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Sales 101: Presentation Is Everything

Updated on September 23, 2014

Styles change

The author in 1978 heading for the senior prom. It was the Disco Era. Think John Travolta.
The author in 1978 heading for the senior prom. It was the Disco Era. Think John Travolta.

Death of the huckster

I started full time employment as a salesman of janitorial and cleaning supplies for my family business in 1982. Back then, selling styles were much different. Hucksterism was the prevalent method of the day. If one word could be used to describe this style, it would be “aggressive,” but one word isn’t enough. Flashy, showy, in-your-face, flamboyant – or any combination of these words would almost suffice. This wasn’t me. I couldn’t sell that way even though all my predecessors had. Thankfully the style is almost dead now, to be replaced with a higher level of techniques. I guess I could be considered one of the earlier pioneers of “consultative” selling, a
field requiring lots of expertise.

Hard on the eyes

Composite photo from images found on
Composite photo from images found on

What is a huckster?

Before delving into consultative selling, let me drive home what hucksterism really is so there’s absolutely no question about what I’m trying to convey. Circa 1979, I was sick in bed with a fever when blam, Blam, BLAM, went the carport door! It sounded as if the whole doorframe would burst, so I forced myself up to answer it. The moment I eased back the heavy wooden inner door, I discovered the toe of a boot stuck in the crack and a man had slapped his business card against the outer glass storm door at my eyelevel. It was a bit awkward for him, but he had successfully prevented me from closing the door without some real effort.

“Hey,” yelled the huckster, “let me in and I’ll show you the best blankity-blank vacuum cleaner in the world! It’ll suck a bowling ball right outta your closet!” I recognized the vacuum brand listed in bold letters on his card – prevalent in the home market at the time.

My eyes could not behold him all at once for the clash and dazzle. His cotton plaid seersucker suit was supported on highly polished brown leather half-height boots with thick heels. Long blondish hair with muttonchops strode from under a dark almond fedora. Heavy brown-framed glasses couldn’t quite camouflage the penetrating azure eyes. A thick mustache punctuated the animated face. Finally, a wide red polka dotted tie served as focal point. It was pizzazz incarnate!

“Come’on fella, I don’t bite! Gimme a chance, here. I tell ya it’s the bomb!”

I managed to croak, “I sell vacuums too.”

“That’s okay! We can compare…”

The guy proceeded to throw back the storm door and force his way in, but I was ready! After an almighty snot-filled sneeze, I rasped, “Sure…I’m running a high fever and sick as a dog…but come right in.” I blew my nose lustily into a dingy wad of facial tissue I had extracted from the pocket of my bathrobe.

Mr. Flash’s face drooped. “Oh. Well, maybe another day then.” He extricated his boot from the door and dragged his vacuum out of my carport. That was the first and last time I ever saw him. Unfortunately, his selling style has caused much consternation over many a year in the minds of consumers.

It's the 21st century!

Fast-forwarding the clock, we still find a few hucksters in the marketplace. They can usually be seen running booths in flea markets, pushing items at county fairs, or hawking used cars. No offence meant, since these are areas where hucksterism still works. However, in the general scheme of commerce today, a more refined style of selling is required. The advent of the Information Age has forced this change upon us. Not only are most people better educated than in the past, but information is always at their fingertips. It takes mere seconds to research a particular product on a smart phone whereas it would have taken days, weeks – maybe never – to get the same details prior to 1990.

So, here in the 21st Century, we have the latest rendition of a sales professional. A representative of a firm can be male or female – it is no longer a man’s domain. All can partake of the bounty if they gain enough product knowledge and practice sales techniques.

A properly trained salesperson today commands a goodly salary plus bonuses, possibly commissions, probably a company car, health insurance, retirement, and expense account, all in addition to several weeks of paid vacation and the usual special days off. No longer is it possible to take just anyone off the street and send them out on sales calls. In my industry, the cleaning and janitorial world, hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and untold amounts of materials are invested in a good representative. Expectations are that this individual is a self-starter requiring very little oversight to get the job done – and keep on getting it done – for many years. Top compensation is expected and demanded for this level of devotion.

Check, check, and more check

Know your stuff

What constitutes the culmination of proper sales training today you may ask? Here’s the short list:

  • Intimate knowledge of the products being represented.
  • Intimate knowledge of company capabilities.
  • Intimate knowledge of company expectations.
  • Intimate knowledge of company procedures.
  • Intimate knowledge of the customer base.
  • Intimate knowledge of sales techniques.
  • Intimate knowledge of electronic technology usage.
  • Intimate knowledge of marketing for the industry.
  • Intimate knowledge of creating and making presentations.
  • Intimate knowledge of making proposals and quotations.
  • Intimate knowledge of product costing and profits.
  • Intimate knowledge of the competition.
  • Intimate knowledge on how to qualify a customer.
  • Intimate knowledge on how to make new sales contacts.
  • Intimate knowledge of proper selling attire.
  • Intimate knowledge of proper sales etiquette.
  • Intimate knowledge of all of the above.

Think I’m joking? No sirree! These are the bare minimum specifications for a truly top shelf corporate sales representative in today’s market. As it was in the past, a high school diploma is still the minimum level of formal education required, but a college degree or two is helpful.

Sales mentoring works


Sales survival means Education

Selling as a profession has much in common with trades, so higher education mostly insures that a person is capable of learning all he or she needs to know from a good sales manager. If a good sales manager is unavailable, a higher education can give a salesperson the tools to achieve what knowledge they may require on their own to be successful. In general, it is preferable to learn from a seasoned professional in the industry rather than having to start from scratch (like I did). Above all, dedication to the product line is paramount!

In order to survive, today’s salesperson must be an expert in many facets of his or her chosen industry. While no job is particularly easy, making direct sales contacts with a potential buyer on his or her own turf is probably one of the most difficult. I also believe it is one of the most misunderstood career paths. To be a good sales representative in today’s market one must become a walking information consultant utilizing available technology while presenting products in such a way that people will listen and make purchases. To be a consultant, one must first be an expert. That’s what consultative selling is all about – expertise.


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