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Salesmanship As A Vocation - Are You Up For It?

Updated on June 23, 2011

Millions of young men come of age each year. And either before or after the event of their majority they must face the inevitable decision of what they are to do for a living.

Since only a small percentage are trained for professional life, let us look at the business world. It is to be noted first that business has the double problem of production and dis­tribution; making things and then selling them. There are two fields of endeavor for the young man entering the busi­ness world; he can invest his time and talent in production or in selling, in making things or distributing them.

Economic experts tell us that in the matter of making things, we Americans are about 80 per cent efficient. We are pretty good. We have developed our abilities and our facili­ties for producing goods to a high state of efficiency. In fact our progress along that line has become a source of worry to some thoughtful people, including technologists, who feel that there is a threat to our social order in the marvelous de­velopment of our productive capacity.

Technologists point out that this 80 per cent efficiency of the production field is contrasted with a 20 per cent effi­ciency in the field of distribution. While admittedly we Amer­icans are the world's best salesmen, there is still vast room for improvement, great opportunity for men of guts, grace and ability. By contrast with the 80 per cent efficiency of the pro­duction effort, we have in distribution an 80 per cent wilder­ness to be pioneered, explored, conquered. Most of its prob­lems are yet to be solved, most of its prizes yet to be claimed, most of its glories and honors yet to be awarded.

Let us see now what more can be said for salesmanship as a vocation:

In the first place a good salesman can always get a job. We hear a great deal today about economic security, social security and a man's right to work. Personally, I know of no such security against unemployment, no such insurance of steady, profitable work as the ability to sell. And even as a protection against the economic insecurity of old age, it is the surest possible safeguard. The man who can sell is always in demand. There has never been a day, even during depres­sion years, when you could not pick up your morning paper, turn to the classified pages and find there the invitations of firms and corporations literally begging you to call and dis­cuss the matter of going to work.

They didn't want any me­chanics, any laborers, any factory managers; any bookkeepers, any draftsmen or engineers, but they were eagerly in search of men who knew how to sell. Worth thinking about, isn't it? A man may be talented almost to the point of genius in almost any line and still be idle, unable to find a position. But if he is talented in selling goods he can drop off the train in any city between New York and Los Angeles, between Seattle and Miami, pick up the local paper and discover there a list of employers waiting and eager to see him and to put him to work that very day.

It is to be observed in the second place that in addition to sureness of employment, salesmanship is tremendously in­teresting, inspiring and calculated to develop every mental and spiritual faculty a man possesses. I call upon you today to sell you—what? Well, it doesn't matter much—an insur­ance policy, a piece of real estate, an investment security, an automobile, an electrical appliance—make it what you will. My problem is, at the outset at least, always the same. For when I get to your home, your office, I find you always in the same frame of mind: You don't want it; you don't want to discuss it; you don't even want me to discuss it, and

anyhow you haven't got any money. And that's that. You're emphatically, positively (sometimes even profanely) not in­terested. All of which is not surprising to me; I expected just that.

And at this point may I interpolate this: A salesman's job is not one of hunting interested people. It is sometimes so presented, I well know, but wrongly. We are told that with a reasonably good product at a fair price, all we need to do is to just ring door bells, and continue so to do, for down the line is a prospect, someone who is interested in buying our product.

My job as a salesman is to find that inter­ested person and one good way to do it is to keep ringing door bells until something they call "the law of averages" will reward me every so often by discovering an interested person. Very surely and emphatically that is not salesman­ship and that is not the salesman's real route to success, for the one good and sufficient reason THERE ARE NO SUCH PEOPLE. People who are interested in buying something to the degree that they simply await the salesman's call are so rare that their very existence can best be forgotten.

What then is salesmanship? The answer to that is very simple: Salesmanship is getting people interested, establish­ing contact with the potential user of my goods, securing favorable attention, as Dr. Sheldon used to put it; turning that attention into interest by placing adroitly before the prospect the kind of evidence that is acceptable to his judg­ment; developing that interest to the point of desire, and finally turning that desire into channels of action—the sign­ing of an order.

I said a moment ago that salesmanship was interesting and inspiring and that successful practice puts a tax upon my every mental and spiritual resource. If you doubt this, then take in hand a good, tough prospect who begins by saying no in about seven languages; so deal with him for the en­suing hour that you win him over to a new attitude, a changed viewpoint; switch his emphatic no to an agreeable yes, and walk forth with a signed order and a check.

You'll find that as strenuous an hour as you ever spent. And its successful outcome has demanded every resource of wit, wisdom, will and magnetism you possessed. It was a battle, a contest, a clash of minds and wills. And you won because you were superior. And now you have the finer inner consciousness of ability to win, a heightened sense of power over others; abil­ity to lead; to change men to your point of view.

In the exer­cise of these faculties you develop their power and scope and find that with each succeeding interview you gain in self-con­fidence, you lose your fear of the prospect and your appre­hension of failure. You approach new interviews with the eagerness of the athlete who knows he is better than the con­testant he faces. Selling is really like that. It is essentially, fundamentally, leadership.

So salesmanship commends itself as a vocation, first, be­cause a man who can do this kind of work need never be unemployed; second, his work is interesting, inspirational and productive of mental and spiritual development; in addition to which, it is dignified and socially, economically important work.

For some strange reason there exists in the minds of some the notion that this last statement lacks truth. Too often we meet the man who seems to feel that there is something just a bit off-color about being a salesman. If he takes up such work, it is temporary expediency that drives him. He has done some really important things in the past, but times are tough and something has happened to his old jobs and he will have to swallow his pride and take a selling job until times get better. He does not always put it just that way, but his real feeling is all too evident.

Needless to say, such a man will always fail at selling. No man can succeed at any task who has no sense of the im­portance of his work. This is especially true, of course, in sales work. Others will place no better price ticket on us, our work or our product than we do. Others will evaluate us at our own figures, or less.

Such a man, feeling apologetic about his work, carries with him an inferiority complex as he goes forth to his task. He knocks on someone's door with an apology on his lips. In the attitude of a mendicant he begs for a few minutes of the prospect's time. Everything about him indicates that he knows he is regarded as something of a nuisance but "please will you grant me the opportunity of showing you this; the sales manager requires us to have so many interviews each day and if you'll just be so kind . . ." Of course he does not say all this in words but he might as well. He says it much more emphatically in other ways because he cannot help it. That is the way he feels about it and he is not actor enough to hide his real feelings.

Why should any intelligent person take this attitude about selling? Salesmen are emphatically the most important people in town, their work exceeding in economic importance that of any other group. Without their successful labors there would be few jobs for anyone. Withdraw the auto salesmen from the field and how long would the factories at Detroit keep running? How many radios, oil burners or other ap­pliances would be produced? How much insurance would be in force, how much real estate development if the agents were withdrawn?

Salesmen are the advance guard, the shock troops of an on-marching commercial civilization. They march forth daily to create greater consuming volume on the part of the pub­lic. They inspire desire to own, to possess, to use and con­sume the products of mill and factory. People do not buy things—they have to be sold those things. Most of the prod­ucts of our industries today are things our grandfathers got along happily without and never suspected that they needed. These new things were not brought into existence in response to popular demand. They have in fact come into existence in many cases in the face of public opposition. It has been the salesmen of America who popularized these things and made the great industries possible with their payrolls for millions. Ashamed of being a salesman? I'd be ashamed not to be!

And finally salesmanship commends itself as a vocation because good salesmen make good money. By contrast wit 1 jobs in the production end of industry, and even in compari­son with the professions, salesmen are exceptionally well paid. We all know how much a mechanic can make, or an artisan, or a bookkeeper. But no one has ever found out the money -making limits of salesmanship. A man of average intelligence, average appearance, an aptitude for such work, an ambition to succeed and a willingness to work hard toward that objective of success, who connects himself with a good sell­ing job, is on the way to financial independence. His annual income can quickly run into high four figures—often five. Let's go!

Years ago the top executives of commerce and industry for the most part came up through the ranks of production forces. Increasingly in recent years top management has come up through sales. Records now show that forty-eight per cent of corporation presidents came from the sales department. Ambitious young men entering industry should take note of this.


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