Did You Know?
by Ken Carr
The Birth of Modern Salesmanship ----Part 1.
the selling force of the National Cash Register Company, when John H. Patterson purchased it in 1884, consisted of five discouraged and disorganized men. It was their job to sell a crude product which nobody seemed to want.
The life of an NCR salesman was dangerous as well as disappointing. Clerks resented this “new cash register thing” and even more so the men trying to sell them. If the clerks were honest, they viewed the cash register as an insult to their integrity. If they were dishonest, the machine threatened to end their lucrative pilfering of the cash drawer. Either way, the NCR salesman was unwelcomed. They were often verbally confronted and sometimes even physically abused by irate clerks. It was therefore not surprising that the open NCR cash register sales positions were not highly sought after.
Even more discouraging was the attitude of most of the retail merchants, which was much like the Eskimo being pressured to buy an air conditioner. The present method was good enough. For centuries an old cash drawer had served them well. Why spent $100, a sizable some in 1884, for a gadget which was likely to just incite their employees.
Yet, Patterson was convinced that he knew what was good for both merchants and clerks even if they didn’t. He learned about the cash register the hard way when he purchased two machines for his little general store in Coalton, Ohio. The store had been struggling to break even and almost immediately with the cash registers, the store began to show a profit. Convinced he was on to something, shortly thereafter he purchased NCR.
The problem in 1884 was double edged. First, Patterson had to break down the prejudice against the cash register so that his salesmen could at least get a foot in the door. Second, he had to develop a selling plan that would convince his prospective customers that the cash register would become the cornerstone of their successful retailing operation.
As his initial step toward the first objective, he turned himself into a writer, editor and publisher. Working under the theory that the best way to tear down a prejudice was to confront it over and over and over, he began to bombard merchants with the most effective advertising of its day. A typical advertising sheet showed, in cartoon form, a merchant in the poorhouse holding an empty old fashion cash drawer. By contrast, the user of a National cash register was shown lounging in a luxurious parlor smoking an expensive Cuban cigar and dreaming of his cash register while being attended to by servants. While this type of advertising today would bring more laughs than customers, it succeeded in planting a tiny seed of interest in the mind of many, many merchants. And Patterson reinforced that seed with one additional mailing after another. In fact he sent so many circulars that some merchants automatically threw into the waste can any mail received from NCR. To counter this Patterson immediately began sending out advertisement in plain envelopes.
To tackle the second problem, a Selling Plan, Patterson turned to Joseph H. Crane one of his harried salesmen who just happened to also be his brother-in law. Mr. Crane had managed to sell more registers than any other salesman and when he returned from one of his selling trips, Mr. Patterson asked him about his selling secret. Crane replied, “I’ve worked a selling talk.” Patterson asked Crane to give the presentation and to try selling him a cash register When Crane was finished, Patterson was impressed. It was the best summary of the cash register’s advantages he had ever heard. Crane was ask to give the talk again to Mr. Patterson’s brother Frank and as the talk was given to Frank; a stenographer sat in an adjacent room transcribing the talk word for word. Patterson rushed Crane’s talk to a printer and before long ever man in the NCR selling force had a paperback book called, “The NCR Primer-How I sell a Cash Register,” by Joseph H. Crane. This little book is believed to have been the first “canned” sales talk in America and also the first sales manual ever published. Crane had unwittingly become a pioneer author in what the world would later recognize as “The Science Salesmanship.”
John H. Patterson mean while embarked on a series of salesmanship “firsts” that probably has never been equaled . We’ll discuss those “firsts” in Part 2.