A (Very) Brief History of Sales


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Although selling is now intertwined with the emergence of new technologies, it wasn’t always about the latest and greatest. The history of sales starts with John H. Patterson, one of the pioneers of selling, and his corporation, the National Cash Register Company. Much like salespeople today, Patterson saw where there was a need for something fresh and different, and came up with a new idea.

The cash register technology in the 19th century isn’t quite what we know it as today—a 30-second transaction using a tablet or punching in a 4-digit number on a keypad.  Back then, Patterson had to work to get people to understand what this innovation was, and how it was supposed to benefit people’s everyday lives. He did this through sales.

In 1886, Patterson came up with the approach known as pyramid selling—a tactic that was comprised of selling the cash registers to the higher-ups at a company, with the intention that it would then trickle down to other businesses in the area. He also utilized tactics like testimonial selling, the sales presentation, and more, which are still a major part of sales today.

Moving into the 20th century, selling techniques already started seeing the effect of technological advances. As a nation, all industries were shifting to suit the changing times. The average salesperson was beginning to see more competition, which meant coming up with more ways to steer prospects in their direction instead of their competitors.

Playing to people’s moods and emotions began to take shape in the 1930s and 1940s, as brands started approaching advertising with more vitality. This filtered into the sales world, where the systematic strategy of selling no longer made sense. Salespeople needed to know their clients and their needs before making a cold call. They needed to start asking the question, “what makes this potential prospect tick?” This continued throughout the next few decades, with the term “relationship selling” taking hold in the 1990s.

Today, social selling is the strategy to be focusing on. Utilizing social media helps build authentic relationships with your clients. People like knowing (to an extent) that you can recall certain tidbits about their life.

Nurturing your relationships with your prospects has never been more straightforward than with social selling. We’re in an age where if you’re not engaging with people through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and the like, then you’re not taking advantage of all the tools at your disposal. It’s invaluable and imperative to incorporate social media into your sales strategy.

From the 1800s to now, sales has undergone transformation after transformation. But one fact remains—sales isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

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