Bonus Content

Why Your Grandfather Would Outsell Today’s Salesperson

By John Chapin

With the development of the Internet, social media, and “new” relationship and solution selling techniques, there seems to be a belief that today’s salespeople are superior to those of the past. I don’t necessarily agree—and here are three key factors that give the old guard an advantage over the new guard:

1. Preparation and sales skills
When my dad went for training at IBM in the early 1960s, it was primarily sales training. Yes, he learned the product too, but they made sure he knew everything about selling: getting through the gatekeeper to the decision-maker; presenting the product; overcoming objections; closing; following up; and building solid, long-term relationships. Everything was scripted and role-played until he could recite it all verbatim. Also covered were the important basics such as how to dress, the right way to shake hands, and to pop a breath mint before a sales call while avoiding garlic during the workweek.

These days I am amazed by the lack of sales skills I run into on a daily basis. If I walk into almost any sales meeting and blurt out objections, stalls, and other prospect obstacles, salespeople stall, stammer, and trip over their tongues as if it’s the first time they’re hearing what I’m throwing at them. I even give people objections during the interview just to see what their best response is to something simple like “I can get it cheaper down the street.” If they’ve been in sales for any length of time, they’d better have a good, quick response to that one. Add to that the fact that many salespeople these days seem to be much more lax with dress, manners, and etiquette in general. Knowing how to sell, having a good handshake, and other “basics” should be common sense, but that common sense, which was common decades ago, is more the exception than the rule in today’s selling world.

2. Dedication and commitment
When it comes to dedication and commitment, it’s tough to beat the WW2 generation. They were also tough to beat when it came to living up to promises and their word. People from that generation understood that they had an obligation to their companies, bosses, and families.

One of the biggest issues today is accountability. Decades ago people were responsible enough to hold themselves accountable. My dad would never have considered fudging a call sheet or hiding out in a coffee shop or movie theatre when he was supposed to be out making calls. When it came to another major issue—motivation—simply putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, along with taking care of company, customers, and family, was all the motivation necessary. It didn’t matter how a person felt on a given day, the question was about the obligation and commitment he or she signed up for.

3. Focus on people
The WW II generation would never be accused of being the “me” generation. My dad was the No. 1 sales rep in New England for more than 30 years because, like most people of his generation, his objective was to help and serve other people. Decades ago there was much more of a focus on other people and more of a “the-customer-is-always-right” mentality. While many talk about past salespeople “beating people up” and having “one more close than they had objection,” I find that the best of the best have always sold the right way, with a focus on the other person. And by the way, there is no “new” relationship selling. Even 60 years ago, the best have always focused on the relationship and what’s best for the other person, thinking of themselves, their product, and their company second.

All of the above said, are there hard workers out there today who are committed? Yes. And although I’ll take the work ethic and character traits of someone from the WW2 generation, social media, technology, and new sales ideas are tremendous tools. So let’s imagine the best of both worlds. Start with someone hungry, with a blue-collar mentality, and a thick skin who isn’t afraid to show up early, leave late, and pound the pavement making more calls than anyone else. Combine that with someone who cares about people, studies their craft, and knows their product. Someone who practices, drills, and rehearses their presentation, answers to objections, closes, and anything and everything they’re likely to run into during the day. Finally, add knowledge of social media and technology, using it in a supporting role, in the background, and not as the foundation for their sales efforts. Yes, those people are out there—they just aren’t easy to find. Time to get to work.

Chapin is a sales and motivational speaker and trainer with more than 28 years of sales experience. He is also the author of the 2010 sales book of the year, “Sales Encyclopedia.” Reach him at


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