Marketing Truths in “To Sell is Human” by Daniel Pink

My book was due back to the library just a couple days ago, but I’ve found myself referencing bits from the book several times already. Since I keep looking up the details on the studies included, it seems prudent to start listing them out. So as I look them up, I’ll probably add more.

Nothing is the sign of a good and useful book in my eyes more than the constant referencing and talking about it others.

So here’s what stood out to me:

Make it Easy

I’m working on an email series for Holistic Marketing and one of the tips is about the need to make sure you are making it easy for clients to book a session. Here’s the excerpt from that email tip:

I listened to the audiobook, “To Sell is Human” recently and the author mentioned a study where college students were asked to identify classmates who were most likely and least likely to contribute to a food drive. Both groups were split into 2 segments. One segment of both groups received a generic letter with few details asking them to donate. Not surprisingly 0 students in the “least likely to participate” segment contributed to the food drive and 8% of the “most likely” segment also donated.

The rest of the students received a personally addressed letter that included a list of suggested items to donate and a map showing the drop off location. They also received a follow-up phone call reminding them about the food drive.

The author Daniel Pink asks, “What mattered more—the disposition of the student or the content of the letters?”

Well, 25% of the students deemed “least likely” but who received the more detailed and personal letter contributed to the food drive. Compared to the “most likely” people getting a simple, generic letter (and no follow up) we can see how making it easy had a significant increase in the number of people taking action.

Find the Right Motivation

My city announced a new litter campaign starting up via Nextdoor (a social networking app for neighborhoods) and I noticed that many of the comments on that thread were indicating the litter problems are heavily tied to fast food establishments and single-use packaging. Which immediately reminded me of a couple studies from “To Sell is Human” so I decided to email the project coordinator in regards to helping create effective campaign messaging by finding the right motivation. Here’s the excerpt that pertains to the findings from the book:

One study involved a hand washing campaign in a hospital where they tested different signage copy. The only version that actually improved hand washing by staff, doctors, etc. (the goal was to reduce spread of infections by the way) was the one stating that hand washing saved patient lives. The signage that mentioned simple reminders about hand washing didn’t change behavior. Nor did the messaging that focused on the individual benefits of preventing their own exposure to infections. The key take away from that study was how the only messaging that changed behavior was focused on how the individuals actions impacted others.

Another study wanted to improve the accident rate for Kenyan minibus (Matatu) drivers who were known for really reckless driving causing lots of accidents and related deaths. They tried all sorts of things with rules and laws, but what worked best was a sticker encouraging passengers to speak up when they see reckless driving. The stickers include statements like, “Don’t let a reckless driver get away with murder.” — again they tried a few different approaches and found self interest messages didn’t get them to speak up as much as the collective good impacting others. (Source.)

Also related is a study where participants were giving some material to read. One segment was given information to read about car-sharing that focused on the environmental benefits. Another segment read about car sharing with a self interest focus on the financial benefits of car sharing. The third segment just read about other neutral information about car travel. Then after doing some additional filler tasks the participants were asked to discard the papers as they left. There were 2 clearly marked options for waste or recycling. The people who read about the eco benefits of car sharing overwhelmingly were more likely to recycle their papers instead of putting them in the waste can. In fact 89% of them recycled the papers compared to only 50% of the rest of the participants. (Source.)

Perception of Sales

I appreciated the commentary on the author talks about how many of us are now spending much of our days doing what he called “non-sales selling.” He worked hard to dispel the perception many of us have of the typical person in sales. Let’s have some fun, and take a moment to picture this person in your head. Once you’ve got it keep reading.
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Did you picture someone like this google search?

Is it a man? In a suit? Selling used cars? Even when I switch my search term from “salesman” as used in that link to “sales person” the images didn’t really change. Very few are women and they are all in suites and still a decent percent involve a car in the photo.

Seems to be the default perception along with a bunch of less than ideal descriptive words. However Pink argues heavily why this is not correct. There were lots of great examples of what sales looks like today and how most of us are in sales whether we realize it or not.

I especially appreciated the studies talking about how the typical sales commission structure doesn’t really motivate sales people as well as assumed. When the companies he mentioned switched to different structures things improved.

Connecting with People

I’ve heard about the mimicry (or mirroring) stuff before, but this was a good reminder. One of these days I hope to remember to try it and see how it works. Mimicry basically means to mimic them in a subtle way. If they lean back in their chair, you lean back. Or if they smile, you smile. It’s a great technique to help us connect with others in any situation or any relationship type.

Make your partner look good is such great advice. We tend to think in terms of looking better than others, but sometimes as in improv (think Second City acting troupes) making your partner look good is the best way to help yourself shine too.

Ask yourself how selling whatever it is you’re selling will improve the buyers life.

Then there’s the thumb wrestling example… man I’m still pondering my reaction to that one. You’ll have to ask me about it. I don’t want to give it away in case I ever use it in a situation.

Listening. Really listening. We need to do more of this. Yep.

There were other good points along these lines and I’m already forgetting them…

Framing Things

I’m borrowing a few lines from a great book review that’s much more comprehensive as I’m only talking about the things that I love from a marketing perspective.

“Of the consumers who visited the booth with twenty-four varieties, only 3 percent bought jam. At the booth with a more limited selection, 30 percent made a purchase”.

While people think they like choice, too many choices leads to fewer purchases being made. I’ve seen similar data elsewhere too. More people went to the booth with more jam options and yet fewer people made purchases.

“Several researchers have shown that people derive much greater satisfaction from purchasing experiences than they do from purchasing goods”.

Pink talked about even if selling a car, focusing on the experiences you’ll have in it instead of the features it offers can help improve not only sales, but the buyer’s overall satisfaction which lasts longer from experiences than goods.

“The neatest group by far was the first—the one that had been labeled ‘neat’”. Merely assigning that positive label—helping the students frame themselves in comparison with others—elevated their behavior”.

As a parent I love this example and will make sure to remember to use it with my son. Compliment him on the desired behavior and it’s more likely to mean he’ll actually do it.

“Remarkably, in many cases, the people who’d gotten that small dose of negative information were more likely to purchase the boots than those who’d received the exclusively positive information”. The researchers dubbed this phenomenon the ‘blemishing effect’—where ‘adding a minor negative detail in an otherwise positive description of a target can give that description a more positive impact. But the blemishing effect seems to operate only under two circumstances. First, the people processing the information must be in what the researchers call a ‘low effort’ state. That is, instead of focusing resolutely on the decision, they’re proceeding with a little less effort—perhaps because they’re busy or distracted. Second, the negative information must follow the positive information, not the reverse. Once again, the comparison creates clarity. ‘The core logic is that when individuals encounter weak negative information after already having received positive information, the weak negative information ironically highlights or increases the salience of the positive information. If you’re making your case to someone who’s not intently weighing every single word, list all the positives—but do add a mild negative. Being honest about the existence of a small blemish can enhance your offering’s true beauty.

This reviewer summed up the blemished stuff well. I’m leaving it like that and borrowing all of this until I have time to dissect it myself.

“Next time you’re selling yourself, don’t fixate only on what you achieved yesterday. Also, emphasize the promise of what you could accomplish tomorrow”.

Interestingly people respond better to the potential of someone than what they’ve done.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Asking questions is often a great strategy. Examples include Regan’s question that helped him get elected over Carter. “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” which worked then, but didn’t for Romney because people weren’t so sure they weren’t better off under Obama as president and the question didn’t have the same power. So asking a question that makes people think can be helpful as they come to their own conclusions, but the key is correctly anticipating if they will come to the conclusions you want.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the advice that sometimes you can’t win with a rational question. You need an irrational one. The example I remember involves asking your child if he/she is ready for bed, but by asking it in the following way, “On a scale of 1 to 10 how ready for bed are you?” with the more important part being the follow up question, “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?”