Sales in the 21st Century

History of Sales

Sales is a very modern profession, an invention of the industrial era, and probably a very American one. Traditionally, before mass transportation and communication, there were tradespeople, not sales people, and their job was discovery. My great-grandfather set sail from the port of Karachi (then part of India) to London a century ago, and brought back with him surplus jackets from the 1st World War, that he sold for a handsome profit back home. The profit was the reward for undertaking a risky journey and making it back. Tradespeople had access to capital and goods that their customers wanted, so all they needed to do was to show up at a marketplace. You still had to position your ware, pick your spot, make strategic sales and adapt, and the skill was to find an opportunity and show up.

The Winning Attitude, past of present? Photo by Razvan Chisu on Unsplash

Relevance in the Information Age

For most simple, consumer products, the customer makes choices based on availability, price and positioning. The role of the sales person has become very limited in such cases. The sales person assumes importance in case of a complex sale

  1. Domain expertise in understanding the complex problems of the customer.
  2. The abilities and limitations of the product being proposed.
  3. The strengths and weakness of alternative solutions.
  4. The viability and fitment of the product for the problem.
  5. The ability of the customer to implement the product.
  6. The model of identifying value / return of investment for the customer.

How Should A Sales Person Spend Time?

To this complex scenarios, apart from spending time communicating with the customer, the sales person should constantly try and increase their knowledge and build a reputation. So here would be the list of activities a sales person might do.

  1. Actively communicate to prospects and understand their problems.
  2. Make notes and proposals.
  3. Design, offer and present solutions.
  4. Help the customer decide and push the process to a resolution.
  5. Monitor projects under delivery or delivered.
  6. Learn about an industry and how it works and under-stand the customer’s persona better.
  7. Analyze each call and identify areas to work on.
  8. Create a bank of standard questions / knowledge base so it can save the time of the customer.
  9. Understand the weaknesses of the product and give structured feedback.
  10. Identify gaps and fill gaps in product documentation.
  11. Analyze the customer journey and help create marketing assets so they customer is better prepared.
  12. Strategize product positioning for a market.
  13. Identify and automate repetitive tasks, such as creating proposals, following up etc.
  14. Build a reputation on social media by creating and sharing insightful stories.
  15. Create systems for structured feedback loops.

How Should Sales People Be Evaluated

Traditionally, sales people have been evaluated on basis of the business they bring in and their compensation is heavily based on targets. This incentivises certain of the above activities, like closing more sales, but is not the holistic approach that can bring agility to a 21st century organization.

  1. Proposals effectively concluded (lost or won).
  2. Successful product deployments.
  3. Structured product feedback.
  4. Structured market intelligence shared.
  5. Contribution to market segmentation, pricing, positioning, strategy.
  6. Contribution to content via articles, case studies, blog and social media posts.
  7. Referrals from existing customers / contacts.
  8. Creation and maintenance of knowledge base.
  9. Creation and maintenance of systems.


With the growing complexity of systems and solutions, sales in the 21st century is an even more complex job. The sales person is someone who is a generalist. Apart from communication, the most important skill of the sales person must be the ability to comprehend and express complex thoughts via writing.



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Rushabh Mehta

Rushabh Mehta

founder, erpnext | the best code is the one that is not written