Book review: To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 5:11pm

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
by Daniel H. Pink
Riverhead Books


Daniel Pink is a master of stating the obvious. To Sell is Human, which claims to offer a new philosophy of sales and salesmanship, instead simply informs readers what humankind has known for centuries: that it's useful to know how to be persuasive if you want to get what you want in business.

The book relies heavily on the author's own speculative assertions, and he cherry-picks research and data to back up his claims.

The book is divided into two sections: the first part outlines Pink's new theory of sales, and the second part purports to explain how you can draw practical examples from his ideas to improve your selling.

Pink spends the first part making the point that we spend a good deal of our time trying to persuade family, friends, colleagues and strangers to do what we want, and it might come as a shock for the author to discover that this is hardly an original observation. Pink uses this to justify his assertion that, deep down, we are all selling something. This is hardly a new idea.

Pink then tries to prove that the job of selling has fundamentally changed because of the advent of the internet. People buy a lot of goods online, and he says that means real-world salesmen have to adapt their approach. His big idea is that the internet has changed the famed sales slogan from caveat emptor (buyer beware) to caveat venditor (seller beware). Because buyers can now research their proposed purchases online, they are now as informed as the salespeople, and therefore immune to their manipulations, he argues. This has led to a new way of selling that he says is selling by non-selling.

But the examples he provides don't indicate that the age-old practice of sales has changed much. A customer may share an information screen with a salesman and discuss the findings, and the salesman may tone down his approach so it appears less like he is bludgeoning the buyer with unproven claims. But that's about it.

Yet Pink attempts to present selling as some kind of non-adversarial liaison between seller and buyer, ignoring the fact that the seller is still trying hard to get the buyer to part with his cash, and the buyer is trying to spend as little of it as possible. Plus ça change.