarize and synthesize what you see. Voice the implications that occur to you as you piece together their world. Do this, and perhaps they will become curious about you and your world.

© 2006 Gary Ralston and respective copyright holders, attributed, below.

1 Source: pp 104-105, The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H, Green and Robert M. Galford. ISBN: 0743212347

2 Source: THE MILLION DOLLAR CONSULTANT(tm) Private Roster Mentor Program Newsletter Issue #77: January 2006. (c) Alan Weiss 2006. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Gary Ralston, and his wife, Ann, founded Ralston Consulting Inc. to help clients across the US and Canada accelerate business growth while maintaining personal balance and integrity. Gary can be reached by email:, website:, or phone, 614-761-1841.

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Friday, February 17th, 2006 Article Archive, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Sales Comments Off on The Importance of Demonstrating Understanding

A Valentine’s Day gift to the Entrepreneur in your life!

GitomerLittleRedBookI love Valentines Day! I think it goes back to the little gifts my parents would have at our place at the breakfast table on Valentines morning.  Just a little trinket – a charm, a toy… Always special!  I’ve found just such a special little gift for you, our clients and colleagues. It’s The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness, by Jeffrey Gitomer.

This is a sassy, savvy, practical and principle-driven book about sales and sales relationships.  I think it is relevant to all who are in business. After all, what is business, but creating a relationship, then providing, a service to another? It’s a sales transaction, regardless if you are a consultant inside an organization, or a dentist, or an entrepreneur.

Who are the best sales people that you know?  They are the ones who really hear what you need, and help you find a solution to your issues. More important, they are the ones whom you believe in, whom you trust, and who are passionate about the work they do. Gitomer has created this cheeky little book to help you think about yourself and others in a selling role. His “12.5 principles” address relevant issues for every businessperson.

Principles like:

“It’s all about value, It’s all about relationship, It’s not about price”
“Prepare to Win, or Lose to Someone Who is”
“If you can’t get in front of the real decision maker, you suck!” (I told you it was cheeky!)

While this book is important to anyone in business, if you have a sales team, I think it’s a must-read!

What’s my key learning this morning?  ATTITITUDE BABY!!! It’s all about attitude! It’s why I can sell non-profit causes til the cows come home, but haven’t had the confidence to sell us – I forgot to study the results we create for our clients.

Guess what?  We do great stuff for our clients. We remind them of their dreams, and help them get there. And when they have lost their personal or business vision for a time, we hold the vision for them – their vision of the company, or life they want to create – until we can transfer it back to them, stronger and clearer than before. We help our clients accelerate business growth while keeping personal balance – and we are good at it!!!

Bottom line – get this for yourself, for Valentines Day.

Enjoy, and great success to you and your company!!!

Ann Ralston

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006 Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Sales Comments Off on A Valentine’s Day gift to the Entrepreneur in your life!

Fighting the Commodity Trap – Value-Based Proposals

Competition is the basis of our economy. It can also be a major force eroding your profits. To avoid being reduced to a commodity where the low bid always wins, the buyer must see a difference between your offering and that of your competitor. That difference must improve the buyer’s situation in a way that is meaningful to them. There is a method for success, however, that simply involves identifying the right players, their motivation, your own strengths and weaknesses and presenting your findings.

Talk to ALL the right people
In a larger sale, there are three groups of buyers you must work with. While the economic buyer can write the check, the technical buyers and end users have the power to veto your bid if they’re not satisfied with it. The most common error is thinking that your strong relationship with the economic buyer will be enough. Your competitors are counting on you to overlook or alienate someone with veto power.

Why and how they buy
dollartrapNot everyone buys for the same reason. You must discover the objectives, standards of measure, value and current situation from the mindset of each buyer – in their own words, wherever possible.
The objectives identify what must be accomplished and the most important outcome driving the project. Is it net project cost, deadline or long-term maintenance cost? In addition, it is crucial to gain a perspective on the standards of measure – the means by which they will track progress and achievement of the objective. Examples include budget, delays to schedule, materials waste, rework or even flatness of the pour.

Understanding the personal and organizational value of achieving success is the next key component. If the objective is achieved, what profit will the company reap and how will operating costs be affected? How will success impact the buyer’s career? Finally, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the current situation with regard to achieving the objective. What resources do they currently have? What are the top factors putting the project at risk?

What do you bring to the table?
Where most fail in this assessment phase is in adhering to your own marketing copy and sales pitch without candid examination of the facts. The first step in assessment is to review your track record. Review your flagship successes to discover your strengths. Then assess the strengths and weaknesses of your competition and compare them to yours. Look for the differences that can give you the edge. Next, try to shoot down your own marketing claims. Keep only the claims that are backed up by facts. If you are not a strong candidate for this type of job, you might spend your time more profitably by focusing on your strengths.

Present your findings, with options
The final step is preparing a proposal that lays out what you’ve learned, your solution, and the investment required. A logical outline for the proposal starts with the current situation and then identifies the objectives, standards of measure, value, methods and options (to include your solution and unique strengths), joint accountabilities, timing, terms, acceptance and appendix (the perfect place for the detail that must be included in the contract but not material to the buying decision). If you have done your job, the various buyers (economic, technical and end-user) will work through the document, nodding in agreement as they go. Note that the pricing information should be included in the terms, after the reader has witnessed the full picture. At this point, the price should seem reasonable, given the expected return on investment laid out in the document.

Putting it into profitable practice
If taking a value-based approach to proposals appeals to you, and you really do have a unique strength in your marketplace, start small and try the method on a deal where the economic buyer, technical buyer and the end-user are all one person. On the other hand, if you are hard-pressed to find what makes your company unique in your market, and profits are stagnant, it might be time to rejuvenate it with a business strategy and plan to turn your company into the profitable success machine it can be.

Note: This article has also been published in the January, 2005 issue of Concrete Monthly,
and in Tilt-Up TODAY vol. 13 no. 4, 2005 pp 48-49, magazine of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association

About the author: Gary Ralston is a senior partner in Ralston Consulting Inc., where he helps clients across North America accelerate business growth, achieving industry award-winning results.

Friday, December 17th, 2004 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Marketing, Sales Comments Off on Fighting the Commodity Trap – Value-Based Proposals

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