Sales, or the activity of selling, forms an integral part of commercial activity. As a practical implementation of marketing, it often forms a separate grouping in a corporate structure, employing separate specialist operatives known as salesmen (singular: salesman or salesperson).
It is not too extreme to say that virtually every good or service enjoyed by a resident of the planet (except for those created by an individual for their own use) comes to that individual through the efforts of a "salesman." Some medium of exchange is usually employed to transfer the ownership of the item (money, land, livestock, beads, slaves etc) have all been media of exchange in various cultures at various times. The successful communication of the necessary information that encourages an individual to make a purchase is the responsibility of the sales person or the sales engine (e.g. internet, vending machine etc). Because of the natural reluctance of human beings to part company with something they currently own in exchange for something that MIGHT make their life better, the role of the salesman is often linked with excessive behavior and overstatement of product characteristics.
Because the primary function of sales is to find and close leads, turning propective customers into actual ones.
Moral strictures applied to marketeers often apply even more vigorously to those in sales. People selling second-hand cars, real estate or encyclopedias (of the non-Wikipedia variety) often come in for particular disdain. Sellers of snake oil have become stock figures for mirth at their quackery: they merge with the category of the confidence trickster or the carny.
The propensity of certain types of salespeople to treat customers badly can be attributed to greed, ignorance and game theory. Game theory says that if you play a zero-sum interaction only once without iteration, treating your customer as an adversary is the optimal strategy for your success. However a cooperative strategy such as tit-for-tat is best if ongoing dealings and interactions are expected. This insight is behind so-called consultative sales techniques which are used by Saturn to sell cars, as well as for most direct Business-to-Business sales.
Forms of selling include:
- Direct Sales - involving face-to-face contact
- retail or consumer
- door-to-door or travelling
- Indirect - human-mediated but with direct contact
- telephone or telesales
- web B2B, B2C
- sales agents (real estate, manufacturing)