Myth of The Dying Salesman

Myth of Dying Salesman
“Attention all salespeople! You are doomed! The end is nigh! Make the transition to a new career now before it’s too late!”

So say the fear mongers as they spin fairy-tales about the demise of the lowly sales professional due to the “Information Age”.

I’m here to declare: “The sales professional will never be replaced!”

It seems, some Internet sales gurus are trying to sell us on the idea that the net will soon completely replace the sales professional.

It is true that when a new technology comes along it can take jobs away from the selling traditions of the past, but when this happens most sales professionals simply move on and begin selling in other niches.

The peddlers of fear are simply self promoting. They want the public to believe they have “the new secret” that will dramatically change sales careers of the future. They warn that we had better buy their selling systems or find ourselves quickly unemployed. They are even so bold as to say the  removal of the professional salesperson has already begun.

Seasoned salespeople have seen this scare tactic before.The fact is, people have been predicting the demise of the salesperson since the early 20th Century.

After being a cold calling sales man for several decades I can speak from experience.

Back to The Future

In 1916 a New York Times article asked “Are Salesman Necessary?” From their point of view printing and distribution had become so efficient and railroads along with telegraph and telephone lines crisscrossed all over the US causing news to spread at a rate never seen before in history. Therefore, they wondered why would you need a salesperson?

In the 1920’s a similar notion was entertained due to the widespread use of the radio and then again In 1955 when Time magazine asked “Radio: Death of the Salesman?”

In the late 50’s and early 60’s, television sales exploded and advertisers began stepping up their TV advertising efforts. Most major television stations began selling  their early am time slots at a huge discount to advertisers who began promoting their products to the sleepless. Witnessing these changes, E. B. Weiss wrote a book called “The Vanishing Salesman” (1962). Weiss explained that through pre-qualifying, pre-selling, and branding the salesman is destined to be eliminated. He noted that for the past 50 years due to trade magazines, books, and radio, it was increasingly clear that commission based cold call sales would soon be a thing of the past.

It’s now the 21st century. We have new technology that our parents and grand parents would never have dreamed of and sales professionals are still being paid commissions for cold call selling.

To assume that the knowledgeable sales professional is fading away due to the Internet comes from misunderstanding the very nature of both commerce and the net.

Information vs. Knowledge

The Internet is full of information but “human experience” and the knowledge gained from experience is far, far different.

The first thing to note is that selling is a brief abstract moment in time and everything prior to this should be classified as marketing. Marketing provides information.

A scientific experiment can generate information and facts but only the individuals who conducted the experiment will hold the knowledge surrounding all that information.
Information can easily be transferred to anyone at any time, gathered, labeled, organized, and packaged. Information is a byproduct of an experienced human who held the original knowledge that the information sprang from.

Information cannot instruct us on how to use information.
The vast difference between information (knowing what) and knowledge (knowing how) has been well documented in behavioral science. Knowledge cannot be transferred from one human to another. If an individual desires to become knowledgeable it must spring forth from within them based upon their own experience while processing the information in their mind.

That is why experts have been warning us that as we migrate to an Internet-based society, we must be increasingly careful with how we put to use all of this information.

The Internet bombards us with information and we are given little to no experienced direction on how to deal with it. That is why more so than ever, people need a knowledgeable person such as a sales agent to assimilate, understand and make sense out of this avalanche of data for us.

Internet marketing done correctly draws interest to the product or service as intended. However, Internet marketing only offers information and is not conducive to answering real, meaningful questions.

When we do have questions that are not addressed by a company’s website, we contact “Support,” join their “User Forum” or call their “Customer Service Number” seeking answers from an actual human with some knowledge and experience in the matter.

How frustrated do you get when you desperately seek answers, call into “Customer Support” and are forced to listen to an artificial human (computer) which sends you down an endless corridor of voice menu options only to hang up on you when you make an incorrect selection?

Online shopping is easy when you know exactly what you want, perhaps a very specific product with great name recognition, but what do you do when faced with competing products or services with equal value?  This is where human interaction is absolutely essential before making a decision to buy.

Selling is a two-way street where a knowledgeable salesperson guides you through a (Q and A) session. Here are just a few ways where information delivered through marketing and advertising fails but where knowledgeable selling succeeds:

  • prospects do not always know what they want
  • they may know what they want but not how to describe it
  • they often fail to ask the right questions
  • they cannot discern if the information they received is correct
  • they do not know the varieties of possible results;
  • they do not know why some products are superior and others are inferior nor why some products are so expensive while others are cheaper.

This list is by no means complete but the result will always remain the same:

People need people to help them understand what and why they buy what they do.

A salesperson explains in-depth the use of products and services and addresses any concerns that the prospect may have. Doing so instantly and in real-time (Live Chat just cannot compete with this).

John Palfrey who wrote, “Born Digital” (2008) states, “The ability to make quality judgments about information on the Internet is not an innate skill.”

This has also lead to profound ethical problems. Too much information or “Information Overload” is already being used as another propaganda tool. He also points out that “Information Deprivation” generates a sort of “Information Slavery”. Corporate executives often want to privatize sensitive information that could at one time find patent protection. It seems, Information has become a commodity to be protected and sold to the highest bidder.

Marketing and advertising offer us information, which makes the Internet an extremely useful tool. But for really important purchases, consumers don’t want information they want knowledge. Knowledge which can only come from experienced sales representatives.

About the author

CEO of Authentic Systems, Degree in Philosophy from University of California, Berkeley.
9 Responses
  1. Sammy

    For so many years I have attempted, and often times failed, in the world of sales. I finally chalked up my lack of success to my lack of the right kind of “sales” personality, or something like that.

    But what I’m gleaning from this post is that perhaps those who make sales are not so much people with a sales personality but rather, those with a knowledgeable personality.

    For me, knowledgeable people exude relaxed confidence and they come off like they know what they are talking about, because usually they do.

    I think that I’m much more likely to buy from someone who is sharing knowledge with me than from someone who is using a lot of words to try to sell me something.

    1. Tracy

      It is very easy nowadays for people to throw up a website, collect and slap on a bunch of information, and then apply “selling secrets and strategies” in order to garner the sale of a particular service or product, but I have found that on many of those sites because there is an absence of authentic substance, which can only be generated from an authentically sharing human being, it comes off as hype.

      In the short term, this shallow approach might gain a few sales, but in the long term it really is just a bunch of empty fluff.

      People are hungry for real substance, and so it is very refreshing to find a site such as yours that offers such valuable substance!

      1. John Voris


        Your insight is what many members of the business community are silently thinking.

        Substance is not only leaving the web but our options for acquiring information in general is shrinking.

        If the Kindle takes the place of books–who will be ultimately supplying the information?

        How would we check for censorship?

        I have a personal mission: to expose the nonsense our past and current gurus are imposing on those who are hungry for “real substance.”

        We take pride in our over 1,000 references and case studies that form the criteria of Authentic Systems.

        Thank you for your nice comment. Write anytime.


        1. Deborah Spagnuolo

          The internet causes us all to put more time into sorting through the gurus that aren’t the real deal. But there are plenty who are the real deal. And if you see them successfully coaching and helping people offline as well as through online products, that’s a good indicator that they know their stuff.

  2. John Voris


    I have discovered from the experience of others, that there is no such thing as a “sales personality.”We are given the illusion that one exists by the sales training industry.

    My life insurance salesman for example, exudes inferiority and the lack of confidence. He is also a 35 year sales veteran. In spite of his flat personality he consistently sells.

    For the rest of us, staying emotionally flat on some level, is one element of sustained selling that many professionals consciously control.

    The more excited you are when making a sale, you are disproportionately frustrated or even depressed when you lose a sale.

    Staying even keeps you focused on the process, on of the keys to longevity.

    I welcome any other comments you may have.


    1. Deborah Spagnuolo

      I think it helps if you are an extrovert, only because you need to build relationships in order to sell. An introvert would have a tough time doing that.

      1. Biz Burnett

        In this site’s article entitled “Is He a Sociopath or Simply an Extrovert?”, John Voris said “most actors and successful sales representatives are introverted [which gives them] the capacity to empathize with others, which is essential to their profession.” And above in this article, he wrote that he has “discovered from the experience of others that there is no such thing as a ‘sales personality.’ We are given the illusion that one exists by the sales training industry.” Seems like the illusions and myths are perpetuated to the detriment of Salespeople, people thinking of getting into sales, AND Prospects who have to put up with Salespeople who should be in another job/career. John: Your thoughts?

        1. John Voris

          Exactly! If the fail rate for sales representatives are over 80%, that means that given any random sampling, a prospect has a 80% chance of meeting someone who should not be in the business. This is what gives the sales industry a bad name.

          Corporations also dangle huge income projections and tell sales trainees that “everyone is in the sales business. Then when they fail to meet the quota, they’re told, “sales isn’t for everyone.”

  3. Deborah Spagnuolo

    Anyone who has ever tried internet marketing knows you DO have to be a salesperson to succeed. A lot of the skills in person-to-person sales are still necessary in internet sales. The delivery is just different.

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