To really understand sales and marketing, you need to look back to its historical roots in early 20th century America,.
There the new, huge manufacturers re-organized a motley assortment of peddlers and traveling 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 the US, could a book that re-created Jesus as a successful sales executive, The Man Nobody Knows, remain on the bestseller 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 pressurizing people into buying. Sales and advertising forces both worked to create a desire for new products. As a profession, it developed a duality of reputation, aspirational as being a way to achieve the American dream on the one hand, but a far less desirable flip side of being a trickster on the other.
The conman image of traveling men and these new highly pressurized techniques rolled together to make this really poor perception. It became so bad, that by the ’40s when Arthur 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, selling remains a massive industry.
The showmanship that has always characterized 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 us 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, both departments 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 people in the industry 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 and very pushy wording. Anyone even semi-wised up has 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 styles will not work anymore. It is all about trust.
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 salespeople 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 a genuine interest in their emotional reasons to buy.
As a result, the industry has become more honest, more informed, more relationship orientated. Scripts are distrusted along with corny lines and gimmicks. Pressured closing is more likely to lose a sale. It is authenticity all the way.
Sales used to be closing, closing, closing.
It was this approach that made for all the distrust. Now, it is still a three c process but now it has become a 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 already learned (mostly), so marketing is having to focus on trust. This means interacting with the most targeted and personalized 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 departments, the days of foisted, unwanted goods are over. Instead, it is about connecting with customers who actually want a relationship with you.
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