The Art and Science of Selling

Older readers will remember the adverts that began with a doorbell: “Ding Dong” and will immediately respond: “Avon calling”.  The point of the advert was to soften up the viewers for the “Avon Lady”, when she called.  How many have even noticed that practitioners of the art and science of selling on the doorstep have disappeared?  Very few people these days sell from door to door.

It seems doorstep selling began with the Fuller Brush Company in the United States.  They were the origin of the term “foot-in-the-door”.  Many companies, including Avon Cosmetics, copied the Fuller Brush Company and it seems a good salesperson was often a welcome visitor, building long-term relationships with their customers.  However, the current image is of the brash salesperson who will not take no for an answer.  Where have they gone?

It seems it’s the Internet what’s done for them!  Whether this is a blessing or a curse probably depends on whether you believe Internet sales are better or worse than doorstep sales!

Daniel Pink in his book “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading Convincing and Influencing Others” (subtitle from 2014 edition) charts the decline of doorstep selling and the surprising rise of selling in general.  His point is not that Internet sales have usurped the place of doorstep sales but that we are all salespeople now.  Or most of us!

His argument is other changes apart from the rise of the Internet mean we are all practitioners of the art and science of selling now.  He highlights three trends that have led to this change.  The archetypal doorstep salesperson has given way to the professional who incorporates selling into their daily work and perhaps is not aware they are doing so.  I suppose it depends on how you think about your work.  I’ll mention his three main trends here and comment on how they relate to the local economy.


Every local business is dependent on selling its product service or cause.  This is most obvious with retailers perhaps but there are plenty of self-employed freelancers who must learn how to sell.

The self-employed, who abandon employment to sell their skills and knowledge, are sometimes called the precariat.  Many are not very good at sales and barely cover their costs.  Many are not successful and either change their practice until they find something that works or go under.

The problem for many entrepreneurs is believing what they offer has real social value.  It is hard to sell something you don’t believe in.  Their failure to believe in their own offer does not necessarily correlate with what they offer.  For every brash salesperson selling something over-hyped there is the too timid entrepreneur who never quite convinces about something that is really rather good!

Successful businesses usually find a business community who offer support and bolster confidence to sell.  Whilst some businesses could benefit from a healthy dose of brashness, perhaps it is quiet confidence in a good product or service that ultimately wins out.  And perhaps many businesses would benefit from other businesses singing their praises!

Selling in the Community

Community and voluntary organisations are often in a similar place to local businesses.  They may be selling a cause and so they are not necessarily seeking finance but they are still engaged in sales.  Perhaps the main difference between these organisations and local businesses is that usually, they are not dependent on the success of their enterprise.  People promoting a local cause will often do so in their spare time, whilst remaining in employment.

Leaving aside possible clashes with their employers over the cause they promote, the primary difference may be lack of experience.  Many will think of their selling as promoting a cause or campaigning and do not associate it with the marketing local businesses do.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of common ground and perhaps mutual recognition and sympathy would lead to more collaboration.  Businesses may be able to help organisations with marketing, whilst some community organisations may have valuable local knowledge.

Elastic Businesses

Entrepreneurs can find they are marketing alongside representatives from more established businesses.  These are not from the sales department because many larger businesses have done away with their sales departments, flattened hierarchies and declared that everyone is responsible for sales.  Many workers find their role stretches to cover far more than they would in the past and everyone has some role in promoting their company.

Selling through your role in your business is increasingly your responsibility.  If in promoting your role, you bring more customers to the business it is all to the good.

Many workers are waking up to the fact that they belong to a community.  It may be local, perhaps a city or region or it may be online.  They are part of a community, customers and collaborators who may bring customers to the company.  The challenge is to navigate the sea of people who seem to be creative on a shoestring.  Building relationships with entrepreneurs, third sector and in business, can bring greater benefits to larger companies.

Education and Medicine

Pink’s point here is that not all selling involves money.  The aim is to persuade others to take a course of action for their own benefit.  So, a teacher needs to sell learning to their pupils or students.  A doctor needs to persuade patients to change their diet to help them return to health.

By extension just about any activity needs a sales approach.  Community and voluntary organisations often find they are marketing a cause.   They may want donations or time or members or signatures or letters to MPs.  How do they move people to support their cause?

Sample Cases

After he makes the case that selling is a natural part of being human, Pink goes on to show how it can be done.  This is the best part of the book, as Pink describes the characteristics of a good salesperson and suggests practical exercises to improve their approach to sales.

Sample Cases follow each chapter, practical things anyone can take up and use.  So, this is essentially a practical book packed with simple tools anyone can use.  I suspect it is something I shall return to many times.

If you are active in local marketing you will find this book a useful practical guide to the art of selling.

Are you comfortable with being a salesperson?  If you are in any business or profession, you are almost certainly expected to sell things.  How do you go about it?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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