Personal salesmanship *
The importance of distribution
Under our present-day system of business organization, the interdependence of business activities is so apparent that it is almost impossible to assign to any one activity of a business a place of major importance. The enormous increase in the world's manufacturing capacity and growth in the variety of new products and services offered to the consuming public, make mass production possible and profitable.
Sales volume is necessary to earn returns on large fixed investments. With competition for the consumer dollar increasing, it is safe to state that distribution is today an outstanding factor in most business enterprises. From the very necessity of the case, all business must focus its activities upon finding a market for its product. Here is the source of its income. Toward it every effort must be turned if the business is to earn a profit and keep going.
Place of personal salesmanship in the field of marketing
In the distribution of any product or service there are two coordinate and complementary sets of considerations ; those of advertising which aims to influence sales in the mass; and those of personal salesmanship which seeks to influence the individual. Back of these is another more fundamental than either, having to do with Marketing, a term denoting the whole plan of distribution and inclusive of every phase of it.
It includes the selection of marketing channels, trade marking, packaging, pricing, discounts, credits and the many other considerations which must be gone into and decided upon before the first salesman can be employed or the first piece of advertising copy written.
Personal salesmanship takes its place and has its setting in this broader field of marketing. It carries the message of the product and the marketing campaign to the middlemen along the channel of distribution, or to the final consumer, or both. Ordinarily it is the activity which brings in the cash and makes finally effective the aims and objects of the marketing campaign as a whole.
While at one time very much of an individualist, and selling in his own way and on his own plan, the salesman today finds himself becoming more and more an integral part of a broad marketing plan that involves the necessity of handling and understanding advertising, discounts, credit policies, dealer helps and the numerous other marketing considerations which now play a large part in making the product itself attractive to the customer.
Because a large part of the salesman's work deals with the uncertainties of human nature, he will always remain something of an individualist. He finds himself today compelled to assume the proportions of a broad-gauged business man if he would continue to be an effective salesman.
It is with a statement of the principles and practices of personal salesmanship—with ways and means of developing and increasing personal selling ability —that this Text is concerned. Throughout we keep constantly in mind this requirement of business knowledge running along with selling effectiveness.
Definition of a sale
Legally, a sale is a transaction in which one person persuades another to purchase something at an agreed price. From a business point of view, the sale should result in a profit to the seller. As a legitimate phase of commerce, it should convey an advantage or a profit to the buyer.
As a practical matter, the salesman should keep the last two parts of this definition constantly in mind. He will want to gauge the effectiveness of his selling in terms of profit to his house. And recognition of benefit to the buyer kept constantly before him will prevent an apologetic attitude, not uncommon to salesmen, which, if allowed to develop, tends to lower sales morale.
As a practical matter also, it must be recognized that this mutual advantage may not always materialize. The price of sugar may go up or down and result in a loss either to the buyer or the seller. The price of a security, sincerely recommended, may go off, either temporarily or permanently, sometimes from causes quite aside from its intrinsic value.
Trends in a neighbourhood, changes in the plans of a municipality, or some existing condition, unknown to buyer or seller at the time of sale, may cause real estate to deteriorate in value. But these are ordinary risks to which all business is subjected. The salesman who has acted in good faith is not called upon to assume a personal responsibility for these occasional happenings.
The science of salesmanship
A science may be defined as organized knowledge, a body of facts or truths, gleaned from a study of experience, systematically arranged, stating and showing the operation of general laws. Sciences—or at least our ability to state the definite laws underlying and governing given subjects—vary in degrees of exactness.
Mathematics is a truly exact science. The science of medicine, despite the marvellous advances which have been made in it and the enormous existing body of knowledge pertaining to it, is to a considerable degree inexact.
It is possible to make a study of the sales process and the experience and methods of successful salesmen. Insofar as we are able to determine the underlying successful methods there is a science of salesmanship. Because of the many unmeasurable human elements involved, it will always remain, to some degree, an inexact science.
The art of salesmanship
Art is a science applied. It involves actual doing. It is the practical application of knowledge or natural ability. One might have a broad knowledge of the science of medicine and possess, or develop, but indifferent ability in applying it. It may be said, speaking generally, that knowledge of a science is gained by study; proficiency in an art by practice.
Here is the real truth behind the often made statement: "Experience is the best teacher." To a large extent, that is so. But to the thinking man the advantage of knowledge gleaned from the experience of others, in making his personal experiences mean more to him than they otherwise could, will be apparent.
The recently graduated medical student definitely needs his hospital experience to make him a real physician. Without his particular knowledge as a background, however, his hospital training could mean little or nothing to him. The trained engineer fresh from his technical school is probably not so good a builder of bridges as is the foreman who has worked at bridge building since boyhood.
Give the engineer trained in engineering principles a few years of practical experience, however, and he will be by far the better bridge builder because he has at his disposal not only his own experience but that of the entire engineering profession reduced to definite laws.
In like manner, a knowledge of selling principles alone is not sufficient. Actual practice in their application is necessary. But a knowledge of principles will enable one to get his selling ability into action more quickly and make of him a better salesman than he otherwise could hope to be. The art of salesmanship may be defined as the ability to apply fundamental selling principles to the circumstances of the individual selling situation.
The term salesmanship as used in this text includes both a knowledge of fundamental selling principles and the ability to apply them in the actual making of sales. It comprehends both the science and the art.
Principles of salesmanship
Principles are the fundamentals, laws or truths underlying a given science. They remain more or less fixed or immutable though the methods used in applying them will vary with each individual case. Centrifugal force is a fundamental principle of physics operating alike in a cream separator, a laundry drying machine, or in the act of swinging about one's head, without spilling, a pail containing water. It will be observed, however, that the method by which the principle is applied is different in each case.
The term sales principle as used in this Text denotes the underlying reason for any mode of action which enables the salesman successfully to bring about any development in a sale. It assumes that there is a fundamental controlling law for bringing about, if other conditions be favourable, each important development in the sales process; and that such laws can be more or less definitely ascertained.
The distinction between a sales principle and the method used in its application in given circumstances is one that the salesman should have clearly in mind.
A method is a way of doing something—specifically, in selling, those things which a salesman does or says to apply a principle of salesmanship—to bring about certain reactions on the part of the prospective buyer. Principles, as has been indicated, are fixed. Methods will vary with each individual sale and with each individual salesman.
The skilful salesman will often have many different methods, varying with the situations in which he finds himself, for applying a given sales principle. Positive suggestion is a fundamental principle of salesmanship as well as of psychology—or rather it would be better to state that it is a principle of salesmanship because it is a principle of psychology. The principle itself is a fixed thing. The methods through which this single principle can be applied are legion.
While it is not possible to enumerate all possible methods in the same sense that it is possible to state definitely all known principles, it is possible to give the salesman many sales methods which are unusually effective and to inspire him to devise many more which will be particularly effective for him. The thing of largest practical importance is that the salesman be enabled to check his methods and assure himself that they are in accord with correct principle.
Selling ability is not inherent
A business man had been arguing that "Salesmanship cannot be taught. It must be born in a man." As he talked, he had been watching one of his men in the front part of his store demonstrate a mechanical device. When the customer had gone, he stepped quickly forward. "Bill," said he, "I noticed that you did all the demonstrating and all the talking.
Why didn't you let your prospect handle the machine—operate it? By doing that you would have held his interest and created in him a desire to own the machine. Instead of that, he walked out on you."
He had laid down a definite principle of salesmanship. He had endeavoured to do that which he had just finished stating could not be done—teach salesmanship. This illustrates how little thought a man is giving to the subject when he says that salesmen are born and not made.
It is undoubtedly true that some men are "born" salesmen in the sense that they have selling instinct more highly developed than most men. It is also true that many such men succeed in selling work without any special training other than that afforded by their personal experience.
It is also true, however, that probably a majority of men have latent in them real selling ability which requires nothing but sound instruction and training to bring it out and get it into action. There are "born" salesmen in the same sense that there are "born" musicians or "born" artists.
It cannot be gainsaid, however, that musical or artistic ability must be developed by training. Almost any man of ordinary intelligence, provided there is not present in him some obvious drawback of temperament or physical ability, can be developed into a sales producer satisfactory both to himself and to his house.
Can salesmanship be taught?
Not so long ago, it was not at all unusual for a sales executive to decry the necessity for any extended formal training for recruits to the selling organization. A man of more or less apparent selling ability was hired, given a day or so around the plant or office, handed a sample case and started for his territory with a few parting instructions—to sink or swim.
Only one out of ten breasted the tide. This method has long been recognized as inefficient and wasteful of the company's money, of territory, and of good sales material. The leading organizations of the country have long since demonstrated conclusively that adequate sales training, both before the salesman actually enters upon his selling work and after he is in the territory, greatly reduces the percentage of salesmanship mortality, makes satisfactory producers out of mediocre men who would otherwise inevitably fail, and gets good men into profitable production sooner than would otherwise be possible.
Furthermore, competition becomes constantly keener and the salesman must be more thoroughly prepared for the job than formerly. It is no longer enough that he be a genial mixer and a persuasive talker. He must have business instruction and business training. Business executives are giving more serious attention than ever today to the development of good salesmanship through adequate instruction and training.
Demand for salesmen
As a matter of fact, it must be apparent that the vast machinery of distribution as it has developed in the past decade or two could not possibly have depended upon or waited for men of such undoubted and outstanding selling ability that they would inevitably have succeeded without instruction and because of their natural ability alone.
There are just not enough to go around. With each passing year a larger and larger percentage of our population is drafted into selling work. The introduction of the automobile, within the lifetime of many of us, has required a vast and ever increasing army of salesmen. During approximately the same period there has transpired a change from a relatively few staple products necessary to our standards of living, largely sold in bulk, to a myriad of packaged goods and nationally advertised brands, each of which has used its increased quota of salesmen and, in many cases, missionary men reaching over the heads of the jobbers and carrying its message direct to the retailer.
A little later, electrical appliances began to assume an increased importance, starting with small units but rapidly pushing on to vacuum cleaners, washing machines, ironing machines and other labour-saving devices for the home, all employing vast numbers of salesmen in the past few years.
Radio has demanded its quota. Office appliances have grown apace both in variety and importance. A country-wide selling campaign has sprung up in connection with oil-burning heaters for the home. Home heating by gas, both natural and manufactured, is coming forward in competition with oil heating.
The use of gas to replace coal for industrial use is now being pushed in different localities throughout the country. More and more, salesmen are emerging from retail stores to meet the prospects for their large items of sale and create desire rather than wait for it to make itself apparent. This is true of floor coverings, house painting jobs and a host of other things. One of the great mail-order houses created a national organization to sell leader and gutter repairs to home owners on an instalment basis.
This is by no means an all-inclusive picture. It is not intended to be. To make it so would in itself require a volume recording the rapid recent advance of civilization and the almost inconceivable raising of our living standards.
It is designed merely to bring vividly to mind the wide varieties of opportunity in personal salesmanship, the enormous increase in the number of salesmen in demand and the consequent necessity for training them, and to drive home—if it be necessary—the fact that such products as have been enumerated are not bought, at least in the steady flow and large volume made necessary by the enormous overheads and large investments in plant and machinery of the companies producing them.
They must be sold. There is a saying that if a man makes a better mouse trap, though he live in the wilderness, the world will make a beaten path to his door. That statement surely has its limitations today if salesmanship is left out of account and a product is left to herald its own value to the public.
Divisions of selling
Selling activities may be classified from several different viewpoints, all definitely important. One broad division may be made, on the basis of the nature of the offering, into general staple lines and specialties. In the former, the salesman is offering a related line of products which are in general demand and which are considered necessities according to the prevailing standards of living.
Wholesale groceries, hardware and drugs come under this head. These products usually are sold by dealers who obviously must purchase them from some source in order to have them in stock. 'Usually the salesman is calling again and again at regular intervals on the same customers. In specialties, the offering usually consists of a single product or service which the prospect is more nearly in a position to take or leave alone as he sees fit.
He has the decision to buy or not to buy rather than the decision of from whom to buy. Hence it may be said that the demand or desire for the offering must be created during the interview. Generally speaking, the salesman sells the same customer but once, or if more than once, only infrequently and at long intervals. Securities, life insurance and adding machines are examples.
The line is not sharply drawn. It is not unusual for a new drug item to be introduced to the retail trade by the manufacturer. His salesman talks that particular item and nothing else. He may offer the retailer a longer margin of profit than is usual. He is referred to in the trade as a specialty salesman, and it is true that the retailer is in the position of stocking or not stocking the item as he sees fit to a greater extent than is the case with goods for which there is a steady demand already established.
Later, when a consumer demand has been created it is not unusual for the manufacturer to discontinue his specialty selling direct to the retailer, put the product through the usual jobber channels and give the retailer a smaller discount.
The salesman carrying a staple line and selling his regular trade almost invariably has items which the retailer does not absolutely have to stock and which, as a result, call for some degree of practical selling. Technically, the automobile salesman is selling for the retailer to the consumer. He might almost be said to be selling a staple under conditions of keen competition. As a practical matter, however, his work is more nearly in the nature of that of the specialty salesman.
Another broad division may be made according to the channels of distribution used. A detailed and scientific study of channels of distribution belongs to the broader field of marketing rather than to personal salesmanship. However, because those channels of distribution determine for the salesman the class of buyers he will contact and sometimes the size of the order he will handle, we shall look at this phase of selling briefly from the salesman's standpoint.
Probably the most usual channel for the large majority of goods in times gone by was from manufacturer, to jobber, to retailer, to consumer. This was in itself a shortening of the older route in which, in many lines, commission houses, factors and wholesalers interposed themselves. Marketing channels are today in a state of flux with a general tendency toward a shortening of the chain. Probably the most usual channel for a majority of goods is still the manufacturer, jobber, retailer, consumer route.
The rise in importance of the chain stores, however, and the forming of retail buying associations of one sort or another have forced the manufacturer in many lines to cut out the jobber entirely or to sell both the jobber and the retailer who buys sufficiently large quantities. The increasing importance of the style element with the consequent necessity of goods moving more rapidly from producer to consumer, and especially to the retailers, without coming to rest in a jobber's warehouse, has forced still other manufacturers to dispense with the jobber.
The necessity of the national advertisers' reaching over the head of the jobber to secure wide distribution has caused many of them to put into the field missionary men going direct to the retailer. Sometimes the manufacturer's policy in this case is to "protect" the jobber and sometimes it is not. Many manufacturers have gone into so-called "house to house" selling direct to the consumer.
The salesman may find himself, then, selling for the manufacturer or other producer of raw materials, to other manufacturers. Textiles to clothing manufacturers, steel or automobile accessories to the automobile manufacturer, belting, lubricating oils or machine tools to manufacturing plants are examples.
Or, he may sell for the manufacturer to the jobber and may find himself selling in carload lots or in comparatively small quantities, depending on the particular goods, or the territory, or both. Usually it will be found that goods sold in this way are stocked by retailers, largely unrated, in rather small units of sale.
The retailer needs a close-by service that only the jobber can give him, or at least that the manufacturer cannot give him profitably, in the matter Of credits and quick deliveries in small quantities. Again, groceries, hardware and drugs are orthodox examples.
He may sell for the manufacturer direct to the retailer. A line of women's ready-to-wear, with its style element and sizable unit of sale to well-established and well-rated retailers, would go through this channel.
Or a new item might be introduced to retailers which later will go through the more usual jobbing channel. Or again, the salesman might be acting as a missionary man, securing distribution for a national advertiser, either turning his orders over to the jobber in the territory for delivery and assumption of credit risk or sending them direct to his house or to a branch office or warehouse.
Again, the salesman might sell the manufacturer's products directly to the consumer. Office supplies are often sold to business concerns in this way as would also food products to hospitals or other institutions. Likewise, articles such as hosiery, brushes, vacuum cleaners, electrical appliances or cooking utensils are often sold directly to the housewife.
It will be noted that the first two, office supplies and food stuffs, fall naturally into the classification of staple selling whereas the other examples given are purely specialty selling.
Then there is the selling of a purely specialty product or service for the producer direct to the individual user or consumer. Life insurance, securities, electrical refrigeration, educational courses, oil heating plants and a large number of other specialties, calling for a high order of adventurous salesmanship, fall naturally into this class.
The types of selling enumerated are not necessarily all-inclusive and are, because of the nature of present-day marketing, somewhat mixed. They have been given, not as a study of marketing channels, but as an indication to the man entering sales work of the broad field in which personal salesmanship operates and the wide variety of opportunities, calling for every grade and type of ability which the field of personal selling offers.
Later in the Text we shall discuss more in detail the opportunities, both of learning and earning, offered to the salesman by these different types of selling and the qualities of salesmanship required in each. It may be well to stress at this point that the fundamental principles remain the same and apply to all kinds of selling. The differences lie in the methods through which these fundamental principles are applied.
From the salesman's viewpoint the most important classifications to be considered are whether the goods are staple or specialty, whether tangible or intangible, whether the selling task requires contacting at frequent intervals regular customers who eventually become his old friends, with only comparatively few new contacts, or seeing new faces and making new contacts each day and selling a man but once ; and whether the buyers or prospects called upon are of a class he can meet sympathetically and on an equal footing.
Scope of salesman's activities
The scope of the salesman's activities will, of course, depend to a considerable extent upon the line he is selling and the channels of distribution used. However, it is possible to present an outline, part or all of which will apply to the average salesman. First and foremost, his main activity is to sell an adequate volume at satisfactory profit.
As a matter of fact, all of the rest of the rather wide range of his activities should and does contribute in one way or another, directly or indirectly, to this main objective.
This will be found to require a working knowledge of his industry, a fairly definite knowledge of his company, its history and its organization, an even more detailed acquaintance with his sales department and its every activity, and a most thorough knowledge of the product or offering to be sold and how best to sell it.
He must study his territory, analyse it and know it, thoroughly organize it, build a list of prospects in it on which he can keep profitably busy, and create in it a personal goodwill for himself and a business goodwill toward his company.
His is the duty of cooperating with the credit manager through his intimate knowledge of local conditions and detailed knowledge of the individual customer. Many times, of course, he must lend personal assistance in the collection of accounts. He will also, whenever possible, cooperate with the production end of the business by reporting the reaction upon the trade and upon the consuming public of the company's product and production policy and let the home office know of competing articles and the reception accorded them.
He will cooperate with the advertising manager by coordinating his activities with the general marketing and advertising plan, sell his company's advertising policies to the customer, assist him in availing himself of advertising helps and encourage him in every way to tie in with the company's advertising. It is not at all unusual today for a salesman actually to sell the customer the entire marketing and advertising plan rather than the goods alone.
Likewise, he is responsible for carrying out, so far as his territory is concerned, the instructions, policies and ideas of his sales manager. One of his most important duties frequently will be to assist his customer by constructive suggestion and assistance in stock display, improved merchandising methods, advertising, and window trim, as well as by instruction and suggestion to clerks, to move the goods he has sold.
For it is generally understood today that goods are not truly sold when they are placed upon the shelves of the dealer. They are not really sold until they have moved off the shelves of the dealer into the hands of the final consumer, for then and only then can a new order find its way back through the channels of trade.
In addition, the salesman must present a detailed report of his daily activities and any changes in trade conditions, and should take a personal pride in submitting any personal sales methods which have been effective with him and which he believes will be helpful to other men in the sales organization. He has a moral obligation constantly to improve his salesmanship by reading and study, consulting the latest books and keeping in close touch with his trade journals.
In the foregoing outline, we have assumed a salesman selling "to the trade." Some of these activities will not apply to the specialty salesman who sells to users or consumers, but some of these duties devolve upon all salesmen; and the principle involved—thorough preparedness from every angle—applies to all. It will be seen that the scope of personal salesmanship is a broad one.
The scope of the salesman's activities suggests in outline the necessary preparation. Roughly it divides itself into three phases : Gaining a knowledge of the business, the industry, the company, the marketing and advertising plan, the sales policies, the product to be sold, the market for the product and the needs and problems of logical prospects ; acquiring a knowledge of the sales process, i. e., the development of a sale—skilful approach, arousing and developing interest, meeting and overcoming sales resistance and closing sales ; and gaining knowledge of other phases of the selling job such as the psychology of selling, suggestion selling, creation of goodwill, the art of making personal contacts and the different types of selling and of buyers.
These subjects indicated for study will be handled in detail on subsequent pages. As has been stated, it is now a well-established fact that there are certain principles which underlie each stage of the selling process, and methods for applying them successfully. These principles and methods can be studied and learned without going through a long process of "trial and error" in actual selling work.
Skill in applying them can then quickly be acquired by actual practice in selling. It is true that if, in addition to this knowledge, the salesman also possesses by nature a favourable combination of personal qualities, he will become a more skilful salesman than one of equal knowledge not so fortunately gifted. However, most men of average intelligence can prepare themselves to become profitable producers in selling work.
Salesmanship a study of universal business interest
It goes without saying that marketing, sales, and advertising executives should possess a detailed and thoroughgoing knowledge of every phase of personal salesmanship and every detail of the salesman's work.
It is equally true that every other executive in business, no matter in what department his work may lie, should have a knowledge of this, one of his company's most important activities. In determining the general business policies of the company—credit terms, discounts, brands, sizes, containers, advertising and distribution policies—a sympathetic knowledge of the salesman, his needs and his problems is necessary.
After all, the main purpose of the organization is to sell the product. The executive working in fields more or less removed from the keen competitive battle on the firing line of business is all too likely to lose sight of, or never to know, the details of the salesman's duties, activities and responsibilities. His intelligent and sympathetic cooperation is of vital importance.
Furthermore, selling in its broader sense consists in bringing another to your point of view and inducing him to take a desired action. This is a matter of personal influence and persuasion—in other words, of personal salesmanship. The highest type of executive is one who leads rather than drives his subordinates. He secures voluntary action rather than compulsory action. He sells ideas.
The principles and methods of personal salesmanship are inherent in his work. The financial executive, production manager, advertising manager, all must sell their plans to the general manager, president, or board of directors —and sell, too, the necessity of appropriations for carrying them out. The corporation treasurer, when he goes to borrow funds for the business, sells the banker on his proposition.
The general manager must sell his plans to his department heads if he is to secure whole-hearted cooperation. The great lawyer pleading for a life before a jury is in essence simply trying to sell that jury a point of view. Every man then has a vital interest in that knowledge of the human mind and that practice of persuasion in which lie the essence of salesmanship.
* Some percentages and prices are not up to date. This is older, but still very interesting information.