To really understand sales and marketing, you need to look back to its historical roots in early 20th century America, where the new, huge manufacturers re-organised a motley assortment of peddlers and travelling men into the sleekest of salesforces to offload this new avalanche of goods. Europe simply didn’t manufacture to the same scale so we lagged behind.
The US attitude to the salesman is entirely different from Europe’s. Perhaps only in US, could a book that re-created Jesus as a successful sales executive, The Man Nobody Knows, remain on the best seller lists for nearly 100 years, slightly longer than Dale Carnegie’s book How to win Friends and Influence people. Carnegie is still considered one of the best salesmen of all-time.
Successful selling at that time was all about overcoming resistance and pressurising people into buying. Sales and advertising forces both worked to create desire for new products. Sales developed a duality of reputation, aspirational as being a way to achieve the American dream on the one hand, but far a less desirable trickster one on the other. The latter had both the conman image of travelling men and these new highly pressurised sales techniques to thank for it. It became so bad, that by the 40’s when Miller wrote “The Death of a Salesman”, the whole industry was seen by many as something cruel and rotten, from its target setting onward.
The UK has retained some of that perspective but the US has re-branded. Thanks to the giants of US manufacturing, Coca-Cola, Johnson and Johnson, Microsoft, IBM among them, it remains a massive industry. The showmanship that has always characterised it, re-emerged with masters such as Steve Jobs. Believing that the media hold the key to sales, his press conferences were equally full of hype and entertainment.
Meanwhile, the media adopted a newer, wholesome salesman image with films such as Jerry Maguire, who had as all at hello.
Joe Polish, president of Piranha Marketing Inc and one of US’s leading entrepreneurs, argues the case for the contemporary salesperson, distinguishing between being sold to, and being pressured to buy. He points out that if we want to buy something, sales and marketing have done a good job and we enjoy buying without noticing the process that has got us there.
But the stigmas linger on. A Global Sales Perceptions report for DDI in 2007-8 found that salespeople were still perceived as ignorant, more interested in their bonus than in their customers’ needs. They were seen as a “necessary evil”.
It surprises me when I get emails or linked in messages full of obvious sales hype and pushing wording. The wise sales people have now moved to consultative selling, seeing the value in setting up long term business partnerships and helping people buy, rather than selling to them; recognizing that old school sales will not work anymore.
It is all about trust. The millennials have played a huge part in this, with their massive distrust of corporations. Old style salesmen’s success relied in part on their customers’ ignorance. Now, customers are better informed and not reliant on salesman for facts and figures of what they are buying. They expect their sales people to know as much but as importantly offer them first class service. To win sales now, you need prospects to see you as a partner, and to demonstrate genuine interest in their emotional reasons to buy.
As a result, sales has become more honest, more informed, more relationship orientated. Scripts are distrusted along with corny sales lines and gimmicks. Pressured closing is more likely to lose a sale. It is authenticity all the way.
The old saying was that sales was a three C process; closing, closing, closing. It was this approach that made for the all the distrust. Now, it is still a three c process but now it has become collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.
Marketing maintained a very different image, one of competitive professionalism. But with the development of the internet and growth of technology, it too started to throw information at customers, forgetting every hard learned lesson that sales had gleaned. Marketing became synonymous with spam mail and irritating pop-ups, force-feeding information at every opportunity.
We are now seeing the reversal of this and not just because of privacy laws and GDPR. As has sales, so marketing too is having to focus on trust. This means interacting with the most targeted and personalised groups only, people who genuinely wish to hear the message. In order to create the buying desire, we have to feel in a safe haven that we genuinely belong to, not being deluged by some alien information farm. For both marketers and sales people, the days of foisted, unwanted goods are over. Instead, it is about connecting with customers who actually want a relationship with you.