The history of salesmanship is as old as human civilization. Paul Hermann described Bronze Age’s travelling salesperson’s sample case. The salespeople used a wooden box, 26 inches long, containing, in specifically hollowed compartments, axe, sword blades, buttons, etc.
The salespeople in the past were not held in high esteem by the society. The Roman meaning of the word salesperson is ‘cheater’, and Mercury, the god of cunning and barter, was regarded as the patron deity of merchants and traders. The business and trade of buying and selling goods flourished over centuries and centred only on some specific cities of the world. India was a great destination for traders and resellers in the medieval age for spices, carpets, jewellery, etc.
Many diverse races and religions entered our country with the travelling salespeople. Even the erstwhile colonial rulers of India, the British, came to India for the purpose of expanding their business and trade, though subsequently they satisfied their political interest. They ruled this country to protect their own business interests.
The first salespeople in the US were the yankee peddlers who carried clothing, spices, and household articles from one part of the country to another part. In India they are called pheriwallahs. These pheriwallahs move from village to village and sell sarees, dress materials, and spices mostly in the rural markets of India, because rural housewives have lesser mobility than urban housewives. These people move from the manufacturing bases of the country to different consumption centres in India.
The pack peddlers in India traded with the tribal Indians and exchanged knives, beads, and ornaments for furs, spices, salt, and handicrafts. These people were viewed as shrewd, unprincipled tricksters who would not think twice before practicing product and price manipulations for higher benefits. They sold coloured sugar water as medicine and cheated people for smaller gains. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, these peddlers started using horse-driven carts and wagons and started stocking heavier goods.
They started storing goods such as furniture, weapons, ammunitions, food items, and grains. Some of these wagon peddlers settled down in villages and opened stores and trading posts. The community of Baniyas or the trading caste in India has its origin in these settlers and store owners. The big retailers travelled to the nearest cities to replenish their stocks and bought goods to resell in their localities.
Wholesalers and manufacturers hired greeters and drummers who would seek out and invite retailers to visit the display of the owner. The drummers would meet the passengers from incoming trains and ship with great fanfare to beat their competitors. In the next phase, the drummers started visiting the customer’s place of business.
There were fewer than 1,000 travelling salespeople before 1860 in the US who were basically credit investigators and took orders for goods. Their numbers increased as the pace and reach of industrial revolution spread across continents.
The techniques of modern sales management and selling techniques were refined by John Henry Patterson, widely known as the father of modern sales management. He ran the National Cash Registry. He asked his best salespeople to demonstrate their sales techniques to other salespeople. The best sales approach was printed in a sales primer and distributed to all the other salespeople to follow.
This is how the canned sales approach began. In addition to this, Mr Patterson assigned to his salespeople exclusive territories and sales quotas in order to stretch their efforts. He arranged frequent sales meetings that served the double purpose of training and socialization.
He also sent regular sales information on techniques of selling. Thomas J. Watson was trained by Mr Patterson who later founded International Business Machines (IBM). Patterson was the pathfinder who showed the strategy and skill required to transform a sales force into an effective workforce for generating sales and profits.
Today, the process of sales management has undergone numerous changes in terms of strategy, practice, and technological adoption to achieve the desired sales goal. A salesperson is no longer an order taker or information provider; rather he is viewed as a consultant to the customers.
Due to non-personal form of business and increasing distances between the manufacturers and customers, sales organizations are now emphasizing more on quality consulting skills to solve the customers’ problems. The real sales activity now is in retaining customers rather than just closing the sales. This relational approach has changed the scope of sales management, and research has found that it costs five times more to register a new customer than to sell a product or service to an existing customer.
As a pan of sales function, the managerial challenge is to improve the productivity and efficiency level of the traditional sales force. But modern sales management is confronted with challenges that affect both productivity and efficiency of its selling approach. In response, newer and better selling techniques and approaches are being used, such as telemarketing, key account management, use of independent sales force, team selling, electronic data interchange (EDI), and application of technology to provide information and services to the customers.
The domain of sales management has become multidisciplinary in which sales managers have to manage a diverse workforce and complex technologies. Sales managers have to perform duties such as recruiting, training, selecting, motivating, forecasting, controlling, and administering salespeople, while performing the primary responsibility of revenue generation for the firms.
They have to manage and satisfy multiple stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, sales representatives, and top management with the objective of increasing sales and profitability. There are guiding principles and concepts in the field of sales and marketing that shape the destiny of sales managers and the domain of knowledge in sales management.
1.) Develop a sales strategy and stick to it. Sales are not just tactical. It is a strategic operation which provides value across the entire business. Sales are complex in that it can involve many variables making it unpredictable. Since the market continues to change at a rapid pace, this increases the unpredictability of sales.
2.) Provide your sales team with training which will make them more effective. While this sounds rudimentary, if companies want their sales to grow, they must equip their team with the tools they need to succeed.
This being the case, companies need to keep a couple of factors in mind. First, the market will continue to become more complex and competitive. We have to embrace this and still find ways to stay relevant to our customers. Second, while you may argue that there is limited time to provide your sales team with training, sending a sales team out into the field without training is like sending a soldier to war without their artillery. Without the proper training, messaging, and understanding about the business, you are setting your business and your sales team up for sales failure.
Utilize social media in Sales
3.) Leverage Social Media in sales. Social Media means a lot of different things to different people. However, when Social Media is introduced into a sales strategy, it can give you an even greater edge.
Linked In has developed some incredible white papers around the value of social selling and the statistics back up the value of utilizing social media in sales.
Look at these staggering statistics:
75% of B2B buyers are using social media to make buying decisions. Conversations are happening in ‘real time’ online and via multiple networking channels.
60% of buyers have made a purchasing decision before they have even met you. Buyers have more access to information and are leveraging this information along with feedback from others online to determine whose service they want to utilize and purchase.
84% of C-Level / Vice-President, VP Executives, who often are the key decision makers, are also using social media to make their purchasing decisions. Many of these decision makers are reaching out to informal networks to gain user perspective of their experience with a particular supplier, vendor, provider, etc., which in turn makes them more comfortable with finalizing their buying decision.