You Get What You Pay For…(Part 2)


In Dan Pink’s most recent bestseller, To Sell Is Human, he details why we should consider that we are all in sales. Pink suggests that technology and information have rapidly changed how the process of selling works. Prior to the Information Age or Connection Economy it used to be that the salesperson had all of the information or at least most of it. This is caveat emptor - buyer beware. The entire model has changed due to the sheer quantity of information and access to it. Today, we are in the era of caveat venditor - seller beware. Buyers are as educated (if not more) than the salespeople themselves. Selling is now much more about persuasion, negotiation, and convincing people to part with their resources.

Ed-Med – the industry sectors of Education and Medicine – is one of the examples Pink uses to make his point. As you can see below, Ed-Med is the only industry group that has experienced steady, year-over-year growth since 2000. Most dramatically, even in the face of the 2008 economic recession Ed-MEd continued to climb.

So, what does this have to do with selling?

Ed-Med Job Growth

Pink suggests that parents, teachers, and professors are in the business of selling because they are all actively invested in a process of trying to convince their children, students, and proteges that it is worthwhile to part with key resources – time and effort – in order to learn something new.

Great teachers intuitively understand this. They are the ones who attune to the individuality of their students. They use examples that apply to the unique interests of their students. They go the extra mile to co-design assignments and lessons that connect the narrative of the course to what’s going on today. These are the teachers that hone their craft day-in-day-out and year-after-year.

And this goes back to “you get what you pay for“. What incentive is there for the teacher to keep honing? In traditional sales, when you get better at selling, you get paid more. In Medicine, when you establish a track record of better patient outcomes, you make more money. In Education, when you hone your craft and improve your skills and invest your heart into your students, you get a 3% bump on an already modest salary and a pat on the back (at the good schools). And we wonder why some teachers burn out, become jaded, or leave for a more profitable industry!

There are teachers who will likely reject this idea of selling. “We are not in the business of sales”, they will say. Ask any TFA professional and they will agree that teachers sell when they invest their souls in underprivileged communities. Ask Geoffrey Canada if he’s in sales when he promised families in Harlem that he could would help their kids get to college. Ask KIPP founders Mike Feinberg & Dave Levin if his people are in sales when they put in extra hours each afternoon, work weekends, and into the traditional summer break to make up for lost time.

Great teaching is great selling. And this is a labor of the emotional kind. There is no way to measure emotional output. At least not in the same sense that we traditionally measure salespeople. How can you measure going the extra mile? How can you measure really knowing your students and their personalities, interests, and family situations?

Education is not an assembly line. Education is about relationships and emotional investment and honing one’s craft and selling. Our system administrators have been forced to show improvement and to quantify the largely unquantifiable. Only a small percentage of effective teaching is performance on a standardized test. What if we treated our teachers like the salespeople they are and encouraged and rewarded and incentivized them to continue to pour out their hearts into their craft? My instinct says that amazing results will follow.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

Dan Oliver


2 responses to You Get What You Pay For…(Part 2)

  1. drew at

    I agree. When I’m finished teaching a lesson, I actually have similar emotions to that of a salesman after making a pitch. If the students understand what I’ve taught, I have a feeling of achievement and pride. I more selfish way of looking at it is a sort of relief that the student and I are at a place of agreement and we have essentially, “closed the deal”. How do salesmen feel when they’ve made the sell? I’d bet the same feelings. In fact, I bet if you hooked up a brain scan to teachers and salesmen at the end of the lesson or sales pitch, respectively, the scans would be nearly identical.

    • Dan Oliver at

      Thanks for your comment. And that’s a good point, Drew. I wonder what that might look like too.

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