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The World Salesmanship Congress - the dawn of sales transparency

July 9th, 1916

· sales history,transparency sale

Today was a big day for the history of our profession.

104 years ago today, July 9th, 1916, the World Salesmanship Congress kicked off in Detroit.

Attended by over 3,000, the theme of the conference was to “promote the dignity of Salesmanship by the elevation of the rank of salesman to a higher plane” & to “encourage contributions to the science of Salesmanship”.

Sessions emphasized ethics, and 'adopting standards of practice depending on strict business honesty." Ahhh, the formal dawn of sales transparency.

It was a time when the “professional” salesperson replaced drummers - who were essentially manufacturers' reps who repped lots of products. One quote from the conference:

“The days of the backslapping, hard-drinking drummer are over”.

The weeklong conference featured speakers from the day's most respected organizations, like Ford Motor Company, National Cash Register (NCR), Burroughs Adding Machine, representatives from the insurance and real estate professions, and politicians like Michigan's governor, Woodbridge N. Ferris. Lots of speakers - each speaking for 20-minutes or less...almost a modern-day TedTalks style.

However, no speaker was more recognized than the formal opening session keynote, President Woodrow Wilson. Here's a link to the text of his keynote, but one timely quote I particularly liked was:

"Permanent peace can grow in only one soil. That is the soil of actual good will, and good will can not exist without mutual comprehension."

- President Woodrow Wilson, World Salesmanship Congress, July 10th, 1916.

Day 3's events included breakouts by industry - including a specific track for insurance salespeople, real estate salespeople, and, of course, lumber salespeople.

Churches in the area held special services for the attendees, with sermons typically centered on the "ethics of salesmanship".

It was understood that sales represented an incredible opportunity for the country. 1.225M people in the sales profession at the time, 10x that of lawyers or doctors:

“More than $122M per year. That would be the increase in sales if every salesman was able to increase his sales by only $100 per year. Is there any other field that offers such unlimited opportunities and such fabulous returns for such education?”

"While there are hundreds of schools for lawyers and doctors the salesman is forced to get his education in the school of hard knocks."

The idea for the conference grew quickly, along with the configuration of sales "clubs". It had started just 10 weeks before the conference, as The Salesmanship Club of Detroit was created as the first salesmanship club organized in the world. Within those few weeks, 42 other cities had organized similar clubs.

There's sooo much goodness associated with this era of sales. Gems like Charles Wilson Hoyt, who wrote 1912's Scientific Sales Management book, talked about the two types of salesmen at the time. He discussed how, 25 years before, there was only one type. The old kind was what he referred to as the "big me" species - someone who is all about themselves, and resents anything coming from the company he works for other than paychecks. He discussed why those individuals need to change, or move on.

July 9th - a day that will live in the history of the sales profession. We still have a ways to go to promote the ethics, honesty, and of course, transparency of best this profession has to offer. Learn from its history.

If you're enjoying these little bits of sales history, please let me know. Or, on the other hand, if this is a waste of time, I'd love to hear that, too. Share, comment, and/or subscribe to the blog below...

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