In the early part of the 20th century, the sales profession wasn’t just trusted and respected, it was admired! There are many reasons why:
First, sales was viewed as the cog between manufacturing and the success of the entire country during the progressive era of the industrial revolution. In other words, sellers bringing the right products to the right companies at the right price and time uplifted the manufacturers. When those manufacturers excelled, they made more money, made more investments and hired more people. In other words, salespeople making their customers successful uplifted an entire economy, an entire nation – and helped everyone!
Second, with the economic lens in mind, every sales leader, sales expert, CEO and even the President of the United States taught, spoke and truly believed that honesty, service to the customer and transparency was the ONLY way to succeed in sales. As a matter of fact, in all of my readings, I cannot find a single author from that era who taught anything else.
With that, here are…
…my favorite 25 quotes from the early 20th century on honesty, transparency and service to the customer in selling:
Note: Nathaniel Fowler calls out in his 1913 book, Practical Salesmanship, that “for convenience, and only for convenience, the masculine noun and pronoun have been used in this book; but every word in it is intended for women as well as for men.” These quotes often refer to ‘him’, “men” and ‘salesman’, but Fowler and other authors were sure to communiate that they are talking above everyone in sales.
“If the truth won’t sell it, don’t sell it.” – Arthur Dunn, Scientific Selling & Advertising, 1919
“If there were no such thing as honesty in the world, we would have to invent it as an efficiency measure.” – Glen Buck, Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford’s right-hand person in 1921
“When young men learn that trickery, crooked dealing and graft are in every case suicidal, and that true and lasting success never has been and never will be builded on anything less than absolute old-fashioned honesty, they have taken the first step toward a successful and self-satisfying career.” – James Samuel Knox, The Science & Art of Selling, 1921
“(1) Use a picture instead of words, use one and make words mere connectives for the pictures. (2) Few words – short sentences – small words – big ideas. (3) Tell the truth” – John Patterson (pictured above), Founder & CEO of NCR Corporation, discussing how to convey an idea in 1900
“No salesman ever succeeded without inspiring confidence, and there is absolutely no way of creating it except by honesty and always telling the truth.” – James Samuel Knox, The Science & Art of Selling, 1921
“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.” – W.C. Holman, Ginger Talks, 1912
“The salesman should represent his goods as they are, tacitly admitting that he is selling them at a profit, but at a price which will be satisfactory to the buyer.” – Nathaniel C. Fowler Jr., in a section was titled, “Telling The Truth” from his book, Practical Salesmanship, 1913
“Business is not merely a method of making a living; it is the science of human service.” – Roosevelt Johnson, Salesmanship and Co-operation, 1913
“I didn’t tell him you were my son. I was ashamed to.”- In 1904, NCR Corp sent a daily newsletter in the mail to their 1000+ reps. One part included something called “Letters from Dad”, which were tips from a veteran rep to his son, who also sold for NCR. In one, his son lied to a prospect and the Dad found out. This quote is what he wrote to his son.
“If the facts about the line you carry aren’t the sort that will make the trade buy it, get another line.” – W.C. Holman, Salesmanship Magazine, September 1907
“Its tap root is embedded in the very heart of brotherly love: The man who serves best, profits most. This is as true of the professions as it is of business. The highest appreciation as well as the largest gain belongs to the man who serves the public best.” – Nathaniel C. Fowler Jr., Practical Salesmanship, 1913
“If you are representing an article that won’t stand the truth – get another job. Exaggeration may sell once. It gets no repeat orders. Furthermore – it cheapens you.” – Tractor World Magazine, May of 1921
“True salesmanship is the science of service. Grasp that thought firmly and never let go.” – Arthur Sheldon, GOAT of sales philosophers (in my opinion) and pictured above, The Art of Selling, 1911
“We want to be SALES-men, not ONE-SALE-men, so to us the real climax of each separate sale is the lead to future orders which it gives.”- Norval Hawkins, The Selling Process, 1920
“A salesman should never misrepresent an article. He must be honest with himself, with his customer and with his house.” – B Frank Thomas, talking about his company’s success in 1903
“Many otherwise honest men talk in a dishonest way merely because they think they are meeting the dishonesty of the other fellow. Make a man honest with you by being honest with him, but under no circumstances let him make you dishonest.” – Alexander Revell in 1905 (Revell and Co Founder & CEO – pictured above)
“A lie is a weapon of the weakling and the afraid. There is no come-back to truth – no alibi – no hereafters – no explanations. It is a vital a force as though you could take it out and look at it and feel of it.”- Arthur Dunn, Scientific Selling & Advertising, 1919
“I believe that honest goods can be sold to honest men by honest methods.” – Edwin Osgood Grover, The Salesman’s Creed, 1905
“If I sell an article and make all the profit, I am not a salesman – I am a robber.” – James Samuel Knox, The Science & Art of Selling, 1921
“We do not go forth as salesmen like the freebooters of old, or the thugs and thieves of today, to plunder the community of which we are a part. We have nothing in common with the fakirs and petty swindlers.” – Arthur Sheldon, The Art of Selling, 1911
“To sell a man something he does not need, or to sell him more than he can afford to buy, is not Salesmanship, it is downright dishonesty.” – Harold Whitehead, The Business of Selling, 1923
“No matter what you have to sell, the truth is good enough to tell. Boost your goods and boost them well, but stick to facts!” – Frank Farrington, 1918, in a poem called “Stick to Facts!”
“Service is the essence of the salesman’s function. The acid test of successful selling is the degree in which the salesman’s offering actually services his customer.” – E.E. Ferris, Salesmanship, 1924
“He must carefully avoid anything which savors of trickery or unreliability. He must never promise, or lead a buyer to expect any concessions or conditions which will not be fulfilled to the letter.” – W.S. Quinby, owner of a coffee & tea company of the same name, in 1904
“Does it pay to misrepresent goods or to otherwise lie in business? Yes, sometimes, if you have no respect for yourself, if you have no conscience and sense of honor, if you do not expect to meet the customer again, if you are selling fake goods, if you are willing to sacrifice your customer after the first sale, getting out of him all you can and getting through with him then and there, and if you can cover up your misrepresentation, so whitewash your lie that its blackness will not be seen until the sale is consummated, then, and then only, lying becomes a business commodity with some financial value. “- Nathaniel C. Fowler Jr., Practical Salesmanship, 1913