History of Sales

In the scrollable timeline below we've documented sales training methods from the 1800s to present day. As you'll see, some things have changed but much has remained unchanged in the sales industry. As you aim to become a better salesperson, the history of sales training can teach you how to improve in your craft and close more deals.

Timeline and History of Sales Training Methodologies Over the Years

Selling Method Period Underlying Philosophy
Snake Oil Selling 1800's The name "snake oil selling" originated from Chinese laborers involved in the building of the First Continental Railroad. The Chinese sold it to Europeans, claiming that when the oil is rubbed on the skin at the painful site, it would bring relief.
Pyramid Selling 1886 John H. Patterson, president of National Cash Register (NCR) developed his own method of selling he called Pyramid Selling. Historians credt Patterson as the first person to professionalize sales as a profession. Pyramid Selling in this case meant that cash registers were sold to the most important person in the company, and then those people were encouraged to arrange demos of the new equipment to other businesses in the territory or region.
Trust Based Selling 1916 In 1916, the first World Salesmanship Congress was organized and took place in Detroit Michigan, USA. President Woodrow Wilson was the keynote speaker, adding significant credibility to the sales as a profession.
Scientific Selling 1920's Science of Selling became so popular that Ford Motor Company included in their sales training the following "sell the vehicle according to the shape of the prospect's head. High foreheads leave room for larger development and indicate people who are less likely to resist new ideas"
Mood Selling 1925 With the Great Depression well underway and many people struggled to make a living, many turned to sales because of the low barriers to entry. Most did not have much training. Mood Selling was developed by Bible Salesmen who called on prospects door-to-door. With no sales training, most salesmen during this time appealed to emotion to make a sale. Hence, the name Mood Selling.
Brand Based Selling 1930 Advertising was introduced as a way to promote brands and products and to support the selling of products. During the 30's, the National Broadcasting Corporation of America (NBC) reported a large increase in advertising revenue, primarily from brands selling their products. This surge in advertising led to a new approach to selling called Brand Based Selling.
Psychological Selling 1930's Henry Link introduced Psychology Selling in his book "Psychology of Selling and Advertising". The premise of this approach was that salespeople should learn basic psychological analysis of their customers in order to learn what made them "tick". This is where the technique of asking prospects "what keeps you up at night" comes from.
Barrier Selling 1940's Barrier Selling is a method of questioning where the sales person leads the prospect with questions for which the answer is only "Yes". For example, a sales person might ask "Obviously you want your child to have the best education possible, right?"
SELL Method 1940's Show, Explain, Lead to Benefit, Let Them Talk became the popular method of selling during the early 1940's. This method encouraged salespeople to tell how their customers benefited from buying the product and was a much more humane approach than the manipulative approach from Barrier Selling just a few years before.
ADAPT Method 1940's Assessment, Discovery, Activation, Projection, Transition - or the ADAPT Method of selling came next. The salesperson gave the impression of using a formal assessment method, but the truth is that none actually existed. ADAPT was a return to more manipulative approaches of the early 1940's.
ARC 1940's Ask, Recommend, Cross-Sell, and Close was a sales method that became popular in the early 1950's. It was primarily used in retail sales situations. This method was used primarily to increase the average order size by focusing on the cross-sell piece of the method.
AIDA Selling 1950's Attention, Interest, Desire, Action - is a standardized protocol used by salespeople to grab the attention of a prospect, encourage an interest in what the salesperson has to offer, then stimulate a desire to buy, and then generate an Action which was committing to making a purchase from the sales rep.
Needs Satisfaction Selling 1968 The Xerox Corporation pioneered this method, which came about because Xerox was losing their patent on dry photocopying which increased competition for Xerox sales reps. As a result of increased competition, Xerox sales reps were losing deals to the competition. In response, Xerox invested more than $10 Million in developing the Needs Satisfaction Selling methodology. The essence of this methodology was that almost nobody wanted to be sold anything, but people did want to make an informed decision.
Strategic Selling 1970's Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, both former IBM salespeople teamed-up and created what they called Strategic Selling, culminating in best selling book of the same name. Strategic Selling did not add much value to the process of selling, but it did add additonal skills in managing large accounts and how to better navigate complex sales cycles.
Consultative Selling 1980's Neil Rackham developed SPIN Selling, or otherwise known as Consultative Selling. Building on the Xerox method, Rackham showed how a sales rep can ask the right questions that makes the rep become more of a consultant than a person that just sells a product or service.
Relationship Selling 1990's Dale Carnegie's famous book "How to win friends and influence people" brought in the era of relationship selling. It's impact is still felt strongly today.
Customer Centric Selling 1990's Mike Bosworth, who began his career at Xerox in 1972, published a book on Customer Centric Selling. In Bosworth's method, he outlines 7 disctinct steps.
Solutions Selling 2000's Work with customers to develop a mutual understanding of the solutions that would be a best fit for their problem. Sellers want to work with Buyers is a requirement. Win-Win is the goal outcome.
Challenger Sale 2011 Developed by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB). Challenge customers to think differently about their problem and pre-disposed thinking about the solution. The Sales Rep follows a disciplined "choreography" that is outlined by Challenger Method.