The Evolution of Sales Jobs and Sales Pros

Michele Warg
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Today's sales jobs are very different from the sales jobs available in the 1800s and 1900s. Even though several countries had informal sales networks by the 1800s, the United States developed the strongest network of that era because of its robust economic system. The strong value of the dollar and the availability of credit made it easier for sales professionals to make a living. Today, technological advances, economic activity, and personal preferences all have an impact on a salesperson's livelihood. These are just a few of the changes that have affected the role of the salesperson  since the early days of the nation.

In the early days of sales, it was normal for one person to handle sales in addition to all of the other tasks related to running a business. A store proprietor would order merchandise, create displays, and explain the benefits of each item to customers. The accounting and marketing functions took a back seat to sales because making sales was one of the most important things a store owner could do to stay in business. At this time, small companies dominated the business landscape.

The introduction of mass production changed the role of the salesperson forever. When companies were able to produce large quantities of their products, these products flooded the market. This created a need for people to fill additional sales jobs and reduce the size of the inventory surplus. These salespeople were not loyal to their companies because the business owners viewed them as contractors rather than employees. During this period, business owners did not pay much attention to what customers wanted.

In the 1990s, changing technology led to increased competition among businesses. This prompted business owners to start listening to their customers, which had a profound effect on the role of the salesperson. Salespeople had to start listening to customers and using product information to determine the best ways to meet their needs. Today, sales jobs require excellent customer service and communication skills. Some sales professionals also play a central role in the development of new products and services.

Sales training programs, unheard of in the early days of sales, now focus on asking questions and understanding what customers want. Dell is a perfect example of why companies need to focus on the needs of customers in the marketplace. The company recently reported a 72 percent drop in profits. Industry insiders attribute this decline to the company's failure to focus on the demand for smartphones and tablets. Take advantage of any sales training your company offers so that you do not make the same mistake.

The role of the salesperson has changed significantly since the 1800s. Once seen as contractors with little value, good salespeople now play an important role in the success of their companies. Sales jobs have also changed to accommodate the increased emphasis on listening to customers and determining what they really want in new products and services. Whether you want to move up the ladder at your current company or use your skills to enter a new industry, it is likely sales jobs will continue to change.

(Photo courtesy of stockimages /


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