You’ve probably heard that the oldest profession in the world is sales. Indeed, salesmen have been around forever and while the products and services they offer have certainly changed over the years, the basic approach to closing the deal has remained fairly consistent.
After watching the 1968 documentary Salesman you’ll get an inside glimpse of the ups and downs (mostly downs in this case) in the life of several traveling bible salesmen as they peddle their fancy $50 product to households of all sizes. The fact that this black and white film lack commentary or any voice-overs only adds to the anxiety that the salesmen display as they work their way from door to door.
As someone who worked in direct sales at a health club for several years, I found this documentary especially compelling. It amazed me that even today we tend to use the same sales techniques such as tie-down questions, open-ended questions and trial closes as we did in the 1960s.
Another similarity was the motivational tone of the sales meetings that were portrayed. As the boss kept telling his tired bible salesmen, it’s entirely up to you and your mindset as to how much money you make in this business. He’d tell his captive audience that they weren’t making enough simply because they weren’t working hard enough. While that may not be entirely true, it is the same advice I frequently heard in my sales meetings. It is certainly easier said than done, and most of the time those who say it are the ones in upper-management who have the luxury of working the least.
The no-frills lifestyle, the endless discussion among fellow salesmen about this prospective customer or that, the sound of hearing someone say “no” for the tenth time; all of these things I could relate to and all of these things are well portrayed in this classic documentary.
At one point, an executive of the bible company states that when it comes to his publications, “…you aren’t just selling a product, you are doing a good service and helping people.” Wow, I have certainly heard this before and numerous sales books mention the subtle technique of removing the thought of sales from the minds of both salesmen and clients.
No matter what your product or service may be, it’s never about just buying and selling. Car salesmen are trained to invoke the emotions of shoppers as they help them envision the prestige they’ll receive after being seen in a new car. Health club membership salesmen try to sell a lifestyle change based around fitness, not just access to a treadmill and the examples go on and on.
In the end, Salesman offers an amazing glimpse of one of the toughest jobs around. It is not easy to convince someone to part with their hard earned cash, because in doing so you, as a complete stranger, must first win their trust.
I’d recommend this film strongly to anyone interested in the field of sales whether you’ve worked in it or not. You’ll learn something one way or another and maybe you’ll even be just a little kinder to the next person who comes knocking on your door asking for a minute of your time.
You see, the salesmen portrayed in this film aren’t out to do you any harm; they have families to care for and they simply wish to make a decent living. That’s not easy, then or now, but regardless they try and try again. One salesman in particular who wasn’t doing so well knew the importance of motivation and persistence. “You’ve got to get out there and push, push, push, push, push. Once you’ve lose that push, you’ve had it.”
Salesman is available for rent from Netflix (that’s where I got it) and if you want to check out the trailer, it’s posted below.