To Sell is Human | Daniel Pink

Published in: 2013

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Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. Entrepreneurs woo funders, writers sweet-talk producers, coaches cajole players. Whatever our profession, we deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients. We try to convince the boss to loosen up a few dollars from the budget or the human resources department to add more vacation days. In 16 OECD countries – including France, Mexico, and Sweden – more than 90% of businesses now have fewer than ten employees. And a world of entrepreneurs is a world of salespeople.

THE AMBIVERT ADVANTAGE. Adam Grant collected data from a software company that operates call centers to sell its products and tracked the sales representatives’ revenues over the next three months. Not surprisingly, introverted sales reps didn’t perform as well as the extroverted ones. But neither did nearly as well as a third group: the ambiverts. These are people who are neither overly extraverted nor wildly introverted. On a scale on the 1-to-7 scale he found that revenue peaked between 4 and 4.5.

LEARNED HELPLESSNESS. Martin Seligman pioneered the concept of “learned helplessness”. First with studies on dogs, and later with research on humans, Seligman demonstrated that after extended experiences in which they were stripped of any control over their environment, some individuals just gave up. Even when conditions returned to normal, and they possessed the ability to seek gain or avoid pain, they did not act. They had learned to be helpless.

MONITOR YOUR POSITIVITY RATIO. The secret numerical code of the satisfied: 3 to 1. Seligman’s work demonstrated that how we explain negative events has an enormous effect on our buoyancy and performance. When something bad occurs, ask yourself: is this permanent? Is this pervasive? Is this personal? The more you explain bad events as temporary, specific, and external, the more likely you are to persist even in the face of adversity.  

FRAMING MATTERS. Clarity depends on contrast, which Robert Cialdini calls “the contrast principle”. We often understand something better when we see it in comparison with something else. The less Frame, i.e., less is more, is especially important in a world saturated with options and alternatives. Framing people’s options in a way that restricts their choices can help them see those choices more clearly instead of overwhelming them. Other frames mentioned in the book is the experience frame, the label frame, the blemished frame, the potential frame.

PRACTICE YOUR SIX PITCHES. The purpose of a pitch is not necessarily to move others to immediately 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. The pitch is often the first word, but its rarely the last word.  Ask people to describe your invisible pitch in three words. What is my company about? What is my product or service about? What am I about?

THE ONE-WORD PITCH. Write a fifty-word pitch. Reduce it to twenty-five words. Then to six words. One of those remaining words is almost certainly your one-word pitch.

THE QUESTION PITCH. The classic Reagan question “are you better off now than you were four years ago”. Use this if your arguments are strong. If they are weak, make a statement. Or better, find a new argument.

THE RHYMING PITCH. We remember from the O.J. Simpson trial “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. Pitches that rhyme are more sublime. Go online and find a rhyming dictionary (for example

THE SUBJECT LINE PITCH. Review the subject lines of the last twenty e-mail messages you sent. Note how many of them appeal to either utility or curiosity. If that number is less than ten, rewrite each one that fails the test. Utility and curiosity are about equally potent, but they seem to operate independently of each other.

THE TWITTER PITCH. The best pitches are short, sweet, and easy to retweet.

THE PIXAR PITCH. Once upon a time ___. Every day, ___. One day___. Because of that___. Because of that___. Until finally___.    

IMPROVISE. Beneath the apparent chaos of improvisation is a light structure that allows it to work. Understanding that structure can help you move others, especially when your astute perspective-taking, infectious positivity, and brilliant framing don’t deliver the results you seek. In those circumstances, you’ll do better if you follow three essential rules of improvisational theater: (1) Hear offers, (2) Say “Yes and”, and (3) Make your partner look good.

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