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To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink Book Review

Updated on November 15, 2014
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


Sales Dinosaurs

Selling, as we typically know it, is dead. The glad-handing, pushy, used car salesman stereotype and telemarketers are quickly going to become dinosaurs. Thanks to changing worldviews, economic challenges and the Internet, we all now have careers in sales. Delving into this new world of "everyone's a salesperson"--and what it can mean for your business and career--is the book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink.


The Evolution of Sales

A little background on me. I've been selling for the majority of my career, over 25 years in fact. Much of that time I was selling space. No, not the kind with stars (although that would have been interesting!). I sold hotel space, exhibit space at trade shows and advertising space... all intangibles. While all of these had a physical component to them, I was primarily selling the experience and the ability for a company to position themselves in front of a target audience.

What I was selling was quite different from that of the last remaining Fuller Brush man, Norman Hall, that Pink features throughout the book. Honestly, I was surprised that anyone was still direct selling Fuller Brushes, a household staple sold door-to-door! While Norman exhibits all the qualities you'd normally want to have in a salesperson--courtesy, perseverance, organization--his story is one of struggle. He keeps on keeping on, trudging the streets of San Francisco in the hopes of a few in-person sales. In common parlance, this would be known as "pounding the pavement."

Yet, as different as my product was from that of Norman's, I too have done my time on the roads visiting customers who were dramatically changing. One of the organizations I represented was committed to visiting print media advertising customers every month. I started working with them in the mid to late 1990s. Because I build relationships not just customers, most of my client base enjoyed our meetings and they benefited from me sharing my marketing advice with them. Then came 2008.

As early as 2005, customers were shifting their marketing budgets to email and websites. However, the market potential for what I was offering was still good. In fact, 2006 through 2008 were stellar sales years. But when our market collapsed in 2008, it was never to recover. I still was making the rounds, but it was getting harder and harder to meet people and the numbers reflected the reality. Then in 2012, the media organization that I represented closed their doors... forever. It was the end of an era.

Today, customers can find anything they want, be it a physical product or service, by using Google. As Pink notes:

In a world where anybody can find anything with just a few keystrokes, intermediaries like salespeople are superfluous. They merely muck up the gears of commerce...

So while the traditional salesperson is becoming extinct, a new type of "salesperson" is evolving.

When Everyone is in Sales

Want to hear a shocking stat? Pink notes that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that one out of every nine working Americans currently works in some sort of selling capacity. Wow! That's over 10 percent of the workforce. However, if Pink is right, that number is about to get a whole lot larger:

... today, much of what we do also seems to involve moving. That is, we're moving other people to part with their resources--whether something tangible like cash or intangible like effort or attention--so that we both get what we want.

Being the academic that Pink is, just stating that from observation wasn't enough. He teamed up with Qualtrics to conduct probably the first ever What Do You Do at Work? survey of over 9,000 respondents. Biggest findings? We're spending 40 percent of our workdays persuading, influencing and convincing others to take actions that don't involve exchanging goods, services and cash. And that's across all professions surveyed.

Indeed, we are all in sales.

The Sales Pitch

I've been a fan of Daniel Pink's work for some time and I appreciate his thoughtful and well-researched academic approach. It appears that I'm not alone. One of my reviews of his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has received over 4,700 views since it published. But I think Pink will gain even more fans with To Sell is Human since it addresses the new skill set that many will need to attain to be successful in today's economy.

Disclaimer: The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


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    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Redberry Sky, for commenting! Totally agree that it is difficult to see change as it's happening (especially for ourselves). I think you'll really enjoy Dan Pink's books. Cheers!

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 4 years ago

      Interesting concept - and definitely something I agree with - that the whole world of selling has changed beyond recognition, and with the Internet everyone is a salesman (or woman!), even if all they're 'selling' is themselves. It's hard to see change as it's happening, but you've expressed it perfectly, and I'm going to have to look more closely at Pink, his books sound intriguing.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Sheri, if you enjoyed Drive, you will like To Sell is Human... maybe even more. Also, thanks for connecting here on HP!

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      I will have t o read this book. I read his book Drive and found it very interesting. BTW thanks for the follow and right back at you!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      I seem to find myself promoting my books at every turn. My wife finds it distasteful (being of the opinion my books can't be worth buying if I haven't got queues round the block at the bookshop door). I've personally sold about fifteen copies, including one to a neighbour who's still friendly. I've got one 'point of sale' at Laskill Grange farmhouse in North Yorkshire (near Helmsley). Sue Smith did me a favour, so I did her one by return and put a good review on 'TRIPADVISOR' for her accommodation.

      You scratch my back...

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Michael, for commenting! I saw Dan a few years ago during the Drive book tour. Very down to earth and insightful! Hope you enjoy reading To Sell Is Human as much as I did.

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 4 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      I met Dan at a conference in Melbourne last year. His session was a highlight of the conference and really helps you to understand what motivates people and how to sell to these needs. Thanks for the interesting post. Cheers Michael

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, @RTalloni, for commenting! Pink's insight is always well-researched which I appreciate.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting--thanks for a look at Pink's work.