Is selling a skill, or an innate human characteristic?
In his latest book, To Sell is Human, bestselling author Daniel H. Pink introduces his hypothesis on this question with a story of his cataloguing how he spent the last two weeks of his professional life. His conclusion? “I am a salesman.”
He cites examples such as trying to get an editor to abandon a story idea and requesting a seat change from a flight attendant as evidence of his sales cred. He extends that notion to his audience, saying they’re all “pitching colleagues, persuading funders, cajoling kids. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”
Now? I thought to myself. Was there a time when people didn’t pitch or when parents didn’t convince their children to do what they’re told? Isn’t this just the art of How to Win Friends and Influence People redux?
Now, Pink’s motive is overall a good one. He’s trying to convince people who aren’t “in sales” to abandon their preconceived notions of sales as something bad or slippery or a necessary evil:
“The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are… selling is fundamentally human.”
I appreciated the sentiment, so I read on. While his first chapter begins with a fascinating profile of the last Fuller Brush door-to-door salesman, he then delves into a study he undertook to illuminate his hypothesis by asking people what they do at work. While a majority of his respondents said they spent more time “processing information” than they did “selling a product or service,” he noted that they all admitted to these “three activities at the heart of non-sales selling”:
- teaching, coaching, or instructing others
- serving clients or customers
- persuading or convincing others