• Robb G. Best

The New Sales ABCs

In To Sell is Human, writer Daniel Pink makes a bold declaration: regardless of our official job title, the majority of us are in sales. After all, if you define “selling” as “an act of persuasion,” then don’t we all spend our professional lives pushing products, ideas, or advice on someone?

But in addition to rethinking what sales is and who does it, Pink also seeks to overturn our notions of how to do it. In an era of Yelp and ubiquitous online customer reviews, consumers are savvy in ways they’ve never been before. Lies and slick manipulations won’t cut it when all of the information about any given product is only a few clicks away. And that means the aggressive, slicked-back-hair, Alec-Baldwin-in-Glengarry-Glen-Ross vision of a sales professional has got to go.

In its place, Pink offers a new sales ABC: Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.


Pink argues that a good salesperson is not just about output, but input as well. He defines attunement as “the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with the world around you.” A champion persuader knows it’s not just about hammering one’s message, but reading the audience and tailoring your approach from there.

In fact, contrary to stereotype, evidence suggests that the best sellers are not extroverts, but rather ambiverts—those people who sit at the middle of the introversion-to-extraversion scale. A careful blend of listening (but also staying firm enough to close a sale) seems to be the ticket.

Empathy can be helpful in this regard, but Pink champions what he calls “perspective-taking,” where instead of trying to feel how your customer feels, the goal is to think how your customer thinks.

One simple way to bring yourself in tune with your audience? The next time you need to make a pitch, try subtly mimicking their body language and facial expressions. Don’t be so blatant that you get caught, of course. But by sending these subconscious signals of kinship, you’ll put your customer more at ease.


Of course, all the attunement in the world won’t protect you from setbacks. That’s where buoyancy comes in. It’s slightly more nuanced than simply maintaining a positive attitude; instead, the goal is optimism with a dash of realism thrown in as well.

In place of pumping yourself up with positive affirmations, Pink recommends preparing yourself with questions, like “Can I nail this presentation?” By mentally asking the question, you prepare yourself to convincingly answer with reasons, and even practical strategies.

Positivity is important, and he notes that it certainly helps to believe in what you’re selling, whether it’s a Fuller brush or a new way of organizing group emails.

When rejections do come, the goal should be to frame them as temporary (“Better luck next time”), specific (“My problem was that I need to practice my closing more”), and external (“This is not a good time in the economy for ___.”) This will help you not to see each “no” as a lasting personal judgement.


No matter what it is you’re selling, a confused customer won’t buy. Clarity is the ability to anticipate a customer’s true needs, curating information and asking the right questions to get to the heart of the real solution.

For true clarity, it’s important to examine the way your sales routines are framed.

For instance, if you can narrow down your customer’s options to a handful of the most relevant choices, studies show they’ll be more likely to bite. Assigning a positive label to a person or group can elevate their behavior. Experiential framing, that is, pitching not objects but experiences, is a good way to make your pitch more attractive. And people are more likely to get excited about potential than actual performance, which is why it’s great news for you if your idea could be “the next big thing.”

Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. It might not trip off the tongue like “Always Be Closing,” but as advice goes, it’s considerably more helpful.

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