To Sell is the New Pink

Paul FennerLife Transitions

After spending an entire career in a non-sales or non-business development role, I gradually found myself in such a role as I began to build my wealth planning firm for individuals, families, and businesses.  Struggling to make sense of how to build a robust business development process, I turned to one of my favorite authors and business thinkers Dan Pink.

Dan has authored numerous bestsellers, including his most recent book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.  However, it is his book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others that have helped me put together the beginning of a more robust business development process.  I believe that the lessons in this book can help those of us who are directly involved with business development and even those who are not.

To begin with, Dan identifies three reasons why most of us find ourselves in sales;

  1. The rise of small entrepreneurs which could also be referred to as the gig economy
  2. Companies demand a new breadth of skills
  3. Education and Health; to convince someone to part with their resources in which to leave that person better off

If you don’t believe that you are in sales, or even a non-selling role, ask yourself the following four questions;

  1. Do you earn your living trying to convince others to purchase goods or services?
  2. Do you work for yourself or run your own operations, even on the side?
  3. Does your work require elastic skills – the ability to cross boundaries and functions, to work outside your specialty, and to do a variety of different things throughout the day?
  4. Do you work in education or healthcare?

I believe that most people would answer yes to one of those questions.  This means Dan’s insights could have a positive impact on whatever venture you may be involved in.

New Requirements

Dan identifies three new requirements for effectively moving people, which are attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.  Below he breaks apart each requisite and some useful tools to help along the way.

  1. Attunement – the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you’re in.
    1. Power Inverse – understanding another person’s perspective, getting inside their head, and seeing the world through their eyes.
    2. Use your head as much as your heart – “Taking the perspective of one’s opponent produced both greater joint gains and more profitable individual outcomes,” Adam Galinsky
    3. Observe what the other person is doing – Watch, Wait, and Wane
    4. One smart, easy, and effective way to get inside people’s heads is to climb into their chairs. For example, Jeff Bezos leaves an empty chair during meetings for the “customer.”
  2. Buoyancy – before, during, and after any effort to move others.
    1. Interrogative self-talk (before) – is often more valuable than the declarative kind.
    2. Positivity Ratio (during) – Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina is the leading researcher on positivity says, “Positive emotions…broaden people’s ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and…making us more receptive and more creative,”
    3. Explanatory style (after) – How you think about your day, especially its worst aspects, can go a long way in determining your success
      1. When something bad occurs ask yourself three questions
        1. Is this permanent
        2. Is this pervasive
        3. Is this personal
      2. The more that you explain bad events as temporary, specific, and external, the more likely you are to persist even in the face of adversity. How you see rejection often depends on how you frame it.
  3. Clarity – “Problem Finding, Problem Solving” as a Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley instructor says, “part of being an innovative leader is being able to frame a problem in interesting ways and . . . to see what the problem really is before you jump in to solve it.”
    1. Become skilled at content curation – sorting through the massive troves of data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces.
    2. Ask good questions – uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues, and finding unexpected problems.
    3. Frame your offering in ways that contrast with its alternatives and therefore clarify its virtues.
      1. The Less Frame – restricting choices can help people see those choices more clearly instead of overwhelming them
      2. The Experience Frame – point out what the good or service will allow the buyer to do, i.e., see new places, visit old friends, and add to a book of memories. Go easy on the discussing options
      3. The Label Frame – assigning a positive label vs. a negative one can elevate performance and behaviors
      4. The Blemished Frame – being honest about the existence of a small blemish can enhance your offering’s true beauty
      5. The Potential Frame – don’t fixate only on what you achieved yesterday, emphasize the promise of what you could accomplish tomorrow

New ABCs of non-sales selling (notice it is not Always Be Closing)

  • Keen mind
  • A deft touch
  • Sense of Possibility

“Putting content curation into practice is part art form, part science, but mostly about daily practice,” writes Beth Kanter.

  • Seek
  • Sense
  • Share
Pitch Like an All-Star

Like a great major league baseball player, you will likely need to have more than one pitch to be successful.  Dan says, “The purpose of a pitch isn’t necessarily to move others immediately to 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. In a world where buyers have ample information and an array of choices, the pitch is often the first word, but it’s rarely the last.”  Below are six styles of pitches to practice.

  1. The one-word
    1. Write a fifty-word pitch. Reduce it to twenty-five words. Then to six words. One of the remaining words is almost certainly your one-word pitch.
  2. Question
    1. Use this if your arguments are strong. If they’re weak, make a statement. Or better yet, find some new arguments.
  3. Rhyming
    1. Don’t rack your brain for rhymes. Go online and find a rhyming dictionary. I’m partial to RhymeZone (
  4. Subject Line
    1. Your e-mail subject line should be either obviously useful (Found the best & cheapest photocopier) or mysteriously intriguing (A photocopy breakthrough!), but probably not both (The Canon IR2545 is a photocopy breakthrough).
    2. Tap the principles of utility, curiosity, and specificity
    3. Review the subject lines of the last twenty e-mail messages you’ve 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.
  5. Twitter
    1. Even though Twitter allows 140 characters, limit your pitch to 120 characters so that others can pass it on. Remember: The best pitches are short, sweet, and easy to retweet.
  6. Pixar
    1. Read all twenty-two of former Pixar story artist Emma Coats’s story rules: Once upon a time ____________________________. Every day, _______________________. One day ________________________________________. Because of that, _________________________________.  Because of that, __________________________________. Until finally, _________________________________.

Dan states, “as you prepare your pitch, whichever variety you choose, clarify your purpose and strategy by making sure you can answer these three questions: What do you want them to know? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? If you’ve got strong answers to these three questions, the pitch will come together more easily.”


With each opportunity to move someone whether that be a potential client or trying to convince a son or daughter to do their homework, Dan asks, “be sure you can answer the two questions at the core of genuine service. 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? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you’re doing something wrong.”

Stories make the work personal; their contents make it purposeful.