The History of Sales: When did we become ‘Snakes’?

In Power Sales by Empowered MasteryLeave a Comment

Why is it that when you tell people you are salesperson they immediately put up their guard?  Why don’t most people trust salespeople?  When did the industry of sales change for the worse? More importantly WHY?

I’m sure most people would agree that everyone sells at one time or another. As kids we sold our parents and now our kids are doing the same to us.  As adults we often sell our significant other, our friends and our co-workers. Just about every product or service you buy is being ‘sold’ to you in one way shape or form. Everyone sells!

‘Salesmanship is limitless. Our very living is selling. We are all salespeople.’  James Cash Penney

So what makes us, the people who do this for a living, ‘snakes’?  I did a little digging to find the answer.

It took me all the way back to the 1800’s with the advent of the first real sales industry; Snake Oil. European settlers noticed a substance from the petroleum of ‘oil seeps’ was being rubbed on cuts and sores. They then began to bottle and sell the substance as a cure-all. The preparation was sold as “Seneca oil”. Through mispronunciation this became “Sen-ake-a oil” and eventually “snake oil”.

In those days the sellers tried to exaggerate coherence and manipulate the consumer into buying this new cure-all. From then on, anyone who tried to sell a fraudulent product was called a ‘snake oil salesperson’ or simply a ‘snake’.

Fast forward to the ‘used car’ salesperson.  These salespeople have often been a source of ridicule in movies, television shows and cartoons.  They were and perhaps still are seen as negative influences out to take advantage of people.

Notice I haven’t even addressed the stigma of being labeled an insurance salesperson. Woody Allen said it best ‘There are worst things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?’

There was one time when salespeople were accepted and respected as part of the American culture. Take the door to door salesperson who sold vacuum cleaners and cosmetics among other products back in the 50’s. Door to Door Salesperson

A 1952 article in Modern Mechanix stated 2% of the American workforce were door to door salespeople  and they made over 7 Billion dollars in sales.

But it seems like we have reverted back to the 1800’s where people just are weary and untrusting of anyone who is trying to sell them something. Perhaps that’s why under the definition of selling states ‘to persuade or induce someone to buy’. No wonder where like Rodney Dangerfield and don’t get any respect . With a definition like that no wonder why we all dislike salespeople.

And that my fellow salespeople is the very first and perhaps the biggest mistake we make; trying to ‘sell’ our clients.

Sell vs. Buy

When we SELL When our clients BUY
Coerce, Manipulate, Exaggerate Inspire, impact, enlighten
Stressed Happy
Unfulfilled Fulfilled
No repeat Business Raving Fan
No referrals On-going source of referrals
Emotional roller-coaster Success

Tips from this article

  • Do not coerce and manipulate in order to sell, rather inspire and impact your clients to buy.
  • You can be successful AND happy and fulfilled.
  • Stop acting like a ‘used car’ Salesperson.

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