Daniel Pink could be the best marketing teacher artists have had yet.
To Sell is Human came out on New Year’s Eve, so clearly, it’s taken me a while to write this review. But the extended process has not been because the book is difficult, but because it’s important, particularly for the arts, and particularly for this point in time. Just in the last week, we’ve seen New York City Opera fail, Minnesota Orchestra cancel their season-opening concert at Carnegie Hall, and their leader resign. Every artist, every ensemble, and every arts advocacy organization is rethinking their approach, and their bottom line, in the hope that their mission will survive. If ever there was a time to get some new tools, this is it.
Daniel Pink, author of several bestselling books (see below), has again stepped over conventional wisdom to bring deeper meaning to a topic we thought we already knew. The author’s premise is simple: Selling is universal. We all persuade someone about something, every day. But in the arts, selling is personified by the devil himself, including epithets such as “sell-out”, which have become the worst sort of industry slur. Creative artists of all sorts are told regularly that selling isn’t something they can or should do, yet the increasingly individualized arts reality requires us to market ourselves, every day. Artists and performers must learn real marketing and selling skills, and we must learn them quickly.
But the tools available until recent years have been abysmal: difficult or tiresome to read, books and training sessions about selling, even those aimed at artists, tend to be too full of lingo, too swathed in high-pressure techniques, or just feel too many shades of wrong. The arts cannot be sold like a widget, and we need someone to help us understand how they can be sold. This book may be a good first primer.
With well-researched examples and none of the amped-up pep talkery of the sales technique hawker, the author walks us through why selling matters, how we’re already involved, how to think about it, and how to get better at it. And it’s actually a fascinating read. The depth into which the author delves into the psychology of selling, including the personalities on both sides, is one of the most fascinating differences in this book, and he approaches many of his points with a sympathetic, even appreciative eye to why artists might be highly effective salespeople.
The best part is that Pink avoids both talking down to the reader and talking smack about the suckers. He has revealed his humanity in his previous books, and generally treats his subjects with respect and a positive outlook. His approach here is no different, as he aims more to show all of us the sales assets we already possess, and to treat our customers and patrons with the consideration they fully deserve.
In short, there’s hope for you. Install some new thoughts and skills, and you can sell your work with soul intact — and you’re probably already using some of the very tools you need. Get out there, and go get ’em.
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YouTube: Dan Pink speaking at Wharton: “Why ‘To Sell is Human'” (20:29)