By Victor Danett

It is pretty well accepted that in today’s competitive market everyone is engaged in sales of one kind or another. Most people, however, don’t recognize that selling is a carefully practiced skill with a long history and competing set of theories of what works best. Each step in the development of the selling art has contributed to our sophisticated approaches today. A summary review of the history of selling can help you clinch that big deal or win your next negotiation.

Historians generally attribute the beginning of sales to the Romans. They minted coins extensively which enabled traders to engage in the first true sales and to travel distances without bartering.

It wasn’t until the early 1800’s in the United States that sales next developed a new approach. Traveling snake oil salesmen used some modern techniques. They made themselves out to be experts, dominated communication, and moved from small town to small town.

Pyramid sales were invented in the late 1800’s and introduced practices in use in sales today. In pyramid sales key decision makers are identified, targeted and recruited; salespeople take on a professional appearance and use superior knowledge to control the sales process.

In the early 1900’s and in reaction to snake oil and pyramid sales a new movement took hold in the selling world, Trust-Based Selling. This model was based on the idea that creating trust with the customer was the most effective approach.

The Great Depression put an end to Trust Selling, which was replaced by Mood Selling. Parents took pathetic looking children along with them on sales calls to evoke sympathy and close deals. The Depression also led to Barrier selling which depended on salesmen getting buyers to say yes enough times that they would buy. Door-to-door selling became popular and salesmen started to wear thick shoes to protect toes against doors being slammed in their face.

The emergence of brands in the 1920’s had a significant impact on the sales process, but the greatest impact came from the publishing in 1936 of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book, which started the Relationship Selling model, is still considered a fundamental must read by everyone engaged in sales.

In the 1940’s cross selling, which encouraged customers to buy more than they planned, was developed. In the 1950’s Formula selling used memorized pitches to engage the attention of the customer. David Ogilvy elaborated on the canned presentation and focused on handling objections. However, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the first true selling methodology was developed. Xerox Corporation targeted B2B sales to top level executives and taught their salespeople to identify and sell to needs.

Two developments in the 1980’s had a profound effect on sales today. CRM, or customer relationship management software was developed for the computer. This development put vast amounts of buyer information in the hands of the salesperson. Neil Rackham published Spin Selling creating a new sales methodology based on empirical research. This theory calls for the salesperson to identify the customer’s Situation, Problem, Implication and Need Payoff through thoughtful and well-placed questions. In the 1980’s came the motto that the ABC’s of selling was Always Be Closing.

In the 1990’s Mike Bosworth published Solution Sales, a new sales methodology based on solving the customer’s problems. Technology continued to have profound effects on selling. PowerPoint was released in 1990 and Go To Meeting was released in 2004. Both pieces of software enabled some degree of remote sales.

In 2011 the latest sales methodology was published, Challenger Sale. At one time the seller controlled all information. With the Internet information is readily available to the buyer as well. According to the Challenger Sale model, to capture the sale the seller needs to challenge the status quo thinking of the buyer, present new information and create a partnership with the buyer.

In 2012 Daniel Pink changed the ABC’s of selling to Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity in response to the changing sales environment that requires understanding of the buyer, resilience in the face of increased competition and finding the problem correctly.

As with the history of all ideas several theories and models are prominent, but none stands alone. Rather they build on one another and are formed in reaction to the historical circumstances in which they were developed. We learn best from the cumulative experience of every sales model.




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