Book Review – The Birth of a Salesman by Walter Friedman

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Birth of a Salesman

I often mention the book The Birth of a Salesman by Walter Friedman in my articles on professional sales and selling, and I believe the time has come to thank the author for these many references by writing a review about this fantastic book and making more people aware of it.

I didn´t know of Walter Friedman until a few months ago when I was researching the learning of sales through the history and reading another interesting book, The Art of The Sale by Philip Broughton. I came across a quote from Professor Friedman that caught my attention. It said, “While business schools continue to offer some kind of sales management instruction, usually in larger contexts of marketing courses, they do not offer programs aiming at salesmanship skills. The topic remains as in 1910, more suitable to ‘how to’ or ‘memories of a successful salesman’ books than for academic courses.”

Among other things, what caught my attention and led me to read Friedman´s book was the word ‘salesmanship’. Although it is not exactly a new word, I had not yet seen that word being used in the same way as the common ‘entrepreneurship’.

The evolution of large-scale, industrial production is well known, but The Birth of a Salesman was the first book I had ever read that filled in the marketing and sales knowledge gap in the history of the industrial revolution. In it, salesmanship is presented as a parallel concept to the then “new science” of mass production, emerging at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In an environment where people become prospects, where their homes turn into territories, where from the first booksellers right up through Ford’s and Chevrolet’s efforts to develop effective speeches for their salespeople, and finally passing through John Patterson’s pyramid structures at NCR, Friedman skillfully describes the transformation of sales activity from art to science.

Well written and well documented, the book tells the history of sales activity and the sales profession, and their importance in the construction of the modern American economy. It describes how the sales practices that we use today were created and developed, and the American salesperson’s metamorphosis from itinerant amateurism to the specialized and trained professional. And how the very study of the sales activity itself eventually became an industry, producing academic disciplines focused on the consumer’s behavior and the study of marketing psychology.

When we talk today about sales automation, the reading becomes even more intriguing. It becomes clear that the methodological bases that support current initiatives were built at the beginning of the last century. The question that remains is: isn’t it time to take the next step?

I recommend the reading to all those who are somehow involved with the sales activity. It is a book that shows that salesmanship is a profession and a career. It requires preparation and training, but, above all, it is an essential career for our societal growth and development.

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