…for a salesman, there is no rock bottom in life……he’s a man out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine…..
Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s, Death of a salesman (1948).
The article written by Roy Church entitled “Salesmen and the transformation of selling in Britain and the US in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (Economic History Review, 61, 3 (2008), pp. 695-725) unintentionally provides a partial explanation for the world economic problems of today. In this paper, my focus will be restricted to the US and Britain.
In the article, Church highlights the “transformation of selling” in the US and Britain between the 1880s and 1930, but he further explains that unlike the US, Britain’s transformation in selling was not due to “a structural model in which the dynamics are mass production, size, corporate structure, and strategy”, but “consumer theory based on product characteristics and consumer behavior provides a superior explanation”. Church further points out that the historians of the industrial revolution in Britain “accorded considerable attention to selling by the small and medium-sized owner-managed enterprises typical of the period between 1750 and 1850 when typically the founder-entrepreneur or family members fulfilled all the roles of financier, accountant, production and human resources manager, and salesman”.
Moreover in his article, he further compares and contrasts the British and American selling techniques from the 1870s to around the beginning of World War I. In so doing, he cites some very interesting examples, i.e. Lever Brothers, Burroughs Wellcome, Beef and Iron Wine, and so on. In marketing terms, one could say that over the years the US employed a “top-down approach” where product is pushed down on the customers while the British used more of a “bottom-up strategy” where the customer bought product on the basis of its characteristics and consumer preference. In either case, the outcome resulted in an overall increase in sales and a reduction in manufacturing in general.
In both countries, the transformation in selling over time led to a decline in on-shore manufacturing. From the end of World War II to the middle of the 1970’s, the US and Britain dramatically increased the service sectors of their economies. I remember my first experience in graduate school when Peter Drucker told our class that the US would soon become a service economy. I have to admit that I was baffled by his statement. It was inconceivable to me how a country the size of the United States was going to be a service economy much like Switzerland. Just exactly how was that supposed to work?
It turned out that my doubt was satisfied by the transformation of selling because after the elections of Reagan and Thatcher, regulations which were enacted during the Great Depression were more or less put on hold. By the middle of the 1980s, the US and Britain were basically service economies which meant that the commercial banks, the investment banks, and the insurance companies grew by enormous proportions. Due to the counter-party aspect of the world financial community, world banking integration became inevitable through the ever increasing globalization effort.
Inherently, these types of companies are nothing more than selling organizations. They’re intermediaries of money. Their job is to sell as much product (money) as possible. The transformation of selling became even more enhanced with the advent of the asset backed derivative (Collateralized Debt Obligation) which afforded lending organizations the opportunity to make even more loans. Eventually and unfortunately, this particular derivative replaced common sense! Mortgages would originate in America or Britain and they would bundle them and sell them to finacial organizations around the world in the form of asset backed securities. Moreover in an effort to increase the so-called standard of living of their citizens, the governments of the US and Britain encouraged and prodded their financial organizations to provide easy credit (more so in the US than Britain) to unworthy barrowers for mortgages as well as consumption, and all this took place within the transformation of selling mortgages, credit card purchases, automobiles, and so on. Granted, the transformations of selling have changed enormously in Britain and the US since the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the fact still remains that consistant with both countries the actual sale is still based either on a “top-down approach” as in the case of the US or a “bottom-up strategy” as in the case of Great Britain. Unfortunately, our current dilemma is summed up at the end of the day by the regrettable fact that easy credit became the catalyst for an easy sale in both nations!