When I was a kid my father’s left arm was very tan by July 4th of every summer. He drove the roads of Missouri and Iowa throughout the week and his left arm tanned as it rested on the open window of the Chevrolet while he steered with his right. He was a traveling salesman.
For the thousands of men that returned from World War II, being a salesman was a notch above working a factory job. It was not quite a profession, but you wore a suit and tie every day, you could purchase your own home and support your family.
But by the 1970s, the nation’s perception of the salesman turned into something less noble. You became a salesman if nothing else worked out. To a whole generation, the word “salesman” invoked an image of an unctuous guy selling products that he didn’t believe in; or it was someone who had “sold out.”
Now that we are in the post-Internet age, sales departments have become even more marginalized. After all who needs a salesperson when you have social media, artificial intelligence and big data?
The answer to that question at American Piping Products is that we not only need them, we recruit them and we hold them in the highest esteem. We aren’t luddites at APP – we believe in the value of data and technology. However, we also believe that our customers want to communicate with knowledgeable and pleasant salespeople.
Attracting and recruiting great salespeople isn’t easy today. In a world where everyone is rewarded with an attendance trophy, it is difficult to find people who can hear “no” all day, then get up the next day with a smile on their face. However, if an organization searches in the correct places, develops training and equitable compensation packages, then the company is more likely to connect with young people who will trade the rigors of sales for the rewards. Ask any good salesperson and they will tell you there are few thrills in life greater than landing a big order.
So what will become of the living and breathing salesperson? Will AI eventually replace the human salesperson? I certainly hope not. Our world needs more human interaction, not less. Person-to-person sales relationships are real opportunities for two people from diverse backgrounds to have a meaningful interaction. Salespeople and their customers accomplish more with one order than many people do in a week’s worth of social media posts.
Remember what Thomas J Watson, the legendary leader of IBM, said: “Nothing happens in business until something gets sold.” Al Rheinnecker has been the CEO of St. Louis-based American Piping since 2001. He entered the steel pipe industry in 1979 with Callier Steel