To Sell is Human Book Review

Dan Pink shows that persuasion is critical to our survival in To Sell is Human. We are all in sales, even if we are not convincing someone to make a purchase. Selling is moving others. We move others by convincing them of our ideas, influencing them to follow our strategies, or persuading them to help on our projects.

The salesperson isn’t dead. The salesperson is alive. Because the salesperson is us.

Vendor Beware!

We associate sales with being pushy, manipulative, and dishonest. Sales should be none of that. Those pejoratives are leftovers from the days when the salesman had all the information. By abusing that information gap, the salesman gained a bad reputation. But those days are over. It is no longer buyer beware—it is vendor beware. Information is everywhere. The customer knows the product. And if you do that customer wrong, she will let the whole internet know. Pushiness, manipulation, and dishonesty have no place here. Today, excellent service is the only path for sales.

car salesman: slapping roof of car meme hamilton lindley blog

The New ABCs of Selling

Moving others involves following the ABCs. But those ABCs aren’t the “Always Be Closing” phrase from the dank Glengary Glen Ross salesroom. It is Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. Our listener has all the world’s information on her phone. So today’s salesman must guide the listener through all that noise so that she can make the best decision. 

always be closing hamilton lindley blog
First prize–a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize–a set of steak knives. Third prize–you’re fired.


The best sellers assume that the buyer has the power. So exit your own perspective by aligning yourself with others. Increase your power by reducing it. For example, we innately trust others who mimic us. Attune yourself by practicing strategic mimicry. Watch what the other person is doing. Wait once you’ve observed. Wane after you’ve mimicked a little.

What is the best personality type for sales success? It’s not extroverts. They talk too much and listen too little. Introverts are too shy to initiate and too timid to close. The best personality type is right in the middle—ambiverts. The good news is that most of us are ambiverts! Test where you are on the scale by clicking on this link


Staying afloat in the ocean of rejection is an essential quality to move others. So remain buoyant. Buoyancy is the realization that you can’t win them all. One of the ways to stay buoyant is by preparing for the interaction. A host of self-help gurus have suggested declarative self-talk like telling yourself, “I can do this” will boost your confidence. But that bypasses your motivations. It doesn’t create ideas. In contrast, questioning self-talk provokes answers. Ask yourself, “Can I move them?” Your response will inspire thoughts and strategies. It will remind you why you’re moving them. You should write down five reasons why you can move these people. Your answers will help you be more effective and remind you of improvement strategies.

floating hamilton lindley

We each evaluate our performances after interacting with others. That process of evaluation is called your “explanatory style.” It is how you perceive your interactions with others. Those who learn helplessness explain bad events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. But we need to believe that rejections are temporary, contained and due to external factors. We are buoyant when we see rejections as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal and external rather than personal. This is called “flexible optimism.” The more likely that you explain adverse events by answering no to the following questions, the more likely that you will persist.

  • Is this permanent?
  • Is this pervasive?
  • Is this personal?

Rejection is not permanent, pervasive or personal. Persistence is achieved by buoyancy.

what it seemed like versus what it was hamilton lindley blog


Clarity helps others freshly see their situations. To describe with clarity, Pink asks that you imagine that your future customer is a time traveler from 300 years ago. This strips us of assumptions. How would you describe buying a Big Mac to a 300-year-old? That time traveler will wonder: What is a car? A person you don’t know makes your food? There are a lot of assumptions that we use when describing things. Make it simple. So don’t explain it like I’m five. Explain it like I’m 300.

explain it like i'm five. hamilton lindley blog

The best salespeople must be skilled at curating information and asking questions – uncovering possibilities, issues, and unexpected problems. You accomplish this by minimizing the options for buyers. Too many choices lead to information overload. Frame the offer so that the contrast between options is clear. Clarify what happens next after the sale.

Emphasize the experience of using the object instead of the material object itself. In the Wolf of Wall Street, a salesman is asked to “sell me this pen.” The winner explains what the buyer will do with the pen, inking a million-dollar deal. In contrast, the losers describe the object itself. Similarly, when selling yourself, don’t focus on past accomplishments. Instead, focus on future potential.

For busy buyers, a good strategy is to show a small negative attribute after emphasizing the positive ones at a ratio of three to one. That contrast enhances clarity.

A good seller finds problems. Reveal how to fix the challenges faced by your future customer and put them in a better position with your product. Finding a hidden problem is more persuasive than solving the articulated problem.

Clarify motives with two irrational questions:

  1. One a scale of one to ten, how ready are you?
  2. Why didn’t you pick a lower number?

This will influence people to announce reasons why they are ready.

stevie wonder even i can see what you did there. hamilton lindley blog.


Think of a “pitch” as the beginning of a conversation. It is not closing a deal. Instead, it is an opportunity to collaborate in the development of your idea. People are more distracted than ever. So an elevator pitch is outdated. Everyone has one. As you prepare a pitch, ask yourself three questions:

  • What do I want them to know?
  • What do I want them to feel?
  • What do I want them to do?

Use the answers from those questions to develop a pitch from these six new ways to pitch ideas.

  • The one-word pitch: Reducing your point to a single word demands efficiency. Examples are Google “search” and MasterCard “priceless.”
  • The question pitch: When the facts are on your side, the question pitch is compelling. An example is “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” from the Ronald Reagan campaign.
  • The rhyming pitch: Rhyming increases our brain’s processing. One of the best examples is “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” from the OJ Simpson trial.
  • The subject-line pitch. The most effective subject lines promise a benefit, drive curiosity, or include ultra specificity. For example, “Four tips to improve your golf swing this afternoon.”
  • The Pixar pitch. This is a way to format your pitch in story form like you would see in a Pixar movie. Every Pixar film has a similar DNA:
    Once upon a time____________.  Every day____________.  One day____________.  Because of that, ____________.  Because of that,_____________.  Until finally___________.
  • The Twitter pitch. Keep your pitch within the 140 character limits of a tweet. For example, “1,000 songs in your pocket,” or “the world’s thinnest notebook.”
the sales pitch from the hamilton lindley blog


The best sellers practice improv because today’s economy is dynamic. Improv is about flow. So is sales.

A basic tenet of improv is listening for offers. Surveys show that physicians interrupt patients within 18 seconds. This leads to false diagnoses. But it isn’t just doctors. Imagine that a future customer says they love your product, but they don’t have the money in the budget. Objections are offers in disguise. Ask when that budget will be evaluated and offer a free trial until that date. This shows you’re listening. Pink describes an exercise where one person would share a personal detail, and the other had to wait 15 seconds before responding. This exercise is to provoke the idea that anything is an offer.

Using “yes and” (instead of “yes but”) agrees and adds a suggestion. It makes the buyer look good and decreases argument. This is effective because it is constructive rather than destructive.

Make your partner look good. Find a solution that benefits both sides instead of pushing your own agenda. Selling is not a zero-sum game. Go with the flow and stay positive.


When you are tempted to upsell, upserve instead. We do better when we move beyond solving a puzzle to serving a person. The best sellers serve others. They believe in their product and its impact on the buyer. Make it personal. You will perform better when you recognize the person you’re trying to serve. And you should personally put yourself behind whatever it is you’re trying to sell. If your answer to either of these below questions is no, then you’re selling it wrong.

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?

This is called servant selling. Those who move others aren’t manipulators, but servants. They serve first and sell later. Sellers should treat everyone like they would your grandmother.

Hammer Time

You will read dozens of selling examples in Daniel Pink’s easy to read To Sell is Human. His writing is efficient and easy to understand. It takes a few hours to read. This book isn’t just for salespeople. I recommend it to anyone seeking to move others. Whether it is to persuade your first-grader or create a business strategy, all of us spend our days at least “sales adjacent.”

five hammers hamilton lindley


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  2. Maddison

    This sounds like a compelling read. It reveals a lot of truths about our culture and our new economy. Selling should be more than just a transaction. It is a service like any other. Focus on serving and the sales come naturally. The buying process has shifted from “buyer beware” to “seller beware.” Honesty and transparency are a better choice. Offering fewer choices is something that I have used in the past and it does make decisions easier. (Even if that means losing the sale). It’s part of the service sellers should provide. I like asking “on a scale of one to ten how ready are you to buy this widget? Then ask, why didn’t you pick a lower number? That follow up question of the lower number is surprising because it’s the opposite of a sales pitch. And it’s powerful because it really makes someone think instead of dismissing this dialogue as cringy sales-speak.

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  4. Bryson

    Incredible book. It makes me want to read more from this author. Serving makes being a salesperson so much more appealing. I am an idealist and an artist. I want to both improve the world and provide the world with something that it did not know it was missing. Moving others means we should embrace those noble ideas. I learned that to serve, we must follow two rules. One: make it personal. Two: make it purposeful. An effective seller isn’t a huckster out for profit. That’s a horrible way to live.

  5. Lucy Coveny

    I love the memes! I am going to use these thoughts with my children. It’s inspiring that extroverts are not the only ones that can make good salespeople. I’ve been told that I’m so introverted that I would not make a good salesperson. But when I did the test, I was an ambivert. I didn’t even know that was an option!

    The best salespeople that I have been around assumed the position of the lower power without being a pushover. They use empathy and perspective taking to serve others well. And I’ve never noticed it until now, but they subtly use mimicry too. I guess we all do that when we are using empathy to communicate.

  6. Amie Iverson

    Thanks for sharing this very insightful book in such an engaging way! I learned a lot from reading it. I liked the ideas of the pitches. That elevator pitch idea seems so outdated. I think that preparing for a pitch is so important. What do I want them to know? What do I want them to feel? And what do I want them to do?

    • Hunter McDermott

      On a personal note, I found this book to be both refreshing and humorous. Refreshing because Pink gave me a way to think about and express what I have been seeing and talking about for a long time now. Specifically, that sell is a four-letter-word. More and more people are turned off by traditional sales (even the so-called “consultative selling” is now seen as manipulative.) And I found the book humorous because I found that I was laughing at myself. Pink introduces us to Norman Hall. Hall is shadowed as he goes through his usual (and traditional in many ways) sales job in San Francisco. Hall is the very last Fuller Brush Salesman. Why that made me laugh is because I am old enough that I brush my hair almost every morning with a Fuller Brush that my mother gave to me one Christmas when I was a young teenager. I have been using it ever since. I remember the Fuller Brush man (and yes, they were all men as far as I know) ringing our doorbell and bringing new products into the house for my parents to purchase. By the way, what product do you still use that was purchased more than 50 years ago?

      • Hugo Martin

        I continue to like Pink’s style and content, and I suspect that I’ll read more of his books in the future. But at least for general readers like me, I hope to rediscover the simplicity and focus that so captivated me in “Drive,” rather than the vast and semi-directionless musings that I encountered in “To Sell is Human.”

  7. Melisa Howden

    These ideas are great. I like the point that we are all in sales now. Because no matter what job we have, at least a portion of it requires us to move people. Thanks for your work. These are my main takeaways.

    Experience: frame things in experiential terms, instead of item terms.
    Label: assign the buyer a positive label that your product will confirm.
    Blemished: for busy or distracted buyers, offer a small negative bit of info after the positive to highlight the positive attributes.
    Potential: emphasize the potential of the product, not the achievements.
    Final step: give people a specific request followed by a clear path of action (an off-ramp).

    • Dean Hergott

      There are many volumes written about sales. There are myriad training courses on sales and how to be efficient, effective and top of the heap at the game of sales. This book is not like any of the ones I have read prior to this nor is Pink espousing any of the usual hype about overcoming objections, how to close and/or how to manipulate folks into buying your product or services.

      Instead, Pink is proposing something that I have been struggling with for the past five years and suggesting to anyone who would listen: traditional sales isn’t any longer anyone’s job. It’s everyone’s job because sales have fundamentally changed. Pink states that “Most of what we think we understand about selling is constructed atop a foundation of assumptions that has crumbled.” He further states that sales have changed more in the past 10 years than it had in the previous 100 years.

  8. Callie Wayn

    This book sounds like it applies to non-salespeople more than salespeople. It’s great when a book can impart transferable information. Thanks for sharing, Hamilton! I think it’s wonderful that the purpose of a pitch isn’t to move others immediately to adopt your idea. Instead, that 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.

  9. Mike

    This was a really nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce a great article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never manage to get anything done.

  10. Dan Bergeron

    This is a very well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful posts. Thanks for it. I will certainly come back.

  11. Fred Chartwell

    I really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it wise. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is a tremendous website.

  12. Augusta Greenwood

    Please let me know if you’re looking for an author for your blog. You have some really great posts and I think that I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested. Many thanks!

    • I will drop you an email, Augusta. Thanks for inquiring about it. That’s not something that I’ve considered at this point. So I need to learn more about it. Welcome to the Hammer Blog!

      Hamilton Lindley

    • Harper Kline

      I came across this book in a group reading project. We are all in sales and regularly read all sorts of books, from self-improvement to habit training, to sales. This is by far the worst book we have picked up.

      The author makes many good points throughout the book that can be useful to “move others”, or sell. But with each good point, he compromises his knowledge of selling by trying to obliterate tried and true practices.

      Good salespeople solve problems. And as mentioned in the book, great salespeople can find problems people didn’t know they had. If he could have stuck to that idea, and built on it, tying in ethically sound, traditional sales, it would have come across better. At this point, I’m glad the book is finished so we can move on to something that has a greater impact.

  13. Liz

    Thanks for breaking this book down into such concise categories. It sounds like it’s full of effective and useful tools for salespeople. There are certain aspects of sales that feel intuitive because I constantly interact with salespeople, so some of the methods are familiar. But even the familiar ones aren’t necessarily something I would independently have realized — for example using the phrase “yes and” is a great approach to opening potential in a conversation.