Book Summary – To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing and Influencing Others

When we think of “sales”, most of us think of pushy door-to-door salespeople or slimy used-car salesmen. In “To Sell is Human”, Daniel Pink shows how outdated this perspective is. In fact, all of us sell – as part of our work and lives, we constantly influence, sway or persuade others to take action. Whether you are in a sales role, or need to influence others at work, this book provides fresh perspectives and useful techniques to help you improve your ability to move and influence others.

To Sell is Human summary_Intro

In this summary, we’ll give an overview of how sales has changed, the difference between selling and moving, and what it takes to more effectively move and influence others to action. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.

To Sell is Human summary_book summary bundle

In the book, Pink explains why traditional selling is dead.  Here’s an overview of 3 important ideas behind this shift (do get more details from the book or our full 13-page summary, as well as 3 important myths about sales):


Redefining Sales

To Sell is Human summary_Redefining Sales

The Shift from Selling to Moving

In today’s digital internet age, consumers are able to do their own research and comparisons, and get purchase advice from their social networks. In most cases, consumers have as much (if not more) information as the salesperson – cajoling or withholding information can no longer work, and the traditional way of selling is dead. Most people also spend about 40% of their workhours doing “non-sales selling”, i.e. convincing others to exchange their resources (e.g. expertise, time, effort, attention) for something they want. Such activities are a significant part of work, and are vital for one’s professional success. When we combine both sales and non-sales selling, everyone sells. However, instead of product pushing, we must now move people into action. In Pink’s words, we’re all in the “moving business”.

The 3Es Behind the Moving Business

How did so many of us end up as salespeople, or rather, movers? There are 3Es behind this trend – Entrepreneurship, Elasticity and “Ed-Med”. First, we’re seeing an unprecedented surge in the number of small and micro businesses. Such small business owners must wear multiple hats, including sales, hence more entrepreneurs means more salespeople. Second, in today’s ever-changing landscape, “elasticity” has become an essential skill for success, including cross-boundary roles, and skills that can be repurposed or applied in new ways. Third, Education and Healthcare (Ed-Med“) are 2 of the fastest-growing industries, they are basically about moving people to take action, to achieve an outcome that’s good for them.  Read more about the 3Es in the book or our full summary).

Review these ideas and tips at a glance with our book summary and infographic!

From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor

In the past, sellers had more information than buyers, and the onus was on buyers to check the quality and suitability of the products, before making a purchase (Caveat Emptor). However, buyers today have almost equal access to information as sellers, and they also have the option to retaliate (e.g. share bad reviews on the internet or social media) if they’re unfairly treated. The new rule is now Caveat Venditor (i.e. seller-beware, with the seller being accountable for providing the necessary info to the buyer). Effective selling is no longer about being the most persistent or aggressive. It’s about being transparent and empathetic, and helping buyers to make sense of available facts and options, so they can make the best choices.


Being a Good Mover

To Sell is Human summary_Be a Good MoverMany successful salespeople live by this age-old adage, “Always be Closing”. They’re singularly focused on getting their prospects to say “yes” to what they’re selling. Pink proposes a new set of ABCs – Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity – that are better suited for the new paradigm. Here’s a quick outline – do get more details and specific tips from the book or our full book summary:


This is about aligning yourself with others and the situation, stepping outside your own perspective and putting yourself in others’ shoes. Pink explains these 3 key rules or principles, with some suggested tips/ approaches to put them into practice: (a) lessen your power to amplify it, (b) use your head + heart, and (c) strategic mimicry.


This is about balancing determination with optimism, so you can successfully cope with the sheer volume of rejections that can be expected in the sales process. Pink breaks down these 3 tips to use before, during, and after the sales process: (a) use Questioning Self-Talk (not affirmation) before the sale, (b) 3:1 Positivity Ratio during the sales process, and (c) adjust your Explanatory Style after the sales process.


Clarity is all about cutting through the clutter of information, to identify problems and present solutions clearly. Pink explains what it means to (a) identify problems, (b) frame your offer using 5 different frames, and (c) give clear directions.


How to Move People

To Sell is Human summary_Moving People

Now that we know the qualities required to effectively move people, let’s look at the 3 things we need to do – Pitch, Improvise and Serve. [Get the full details/ examples from the book, or get a quick overview of the key tips in our full book summary].


A pitch is not mean to convince others; it merely arouses interest and draws others into a conversation. Rather than use “elevator pitches” which are now outdated, we should learn 6 powerful, new tricks: the one-word pitch, question pitch, rhyming pitch, subject-line pitch, Twitter pitch, and Pixar pitch (more details in the book / summary).


Things don’t always go according to plan and we need to improvise, and the book covers 3 useful tips for improvisation.


Finally, focus on how you can serve better. When people are genuinely moved, the impact can be long-lasting, and Pink explains 2 principles to make selling and serving more meaningful.

Other Details in “To Sell is Human”

This is an easy-to-read book, with many practical and relatable examples. In each chapter, Pink includes:
• Suggested reading and/ or useful links websites and free resources; and
• A set of exercises which you can apply to put the ideas to use. In this summary, we’ve included some of these exercises; please get the full details and the remaining tips from the book.

Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get our To Sell is Human summary bundle for an overview of the various ideas and tips, or check out more resources at 

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