Sales and Selling – Which Has Evolved More?

Let’s compare the evolution of selling to the evolution of salespeople.

Which do you think has evolved more?  After all, both have been around since there has been anything to sell.

Selling was fairly late to evolve.  A formal sales process didn’t exist before the middle of the 20th century and I can make two points about AIDA  – the first of its kind.  AIDA was an acronym for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

  1. It is primitive by today’s standards
  2. Despite how primitive it is, it is still a more formalized process than what 92% of salespeople are out there doing according the data of Objective Management Group.

There isn’t much evidence that sales experts existed prior to Elmer Wheeler in 1936.  If you haven’t read my book, Baseline Selling, then you probably don’t know that Elmer invented two concepts that are well-known today.

  1. “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” appeared in his manuscript, “Tested Sentenes That Sell” from 1936
  2. In his 1947 book, “How to Sell Yourself to Others”, he introduced Pain as a buying motivator, and the negative sell as a powerful selling tactic.

Selling evolved more later in the 20th century and into the 21st century with more systems, processes, styles and today, tools and applications.  However, I was recently looking at the data to see two things. How salespeople had evolved or adapted looking at two points in time:

  1. the height of the good times  – early 2007 before the free fall – and at the height of the recession – early 2009.
  2. when we began collecting data – early 1990’s – and today.

What I found amazed me and will surely amaze you.  Ready? Salespeople have not changed in any way since the recession.  The statistics are identical with one exception – the percentage of salespeople who are hitting their numbers has declined significantly.  However, the skill sets have not improved despite the need for them to.  And the weaknesses are just as plentiful as they were, despite the need for them to be overcome.

Surely, when I compare today’s data with the data from 20 years ago, there is change, right?  Wrong.  Same findings.

We don’t have data from the 50’s but if we did, I suspect I would find the same thing.  Selling has evolved, the markets have evolved, the prospects have evolved, the expectations have evolved, the tools have evolved, companies have evolved and salespeople have not.  Who is to blame?  While companies should take part of the blame for not doing a better job of training their salespeople (training is not a seminar once per year!), salespeople must take the brunt of the blame for not developing their talent on their own, putting themselves through the equivalent of four years of sales college.

What do you think?