Wondering who to follow on LinkedIn? Wondering who the biggest sales influencers are? Well, it’s a new year…a time when a number of publications and companies post their perspective on who are the most worthy of your precious follows in the sales world.
Feeling left out, I’ve taken it upon myself to make a list. I’ve done the homework. I’ve done the research.
Did you make this year’s list? Of course, you didn’t…because that’s not a type-o! I am talking about 100 years ago.
The dawn of modern sales took place in the first quarter of the 20th century. Each of these individuals left an indelible mark on all of our sales careers even today. While I only touch on a few of the absolute all-stars here, my goal is to breathe new life into these individuals whose wisdom we still experience today…without even realizing it!
Who are the influencers a salesperson must follow – in 1922?
#1 – Arthur Sheldon
In my opinion, Arthur Sheldon is the G.O.A.T. of sales philosophers. Yes…all-time! Read the sales history books, and there is barely a mention of him. Sheldon established the sales profession’s foundation the right way – in the early 20th century.
By 1908, they were talking about this guy as having “a career so remarkable and interesting from a great number of viewpoints that it is worthy the attention of everyone in business.”
And, upon his death in 1935, the Chicago Daily Tribune referred to him as “the author of more works on salesmanship than any other person” and “THE philosopher of selling.”
The original Science of Salesmanship came out in 1902 and consisted of 25 volumes. You’d sign up for the course, You’d get the volumes and the lessons.
He kept rolling – 10 more volumes in 1905. 7 more in 1909. 32 more in 1910. Those included 16 “lectures” and 16 supporting textbooks called The Science of Business Building. More in 1915 and 1919. Revisions were published in 1924 and 1929. Following his death, a reprinted edition compiling kind of a “best of” was published in 1939, where students received 109 lessons.
A journal subscription came with it – called The Business Philosopher, and students were allowed to contact staff at The Sheldon School for advice for a period of 12 months. Students received a credential, certifying them, which stayed valid for 3 years called “The Business Counsel Certificate”. They were also assisted in finding employment by his “Employment Division”.
By the end of 1908, he had enrolled 30,000 students. Soon, students were enrolling all across the world. 1000’s of companies adopted his programs for their selling teams. Many students, claimed to be as many as 80%, were veteran salespeople. Managers. Proprietors, Executive Leaders. By the mid-1910s, one publication claimed the school had enrolled over 250,000!
Sheldon is famously associated with two quotes, the latter is still used as the slogan for Rotary over 100 years later: “Business is the science of service”, and “he profits most who serves best.”
“He is a product of his time. He is a piece of divine nebula sent spinning through space, the result of a spiritual centrifugal force. But while the times evolved Sheldon, it was Sheldon who evolved Sheldonism. Sheldonism is the Science of Salesmanship.” – Worthington C. Holman…who happens to be #3 down below.
To learn more, I dedicated an entire episode of The Sales History Podcast to Arthur Sheldon.
#2 – Dr. Orison S. Marden
I love every word I’ve read of Orison Marden – but a quote in a 1918 article in The Business Philosopher Magazine said about him “it isn’t every man who has had children named after the titles of his books.” Marden was referred to as “the best known and most widely read writer on success that this or any other country has ever developed.”
His 1894 book, Pushing to the Front, topped best-seller lists. He went on to found Success Magazine, which had over 500,000 subscribers, while also writing ~ 50 books. In total, Marden sold over 1.5 million copies of his masterpieces on sales, business & success – and “he has received more than thirty thousand letters commending his works, telling of the encouragement and inspiration the readers have received, and of how these radiant centers of energy, bound in cloth but boundless in their potentiality for good, have wrought mightily for success.” Is that an incredible description or what?
If you were an elite business success in the early 1900s, there’s likely a connection to Marden. John Patterson, the founder of NCR and the father of what we would refer to as modern sales go-to-market strategies today, was known to have had large digest charts made of excerpts from Marden’s books, printed in colors on large sheets put up throughout his factories and offices “in order to immunize his thousands of employees against failure.”
“I owe a great deal of my success to Dr. Marden’s writings.” – Charles M. Schwab
His 1916 book, Selling Things, and his 1913 book, Training for Efficiency are amazing reads. While Arthur Sheldon is the G.O.A.T. of sales philosophers, Marden was the G.O.A.T. of business philosophers – with a keen eye towards sales.
#3 – Worthington C. Holman
Anything I ever see that was written by Holman stops me in my tracks. Brought up through the ranks for NCR in the late 1800’s, Holman assisted in putting together the first known corporate “Manual for Salesmanship.” This is a famous manual, used in NCRs corporate sales department, the first of its kind. At NCR, he was a sales director in one position, ran their advertising department in another, then became responsible for their various publications.
Those publications? NCR issued a daily paper to over 900 salespeople, and also a monthly magazine to the salesforce. Think about it – a daily paper, to 900 remote salespeople in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. How?
He left NCR to pursue other publishing opportunities, landing in 1905 he was named an editor of Salesmanship Magazine and also an investor. With thousands of subscribers, Holman’s writings laid the foundation for the profession through his own writings, but also the curation of articles from the most successful sales professionals and business people.
Holman may be best known for his collection of “Ginger Talks”, which were writings sales leaders could give to their teams. They were motivational, sometimes controversial, often funny and creative, and chock fill of tactics and techniques for salespeople. These were collected in his 1912 book, Ginger Talks. He merged his paper with Sheldon’s and became a co-editor of The Business Philosopher while also teaching and touring.
Sheldon also wrote the original “Salesman’s Creed” in October of 1905, which still stands the test of time.
Two of my favorite Holman quotes:
“The only kind of order that has any value is the order that sticks – not merely drop in to look us over and then duck out and elope with one of the neighbors.”
And a second in September 1907:
“If the facts about the line you carry aren’t the sort that will make the trade buy it, get another line.”
#4 – Lucinda W. Prince
I have zero doubt that Lucinda W. Prince is the pioneer for women in sales. The most famous book on the history of sales doesn’t even have her name in it. I found her accidentally, and her story is incredible. Any discussion around the history of women in sales needs to begin with Lucinda W. Prince; THE PIONEER for women in sales, advancing the profession past its male-dominated upbringing. She devoted her life to it.
By 1905, as a member of the executive committee of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union of Boston, she spearheaded an effort to determine what special training was needed by “girls who wished to become saleswomen.”
By 1909, Mrs. Prince had become a bit of a phenomenon, traveling the country speaking, motivating the development of more courses and more discussions around women in sales, including the pictured book above, Saleswomen in Mercantile Stores. Under her leadership, by 1912, Salesmanship was taught in nine Boston high schools for both boys and girls. In June of 1916, Isabel Craig Bacon, the Director of Salesmanship for the Boston Public Schools, proclaimed that there were currently 400 women going through the high school program.
In a speech given on May 16th, 1916 in Cincinnati, Mrs. Prince spoke of the prejudices she had to overcome, and how:
“…mothers and daughters came to realize that the position of a saleswoman was one of dignity, responsibility and initiative; that it offered much more chance for personal development and a future than commercial courses, that above everything else, its cultural value was apparent.”
#5 – Norval Hawkins
Hawkins, in the early 1900s, was referred to as the greatest salesperson in the history of Ford Motor Company. He is also the person Henry Ford himself often called his “million dollar a year man”. In his book, 1920’s The Selling Process, I took so many notes from I couldn’t put it down. His perspective on sales is so timeless – but the way he explains things have really stuck with me.
Norval joined Ford in 1907. He was assigned to do a time-cost study and discovered a huge issue in Ford’s cost-accounting system that was costing them a ton. It changed the direction of how the business would procure parts and scale the business. At one point, Henry Ford and Charles Sorenson (Ford’s head of production…spending 40 years at Ford) went into the file room that Norval had set up to show the problem, and poured all the files on the floor in a symbolic gesture of putting an end to that old system.
Hawkins was then named General Sales Manager (which would be like a VP of Sales today), and kept that role for 11 years. He was a machine. When salespeople complained that they couldn’t sell in their territory, Hawkins would have an agent take him to the territory, and in a single afternoon, sell a dozen cars to farmers and townspeople – then turned those sales over to the agent.
The guy just thought differently. The dealerships had a glass partition between the sales floor and the repair shop – much like even mine does today. He hated that – believing that looking at a repair shop when buying a car reminded buyers of expensive repair bills. Another example – Ford was running ads for anti-skid tire chains – he wanted all of those pulled, because it made potential buyers think of accidents.
In 1913, he had appendicitis and went into the hospital. While there, he made a list of all the things the hospital should change – like the chair in his room, when it moved, made a loud noise jarring to himself, and would to other patients…and how they should simply make the legs rubber tipped. The hospital couldn’t afford the changes he suggested, so the day he got out, he managed to raise $55k to pay for the improvements he felt the hospital should have.
Hawkins left Ford in 1919 – and went to the competitor…General Motors. He was paid a salary of $150k…which, in today’s dollars, would be around $2.25M. He only stayed two years, going back into accounting – and writing books. His stuff is gold…and he was a must-read in the late 1910s and early 1920s.
To learn more about Norval, here’s the interview I did with him on The Sales History Podcast. Well, I play both roles…but it’s his quotes.
We must not forget that the sales profession is in full bloom…there are so many others laying a foundation through their teachings and writings.
Miss Diana Hirshler – an expert trainer in “salesmanship” in the early 1900’s. Quoted in 1908:
“Don’t be a butler even though you are a courteous flunkey. Be a doctor and diagnose the case. Be a lawyer and convert your jury. Be an architect and construct a helpful argument. Or be an artist and put in the strokes that tell.”
James Samuel Knox – One of my favorite authors to read, Knox authored the 1915 classic, Salesmanship and Business Efficiency. Quoted in 1915:
“If I sell an article and make all the profit, I am not a salesman. I am a robber.”
Arthur Dunn – While I wish I could find a picture of this quote machine, he still makes the honorable mention list. He was a banker, a lawyer, former Vice-President of United Cereal Mills, Ltd., Former Chairman of Citizens Committee of Fifty of Scranton, PA (established to reform city government). Sold and/or supervised the sale millions of dollars of securities, stocks, bonds, new organizations, consolidations, etc. Led sales teams across industries, scattered around the country. Developed a “scientific system of selling” reflected in his 1919 book, Scientific Selling and Advertising. He is responsible for my favorite sales related quote of all time:
“If the truth won’t sell it, don’t sell it.”
Those are the influencers you should follow…if you were around in 1922. The period between 1901-1925 is truly the dawn of what we call the modern sales profession today. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – that’s a quote not from a sales mind, but from George Santayana in his 1905 book, The Life of Reason. I finish here, because we are seeing the sales world repeat itself right now. Not just sales, but sales management. The same questions. The same issues. And dare I say, the same bubble. If you find this stuff interesting in the slightest, I have a couple of outlets for you:
- You could follow along @saleshistorian on both Twitter and Instagram, where I share quotes, pictures and other items from sales history’s past every weekday.
- Season one of The Sales History Podcast is available wherever you listen. You can find it all here on https://toddcaponi.com/podcast/. Episodes are lining up for season two, too…where I dig into topics that impact us all from 100+ years ago.