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Non Selling Selling: To Sell is Human

Written by: on  June 7, 2013

When you think of ‘sales’ or ‘selling’, what’s the first word that comes to mind?

I often start conversations in the training room with recruiters about their association with the word selling. Quite a high percentage of them don’t like to call themselves sales people, rather  preferring the title of consultant. So what is it about the word selling?

The response is always that it conjures up experiences of dealing with pushy, aggressive, hard hitting individuals leaving you feeling tricked or manipulated, or simply powerless in a process. Others associate the old school term ‘cold calling’ as ‘push selling’ with a copy of the Yellow Pages and a telephone.

Dan Pink’s book ‘To Sell is Human’ is unlike any other book you have read about sales. That’s because selling in all its dimensions has changed more in the last ten years then it did over the previous hundred. According to his research involving 9000 respondents, people are now spending about 40% of their time at work engaged in ‘non selling selling’: persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a range of professions, we devote around 24 minutes of every hour to moving others.  [You can find full results of the survey and details on its methodology on]


What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value for something you have?

Convince, persuade or influence people by confronting this paradox: There are no ‘natural’ salespeople because we’re all natural sales people. Each of us – because we’re human – has a selling instict, which means anyone can master the basics of moving others

Pink’s coined a new ABC (that old sales term ‘Always Be Closing’) of moving others – Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity. These three qualities, which emerge from a rich trove of social science research, are the new requirements for effectively moving people on the remade landscape of the twenty-first century.

Research by the Harvard Business Review challenges the traditional view that extroverts make the best salespeople.  Introverts are ‘geared to inspect’, while extroverts are ‘geared to respond’. Selling of any sort – whether traditional sales or non–sales selling requires a delicate balance of inspecting and responding.

On Clarity, he shares an experiment by the two social scientists Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalhi who were studying the subject of creativity – observing how two groups of artists went about organising a group of objects and drawing a still life. One group approached it by trying to solve a problem: How can I produce a good drawing? The second was trying to find a problem: What good drawing can I produce? What the panel of experts evaluating the outcome agreed was that the problem finders work was far more creative than the problem solvers.

Getzel concluded that the quality of the problem that is found is a forerunner of the quality of the solution that is attained. It is in fact the discovery and creation of problems rather than any superior knowledge, technical skill, or craftsmanship that often sets the creative person apart from others in field.

This more compelling view of problems has enormous implications for the new world of selling. Today, both sales and non-sales selling depend more on the creative, heuristic, problem-finding skills of artists than the reductive, algorithmic, problem solving skills of technicians.


If I know my problem, I can likely solve it. If I don’t know my problem, I might need some help finding it.

Dan’s book is a refreshing approach to sales in the twenty-first century and a great read if you want to understand how to increase your influence or help your employees increase theirs.

As our labmate Graeme Codrington says:

‘Today it is less and less about WHAT you do and more and more about WHO you are and HOW you do it’.

To Sell Is Human Teaser:

Dan Pink on SIX elevator pitches for the 21st Century (useful for employees too) from the good people at THNKR:


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