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A Career In Sales

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The importance of the salesman in the economic life of today can hardly be overestimated. In the old days, when business transactions were simple, the producer and consumer were able to get together and buy and sell without any intermediate agents; but today the vastness and complexity of industry and commerce have made buying and selling a complicated matter. Many transactions are involved before the product reaches the consumer, and in every one of these transactions the salesman plays an important part. Whether he represents the producer, jobber, wholesaler, commission-merchant or retailer, the salesman's services are indispensable. Without him, goods could not be sold, the wheels of industry and of commerce would stop and our economic life would collapse.

Salesmanship is not the hit-or-miss proposition it once was, depending, as it did, upon the cleverness of the individual engaged in it, and upon his ability to sell regardless of consequences. Today, salesmanship is both an art and a science, of which the principles have been definitely determined and worked out. No salesman can hope to succeed who has not made a study of these principles and learned how to apply them.

The fields of salesmanship are as varied as industry itself. Perhaps the largest is the retail field. The man who becomes a salesman in a retail store, must have a thorough knowledge of the stock which he is selling and be able to utilize that knowledge in his business. The retail salesman has a broad field, from the ten-cent store and the specialty shop to the large department store; and in all of them the job of salesman may lead to higher positions. The man who makes good as a salesman may become a floor superintendent in the store. His duties will then include little or no direct selling, but he will be responsible for his floor and will meet and assist customers in every way possible. Or he may become head of his department and eventually buy whatever is sold in that department. The highest position a salesman can aspire to in the retail field is that of store manager. The store manager may own his store or he may be hired by a firm. He is absolutely responsible for the success of the store, and so he must be a capable executive, who can efficiently and economically manage the concern. A knowledge of men is as essential to the store manager as a knowledge of goods, for he must necessarily depend to a great extent upon the performance of the men working under him.

Though openings in the retail field are plentiful, many sales-men prefer to work with wholesale concerns. Often such men become traveling salesmen and have a certain amount of territory assigned to them, which they cover for their firm. The traveling salesman has to find his customer, as well as sell goods. He must know the best seasons to visit his customers and must develop points of contact with them. He travels from place to place and serves not only his old customers but is constantly on the alert for new ones. The territory of the wholesale salesman may be in the city, country or foreign lands, and the firms he may deal with vary from city shops to rural general merchandise stores.

The specialty and book salesmen solicit their trade from house to house or from firm to firm. Persistence is the keynote of their success, for they sell by direct solicitation of the customer whose interest must be aroused, usually against his inclination. The salesman of securities is also classified as a specialty salesman. He solicits his trade from place to place, usually from a list of prospects, and must have a thorough knowledge of business conditions as well as of the bonds he sells.

The salesman who is especially successful may become a foreign representative for a concern. Such a man goes out to make his own markets, and must have a fund of information regarding commercial law and trade customs in addition to being an expert in his own line. Or the successful salesman may advance to sales manager. He will then have complete control of the salesmen in the field for his firm, and will direct them from his office. He must keep an index not only of his salesmen but of the customers visited by them; and so he needs a mind for detail. The sales manager, because of his own experience in selling, is able to direct other salesmen to good advantage.

A high school education is very helpful to the young man who desires to be a salesman. The educational background which he will acquire in the average high school will help him in whatever line of salesmanship he may enter. He should know something of accounting, and should study whatever commercial subjects the school has to offer. Advertising and stenography will be very useful, though not absolutely essential. A good general education is necessary, and should include history, geography, psychology, English and arithmetic, with special emphasis on the last two mentioned—for all salesmen must have a ready command of English, and must be able to compute sales readily.

The courses studied in the high school may be supplemented by training given by competent instructors in the store schools. Such schools give courses in the theory of salesmanship, practical selling, knowledge of house policies, study of competitive products, knowledge of marketing and whatever other subjects may be of particular benefit to their own concern. The John Wanamaker Commercial Institute in John Wanamaker's store in Philadelphia, and the National Cash Register Company's school are examples of schools, both for retail and wholesale salesmen, where a thorough knowledge of the concern and its products, plus training in salesmanship, is given. Lectures on salesmanship are also given either in up-to-date stores or in Y. M. C. A. centers and attendance at these lectures as well as careful reading of store manuals, publications or magazines will prove extremely helpful. The young man who can attend a school of commerce at a university will find that he will advance more rapidly as a result of such training. However, such schools usually have courses extending over a period of two to four years, and inability to attend them need not hamper the young man.

The cost of preparation for salesmanship may be very nominal for the young man who enters upon his work directly after leaving high school. The expense of the man who attends college ranges from $2,000 upwards, dependent upon the school. The young man who is unable to attend either high school or college may serve an apprenticeship in a store as an errand, cash or stock boy, and if he is ambitious he will learn a great deal about salesmanship, and be prepared to become a salesman whenever the opportunity offers. He can also supplement his store training with courses at night schools.

Salesmanship offers a chance for success to every man who enters upon the field, but he must utilize his own capabilities to forge ahead. The average traveling and city salesmen have a drawing account and a commission on sales over a certain amount. In the wholesale and specialty field there is great opportunity to earn big salaries, for the low mark is $100 a month, and the man representing a firm abroad sometimes earns $25,000 a year. It is not unusual for a traveling salesman to make $3,000 to $5,000 a year, but the work is strenuous. The salesman in a retail store usually earns from $20 to $40 a week, while a salesman expert in one line may receive as high as $100 a week. If the salesman becomes a store manager he will find that his salary depends upon the size and kind of store and the locality in which it is situated. It will range from $5,000 upwards if it is a growing store in a medium or large city.

Courtesy, honesty and a neat appearance are three essentials for the salesman, for without them he will never be able to make friends and sell goods. He must be possessed of tact and sincerity and must be observant and a good judge of human nature. Good health and good conversational ability are as necessary to the salesman as a good memory and a cheerful manner. He must be willing to attend to trifling details and small sales with as much patience as he would use in larger ones and he must have persistence and energy and an interest in his work. A good personality helps in the making of new customers, and self control and will power are essential when failure to make sales brings discouragement.

The salesman has to deal with an impatient, hurried public, whether he is in retail or wholesale lines, and he has to subordinate his wishes to those of the customer. If he is a traveling salesman, he misses much of the home life he would like, and has to live in hotels and go through the oftentimes exasperating business of making train connections. But there is little monotony in his work, and his salary is usually sufficient for his needs. The retail salesman in a city is liable to remain a salaried man, but the hours are well regulated by custom and state laws, and annual vacations are granted at full pay to the man who remains with his concern. Half holidays are customary in city stores during the hot months. In the smaller cities, the hours are often longer than in the larger communities, but the salesman has more opportunity to become a proprietor himself. Lunches are served at nominal cost in many stores, and a lunch and rest room is provided; while doctors and nurses are on hand for any emergency in the larger concerns.

The demand for competent salesmen usually exceeds the supply, but, although the field is large, it is only the man with brains and the trained ability to use them who is likely to succeed in any branch of this work.


BARRETT, H. J.: "How to Sell More Goods," Harper & Bros., New York, 1918.

BRISCO, NORRIS A.: "Retail Salesmanship," The Ronald Press Co., New York, 1920.

DOUGLAS, ARCHER WALL: "Traveling Salesmanship," The Macmillan Co., 1919.

FARRINGTON, F.: "The Successful Salesman," Laird & Lee, Chicago, 1918. HALL, S. ROLAND: "Handbook of Sales Management," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1924.

HALL, WILBUR: "The Salesman's Kindergarten," Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1921.

MAXWELL, WILLIAM : "Training of a Salesman," J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1919.

RUSSELL, FREDERICK A.: "The Management of the Sales Organization," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1922.

WHITEHEAD, HAROLD: "Principles of Salesmanship," The Ronald Press Co., New York, 1918.


Advertising and Selling, Advertising and Selling Co., New York Dry Goods Economist, Textile Publishing Co., New York. Dry Goods Reporter, Textile Publishing Co., Chicago. How to Sell and What, Kable Spalding Co., Chicago. Sales Management, Dartnell Corp., Chicago.

Salesology, Joseph P. Wilson, Chicago.

System, A. W. Shaw Co., Chicago.

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