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20170204 To Sell is Human





The most important point of this book is that sales are not kind of activity that is going to disappear. On the contrary, author looks at the sales as an activity of communicating with other people and convincing them to do something (to buy) one is selling, whether these are goods, services, or ideas. In this view selling is the activity that takes significant part of time and efforts for everybody even for people who do not believe that they are in selling business. So the main idea is to look at the process of selling and provide recommendations on how to do it effectively in today’s world.


Part One Rebirth of a sale man

  1. We’re All in Sales Now

This chapter starts with the story about the last of disappearing breed of door-to-door salesmen – Fuller Brush man. The story demonstrates that job of selling is far from disappearing, moreover, in reality:


After that discussion goes into characteristics of non-sale selling, which takes about 40% of everybody’s work time and consist of persuading, influencing, and convincing others – critical part of every non-manual job.

  1. Entrepreneurship, Elasticity, and Ed-Med

This chapter demonstrates that selling is an integral part of any entrepreneurial activity and entrepreneurs are presenting millions of businesses, many without any employees whatsoever. This requires elasticity of skills combining technical organizational and sales specific skills. This follows by example of Ed-Med couple that needs selling skills to work effectively in education and medical services.

  1. From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor

This chapter starts with description of cultural perception of selling as low activity done by sleazy people. Here is a nice presentation of this attitude by frequency of words use in relation to selling:


Author suggests that this approach while valid in the past due to widely used informational disparity between buyer and seller, leading to seller’s ability to sell lemons, is losing its validity due to Internet and wide availability of information that eliminates disparity. Author demonstrates it by discussing old style auto dealership serving poor and contemporary haggle free big dealership with preset prices and conditions for used cars where honesty really become the best policy.

Part Two HOW to Be

Here author introduces new ABC of successful sales: Attunement / Buoyancy / Clarity

  1. Attunement

This is about attunement of seller’s action to buyer’s needs that become necessary in order to be successful. The idea of hard sell seems to run out its course and in reality the idea of empathic sale works a lot better. Author also discusses personality features most beneficial for sales: contrary to typical believes it is not Extraverts but rather Ambiverts who generally doing much better than Introverts. Here is nice graph for this:


  1. Buoyancy.

To demonstrate this feature author returns to the Fuller Brash Man and looks at details of his selling process when he returns again and again to the same potential buyer continuously probing and continuously going through the sequence:

  • Before: Interrogative Self-Talk – the process of setting up own mood and attitude to be effective in selling, which surprisingly is not command: “I Will”, but rather question: “Will I?”
  • During: Positivity Ratios – the positivity here means transmitting such attitude that one’s counterpart was felling that seller does everything possible the process of sale lead to win-win situation. The very interesting thing here is that research seem to identify effective ratio for positive to negative emotions as 3 to 1, with lesser ratio such as 2 to 1 being as bad as negative, while too positive around 11 to 1 becoming counterproductive.
  • After: Explanatory Style – here author relies on research of Martin Seligman discoverer of “learned helplessness”. This is related to Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) that measure pessimism-optimism and can-do approaches. The results are: the best approach is optimism with clear eyes to reality. Either pessimism or rose glasses optimism fail.
  1. Clarity

The chapter on clarity starts with research of Hal Hershfield about retirement saving that discovered an interesting fact about human attitude: people see themselves now and in the future as different entities, so the problem is subconscious resistance: why am I, 35 years old, would make sacrifices for this absolutely unknown stranger – 65 years old me. Author uses this as example of necessity to carefully identify problem and formulating it with complete clarity before trying to solve it. To expand on this idea, author also discusses research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that demonstrated materially higher level of success for people for trying to find problem before acting and people who are trying to solve problem before clearly understanding what it is. The second part of the chapter is about finding correct frame for the problem of sale and here are examples:

  • The less Frame – limit choices by eliminating some of them and allocating more effort to analyzing others
  • The Experience Frame – people prefer experience to staff, so frame staff as experience
  • The Label Frame – this is based of managed perception for example Prisoner’s dilemma framed as “Wall Street game” is played completely different when framed as “ Community Game”
  • The Blemished Frame – small negative added to the mix of mainly positive features actually improves chances of success
  • The Potential Frame – unknown potential benefits beats know benefits hands down. Nice example: “ He Is the Next big thing” loses to “ He Could Be the Next big thing”.

The final and very important point in this chapter is need for the clarity of future action that author characterizes as off-ramp.


Part Three What to DO

This part is about the process of selling. It defines it as 3 stages continuing process with the first one making people interested through Pitch, the second convincing them to close the deal, and the final after sales service that would create basis for the next sale.

  1. Pitch

The pitch chapter starts with story of Otis – elevator pitch, which was actually demonstration of save working elevator. It follows with description of 6 types of pitches:

  1. The one word pitch (Saatchi for MasterCard: Priceless)
  2. The question pitch (Reagan: Are you better off today?)
  3. The rhyming pitch (OJ trial: If it does not fit you must acquit)
  4. Subject line pitch based on Utility, Curiosity, and Specificity
  5. The Twitter pitch (winner of MBA application contest: Globally minded / Innovative and Driven / Tippie can sharpen)
  6. The Pixar pitch (The story framework: Once upon a time / Every Day / One Day / Because of that / Because of that / Until finally
  1. Improvise

This is about improvisation required in process of selling. Here are some tips:

  1. Hear Offers
  2. Say “Yes and…”
  3. Make your partner look good
  1. Serve

The final chapter is about service – ability to learn how goods or services used and improve this process in such way as to add value to acquired product. Example provided: nudge announcement passengers to control reckless driver in Kenya dramatically decreasing amount of accidents, personification X-ray prints with picture of patient improving recognition of diseases, improving compliance by nurses to procedure by adding purpose to protect patients to hands washing.


In my opinion this book is not really about sales, but rather about communication skills. The diversity of objectives of communication is practically infinite and sale when money exchange takes place is just a small subset of it. This book is a very nice collection of methods of preparation for communication and tools that could be used to make it effective. It is worth to remember and use as needed.


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