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What a 70-year-old sales book taught me about the accelerating pace of sales evolution 

And what nonsense they taught sellers back then, too!

Have you ever had an idea, then found a book that was written in 1957 that already nailed it?

Ok - maybe not, but it’s amazing how far the sales profession has come in the past 70+ years, and at the same time, how far it hasn’t!

I've had a book on my shelf for years called The 5 Great Rules of Selling, written by Percy H. Whiting originally in 1947, then updated in 1957. Not sure where I got it, but it's a fun read!

You're going to love some of the quotes from the book listed out below - some sound insane to many of us. However, you'd be shocked that others were written over 70 years ago!

Two of the most pronounced changes since then are (a) how the world of selling was dominantly male at the time, and (b) how well-thought-out door-to-door selling techniques were - many of which sound a lot like today's techniques to get around caller ID and gatekeepers.

But the thing that struck me as being ingenious at the time is how the idea of leading with your flaws and embracing transparency was a known winner even back then!

Here’s a couple of quotes about transparency from the 72-year-old book that stand out:

  • “Avoid exaggerated claims about your product. Exaggeration is always dangerous, but at the beginning of a sales talk it is often fatal.”
  • “Your prospect is thinking of the reasons for not buying anyway - so why try to keep them a secret?
  • “Ideas opposed to buying are like steam. Confine them and they are explosive; let them out in the open and, like released steam, they are only moist vapor.”
  • “By stating the negative reasons, the salesman causes the prospect to regard the salesman as a friend, an adviser, an assistant purchasing agent.”

Embracing transparency and leading with your flaws seems obvious, and clearly isn’t a revelation, as it builds trust, increases win rates, qualifies deals in faster, qualifies deals out faster, and makes it really hard for competitors to position against you. But now we know why (the brain science) and know that the path for our buyers to find it on their own is easier than every - and getting easier every day.

Enjoy the list below - which is a collection of quotes from throughout the book on all subjects from learning, door-to-door-selling, pitching, demonstrations and closing. Some I've captured because of how crazy they sound, but many for how they’ve withstood the test of time. Remember - these are from between 1947 - 1957!

Overall:

  • “No basic selling rule or principle has been discovered in the last hundred years.”
  • “You can’t learn selling in a hurry. You must practice faithfully and patiently.”

Door-to-door selling:

  • “Don’t work door-to-door up one side of a block and down the other. This advertises the fact to watchers - and lots of housewives are watchers - that you are a salesman."
  • “When the prospect opens the door, take a step backward - which is a disarming gesture.”
  • ““I am Mr. Jones - may I step in?” - then make a confident step toward the door, or reach for the screen door, as if to open it.”
  • “Never make your sales talk at the door. Either get in, or get out and try again later.”

The pitch:

  • “Try to sit or stand reasonably close to your prospect. But don’t get too close. Never get so close that it interferes with your gestures. Your breath, also, may have some bearing on the distance you should sit from your prospect. If it is sweet, don’t worry. If it is bad, keep your distance!”
  • “Avoid exaggerated claims about your product. Exaggeration is always dangerous, but at the beginning of a sales talk it is often fatal.”
  • “Be sincere always.”
  • “Don’t think about yourself when you open your talk - think about your prospect. Put out of your mind thoughts of your commission. Put into your mind thoughts of benefits to your prospect. The prospect’s interest in your goods will die at exactly the time when your interest in yourself and your commission begins. It will be written all over your face.”
  • “Gain interest by telling a story - by giving an example of how your product benefited somebody.”

Demonstrations:

  • “Take your product away from the prospect before he is tired of operating it. This increases his desire to own it.”
  • "Nail down each sales benefit as you demonstrate. Get your prospect to agree that the point is important - to him. For instance, “Your wife will like this automatic transmission, won’t she?” or “This machine will help your secretary finish her day’s work on time, won’t it?”"

Closing:

  • “Some salesmen say, “It is dangerous at the time of closing to bring up any reasons why the prospect should not buy.” How can it be ‘dangerous’? You have nothing to lose, because the prospect is thinking of the disadvantages anyway.”
  • “Since it’s unsafe to let the prospect do his own weighting, you take over the job for him. You balance the advantages against the disadvantages and show that the advantages of buying weigh far more than the disadvantages. “Which weighs more, the reasons for buying or the reasons for not buying?”"

Transparency

  • “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend” - Lincoln
  • “Your prospect is thinking of the reasons for not buying anyway - so why try to keep them a secret?"
  • “Ask yourself if, in any purchase you have ever made that called for a considerable expenditure, you did not think of the reasons for not buying right up to the time you signed the order and said “I’ll take it.”"
  • “Ideas opposed to buying are like steam. Confine them and they are explosive; let them out in the open and, like released steam, they are only moist vapor.”
  • “By stating the negative reasons, the salesman causes the prospect to regard the salesman as a friend, an adviser, an assistant purchasing agent.”
  • “It probably sounds strange to recommend that a mental attitude of “I came to help rather than to sell” will greatly improve a salesman’s work, but the experience of scores of leading salesmen proves that it will. The idea is not altruistic - it’s simply a practical way of making sales efforts more fruitful and profitable. From this habit will stem self-respect, confidence, and the self-assurance which will make our recommendations virtually irresistible. You can’t lose!” - Hal Bergdahl in A Bonus Every Month
I'm currently trying to track down a copy of Bergdahl's book - if anyone has a path, please let me know. Copyright on that one is 1955.
 
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