"History of Sales Practices: Why some work and some don't"

John Smibert

Sue Barrett

Sue Barrett, talks with John Smibert about the history of sales methods and how they have changed for the better.

This video is a 'must view' for sales leaders and salespeople developing their professional standards.

Sue is an authoritative thought leader and an accomplished author on the selling profession.

Sue is CEO of Barrett and SalesEssentials.com.

See more of the 'TALKING SALES' series here

Interview Transcript

John: I'm delighted to have with me today Sue Barrett. Sue's an authoritative thought leader and an accomplished author on the selling profession. She's also the CEO and founder of Barrett, and also SalesEssentials.com. Welcome, Sue!

Sue: Thank you!

John: Sue, the first thing I wanted to talk to you about was the history of sales; I know you've done some research into that. I know it concerns both of us that sometimes selling does have a bad name, and I'm really interested in how we can fix that. Your research looked at what's happened in selling, the change in methodology and tactics over the last 150 years. Can you talk a little bit about the tactics that do work, the methodologies that do work and are more effective and the ones we should be looking at using as salespeople?

Sue: Sure. If we perhaps start where the profession of selling started to get its name if you like. I mean, everyone's been trading for years - you know, since Adam was a boy - so everyone's been selling something, in some way, shape or form. But, selling started to get its currency, if you like, back when the wagon trains started to move from the East to the West Coast of America and people started to populate America. Unfortunately, with those wagon trains what you actually got was snake oil salesmen who were on the back.

John: Yeah.

Sue: The further you got away from the East Coast, where the population was, the less knowledge you had about what was happening; so, these guys could tell you anything. And, of course, they would run through these towns or settlements, sell you these things off the back of a wagon train, people would part with their money. And of course, people share stories and they talk about things, and so this is where the profession of selling started to actually get its bad reputation.

John: Right.

Sue: So, what happened was that as people were starting to move into towns and cities-of course, around the time of the Depression you also then got things like mood selling. People were desperate to try and get money for their families, and this is where door-to-door selling started.

John: Okay.

Sue: And there were good companies, like the Fuller Brush Company that actually did good work in selling, but a lot of people still, again, were really shy of people who came knocking on doors and selling things that otherwise perhaps weren't appropriate and trying to sort of take people's money at their expense. So, we're building out, again, on a lot of negativity and fear and fright around what selling actually was.

John: So, moving forward: how has it changed since then? What's really happened that's much more effective?

Sue: Well, what you've found is that there was a lot of things that weren't working. Then in the 1970s, that's when the customer started to become the central part of a sales process.

John: Right.

Sue:              People started to ask questions of customers, and so you actually got need satisfaction selling sort of really becoming the way that we would start to actually engage with customers. Because up until then people did things to customers.

John:            I was around in those days, believe it or not, selling, in the 70s.

And I can tell you, I went to a couple of sales training courses that were focused on the customer, but we were trained to use some pretty manipulative sort of tactics.

Sue:              Yep, yeah. Unfortunately, still - as I said, from the legacy that I was just speaking about - what you had is people actually asking leading questions. They were asking customers questions, but they were asking about your need for my product for example rather than actually working with the customer and understanding their needs. Now, product can be copied now these days. It's very easy to actually have competition on a product level, so how do we actually develop value?

This is when you started to find, this whole thing started to turn completely around. The buyer's much more informed, they're much more in control, so what we have to be able to do now is understand what people really want to achieve and what they want to do. What you've got is very good sales practices now that are very open and transparent and collaborative and working with each other; that's the intended effort, if you like, of good selling.

John:            Not everybody's there yet though.

Sue:              No, no. There's still snake oil salesmen around, there's still people trying to trick people out of their money, so those things still occur.

John:            And there's still a lot of people out there with a poor impression of what the selling profession is all about.

Sue:              Yeah, because even if they've had good sales experiences, those stories that I talked about from the wagon train days; that's what people share because they want to protect their loved ones - you know, their friends and family - from being taken advantage of.

John:            So, I guess in conclusion: you'd be looking at sales rather than being a transaction-oriented exercise, where we're all about winning the order, it's more about the longer-term approach to building credible relationships, with good value and so on coming through that. It's all about the customer and how I can create value for them. Is that what you're saying?

Sue:              Well, absolutely. It's about a fair exchange of value; can we work together? Here's an interesting insight. In Old English selling, the roots of selling came from a word called sellan" (derived from from Proto-Germanic "saljan"), and that actually means "to give". So, in the original...

John:            There you go!

Sue:              So, selling is actually about giving and exchanging of value, not take-take-take. But, you'd be forgiven to think that that wasn't the case in terms of some of the strategies you and I have witnessed over the years.

John:            It's sad to see, and we now need to do something about it. Thank you very much for your assistance in getting that story across!

Sue:              My pleasure - thank you!


See more of the 'TALKING SALES' series here

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