A History of Sales


We sell things everyday: a new idea to our boss, a pitch to our significant other to try the new restaurant down the street, or maybe you’re a parent trying to convince your child to eat peas or go to bed at a reasonable time. Perhaps, your profession is in sales. You may be like our company, Verde Martin, selling a service. Or, you work at a corporation like Target or 3M. Maybe, you own your own small business: a café or an appliance shop. On the other end of the spectrum, we buy things everyday: a cup of coffee in the morning, a stylish new pair of shoes, a dream car after we’ve received a big raise. Whatever the case, we are all in the business of sales. Sales affect us everyday. However, where did sales originate? Who was the first salesperson? Today, most people know very little about the history of sales. The staff at Verde Martin wanted to change this. So, we did some research and found some interesting information on the history of sales. We hope you enjoy.


Selling In Its Earliest Forms

As long as there have been things to sell, there has been a salesperson. People have been selling items in exchange for currency since 200 B.C. when the Roman Empire first introduced currency to the world [1]. Selling is an ancient practice, as humans have had a need to exchange goods for hundreds of years. Names of early salespeople include hawkers, peddlers, traders, carpetbaggers, itinerant merchants and caravans [2]. During the prehistoric era, selling was largely determined by geography. The early salesperson faced harsh climates, conditions and danger to travel routes and sell items. Bartering: the exchange of goods for other goods or services, without using money, was the main form of selling during this time. Selling was prevalent in early civilizations like Egypt, Syria, Babylonia, India, Greece, and Turkey. Common items such as tools, kitchenware and clothing were sold everyday [2]. Furthermore, selling connected distant lands to one another. The Greek caravan trade linked Greece to Asia, with both areas prospering. Early sellers would use markets as well as travel to religious festivals and armies to sell their goods and services. The beginning of worldwide economic expansion began around the 10th century, with more and more opportunities for selling arising. In 1568, the first retail shop was established when the Royal Exchange Shopping Gallery was introduced in the United Kingdom


In America, the Yankee Peddlers was the first direct seller. They carried goods in trunks and sold items such as pins, needles, hooks, scissors, combs, small hardware and perfume. Low-status salespeople walked, whereas those of higher status rode in carriages or on horseback [2]. Selling spread in America, with the aid of immigrants, new roads and the use of waterways.

Advances in Technology

Before the Industrial Revolution, it was very common for one person or family to handle production, selling and marketing. Blacksmiths, farmers and textile workers usually only produced enough for a local geography [3]. However, the Industrial revolution, beginning in 1760 and ending in 1840, changed this. The transition from production by hand to power-driven machines, chemical manufacturing, improved iron and steam production and automated processes drastically increased the output of goods. This led to the hiring of salespeople, whose job was to find more customers to sell the increased amount of goods to. However, these salespeople were allowed to give little feedback to the business, were strictly commission based and therefore often had minimal loyalty to their company or the customer they were selling to [4].

Modern Corporate Selling

Modern corporate selling began after World War II. Since then, there have been many trends and advances that have impacted selling. Beginning in 1950, psychology and attention to the customer became more prevalent in sales. Before, the customer was not a particular focus in the selling process. As long as the right quotas were being met, customers were not strongly considered. This began to change in the 1950’s. Door to door selling remained prevalent but in recent years has seen a sharp decline. Similarly, telemarketing which was introduced in the 1970’a has also decreased. Previously, salespeople were looked down upon and sales was often considered a meager profession. However, with increased competition among firms, the importance of well-trained and educated salespeople has become more and more apparent. Now, more than ever, managers are investing in salespeople to help improve their company [5]. The history of sales is an interesting topic. Spanning hundreds of years, it is one of the oldest professions in the world. We hope you enjoyed learning more about the profession; how it began and how it has transformed over the years.

1. A History of Sales: How It All Began and Where It Is Today by ProMarketing Leads

2. History of Direct Selling by Direct Selling Association

3. An Early History of Selling by Kraig Kleenan

 4. A Brief History of the Sales Environment by Micah Strader and Allen Wysocki

5. The Evolution of Selling by RSVPselling 

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