Updated: Sep 22, 2020
A Salestor, or a Sales Creator.
Because the term Salesmen feels incomplete (for obvious reasons in my case!). If Sales is majorly the art of convincing, then most of us are Salestors. If you have ever struck a deal with your parents to buy that bike, or a PS3, or even a doll house, you have a dormant (or maybe an active) Salestor within you.
I believe the art of selling emerged millennia ago with the people who introduced the concept of barter before money was coined. Those who were successfully able to convince another person to engage in a barter were the first Salestors.
Sales became more prominent with the introduction of money and onset of trade. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that Salestors were officially hired in the corporate setup.
In any case, it is interesting to see how the domain of Sales has evolved over the past few decades. The word no more brings to mind just the picture of a salesman at your door. It has evolved to become the focus of businesses as it is the primary revenue generating profile.
However, I have personally seen a lot of organisational offices with ‘Salesmen not allowed’ notice pasted on the main door. Fortunately, I was selling B2B and was, well still am, a woman. But seeing this notice more than once on the doors of different companies didn’t deter me from entering, just made me wonder how long the journey for Sales will be before Salestors start being seen as more than just someone who rings your doorbell to sell a fake product that you don’t need. And that pushed me to see when exactly did Sales emerge.
Quite Believably, With the Era of the Insurance!
While Sales has been with us for centuries, it became a corporate profession in the 19th century with Benjamin Franklin introducing Insurance Sales in America, and effectively the world. It was the first time Sales Reps were hired to visit homes of their prospects and pitch. If they closed the deal, they would visit your home regularly for monthly payment collections. But as the company and its customers grew, it became increasingly difficult for them to manage the numbers and customers and hence the situation asked for a solution. This is when role specialisation and differentiation were introduced and the terms Hunting and Farming were coined. (And all this time I believed these to be new terms for acquisition and retention, when they are clearly more than 150 years old!)
The Emergence of Chinese Snake Oil Sales
Next came the time of the Snake Oil Merchants. In the second half of the 19th century till early 1880’s, America witnessed a massive influx of the Chinese immigrants due to the growing demand for labour. Following this, in the 1900’s, Clark Stanley started selling a fake medicine under the brand name of Chinese Snake Oil, a herbal medicine for various ailments. In 1917, people uncovered his deceit and he was fined. But this incident tarnished the image of Salestors. They were being seen as a deceptive lot who sold fake products and the profession was deemed for unethical and unprofessional people. A ray of hope was brought by Thomas J. Watson Sr, a great Salestor himself, who recognised the positive side of Sales and decided to build his own Sales Force for his new venture called International Business Machines. No, it wasn’t yet The IBM then.
The Birth of IBM
Thomas introduced a couple of mantras that we follow till date, and hopefully will always. They were:
A strong sales force gives you the advantage needed in a highly competitive market scenario.
‘Educated`, professional and well trained’ sales force gives you a competitive edge.
Thomas Watson’s IBM infused a new life and image for Sales and Salestors. Between 1925 and 1936, a lot of corporates had started recognising the significance of having a Sales team and had begun investing in their hiring and training. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People contributed a lot. He coined the term AIDCA — Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction, and Action. This was a list of actions to be induced by the Salestor in a customer. Grab their attention, peak their interest in the product, induce desire to own the product, and finally convince them to take action.
In their paper ‘A Brief History of the Sales Environment’, the authors Micah Strader, Allen Wysocki, Derek Farnsworth, and Jennifer L. Clark discuss how the significance of Salestors increased over time. After the Industrial Revolution, supply was more than demand and hence the need for Salestors arose. Since the concept of hiring Salestors was still new, they were not being given due importance. Companies hiring them on contract basis did not take their advice seriously and hence the Salestors, in return, did not become loyal to their hirers. However, things started changing by the end of 1970’s.
The Horizontal Expansion of Sales
In his book The Changing Nature of Sales Work, Prof Asaf Darr draws a comparison between sales then and now in the emerging technology markets. He says that the Managerial ranks were introduced to the corporate world by Engineers and they used to grow vertically in the organisation. But in the past 3 decades, this story has changed a lot to encompass horizontal growth accepted by everyone in an organisation. He talks about how sales has grown from being the most non-coveted profile to something that even engineers have started being expected to know about. Employees from different domains are chosen to be trained in the art of selling.
In the 1980’s, as companies started adopting Just-In-Time method of production, Salestors gained more mileage in their companies. Being the only touchpoints with customers, they were required to understand the customers’ viewpoints and provide them to the company on time. A combination of both just-in-time and customers’ feedback was essential for complete success.
The topic of Sales in the 1980’s will remain incomplete without talking about Neil Rackham’s Spin Selling model. After a struggle of 12 years and 35,000 sales calls, he had coined the concept that eventually became one of the most sought after Sales techniques of all time called SPIN Selling. This technique focuses on the questions that a Salestor needs to ask his or her client in order to have an effective conversation. The questions are based on the current Situation of the prospect, the Problem faced by the prospect, understand the Implications of their situation and problems and finally making the prospect realise the benefits of buying your product through Need-Payoff questions.
And then began the New Millennium!
The 2000’s brought with them a lot of changes in not only the image of Sales and Salestors, but also the kind of work each Salestor was supposed to do. In 2011, Aaron Ross, a Salesforce staff, identified a gap in Sales profiling system and divided the role of Sales Development Reps into Lead Generators, Customer Acquirers and Key Account Managers. (Finally, voila!)
And yes, Women have been Selling too!
The selling models of Avon, Tupperware, and Mary Kay brought employment, solidarity and the opportunity to be independent to thousands of women worldwide. Avon gave the right to an independent livelihood to women much before they were given the right to vote. So women have been into Corporate Sales for more than 130 years! But contrary to what I thought earlier, this topic is so vast and fascinating that it requires, and deserves, a separate article. So keep reading!