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Quest for "The World's Greatest Salesperson"

By ClientWise | March 30, 2010

David Ogilvy is one of the icons of advertising. He is also the quintessential salesperson.

He began his career in the 1930's in Scotland, selling stoves door-to-door. Ogilvy got his start in sales by persuading middle-class Scottish matrons to buy pricey Aga Cookers, during the midst of the Depression. His selling proficiency was such that Aga asked him to write a sales manual, which Fortune magazine called "probably the best sales manual ever written." Among its suggestions, "The more prospects you talk to, the more sales you expose yourself to, the more orders you will get. But never mistake quantity of calls for quality of salesmanship." [Here's a link to the manual.]

Soon enough he gravitated to Madison Avenue, where he founded Ogilvy & Mather. His firm was predicated on the belief that the function of advertising was to sell, and that successful advertising for any product is based upon information about its consumer. When David Ogilvy retired in 1973, he was known as "the Father of Advertising."

In a brilliant attention-grabbing maneuver, OgilvyOne Worldwide (the modern-day version of David Ogilvy's original firm) has created a contest that celebrates selling, entitled, "The Search for the World's Greatest Salesperson." The premise of the contest is straightforward. To create a level playing field, all contestants must submit a YouTube presentation/performance that sells just one thing...one red brick.

No sales experience is required to enter. The winner will be awarded a three-month fellowship at OgilvyOne, where they will help write a guide to selling in the 21st century. Contest deadline is May 16th, 2010.

It is interesting to hear the executives at Ogilvy describe the factors whereby they created this contest. Says Rory Sutherland, vice chairman at Ogilvy & Mather, "There's an interesting case to be made that advertising has strayed too far from the business of salesmanship, which is unfortunate because it can be a good test of how well you understand people and your creativity."

Parallels to Financial Services
As one who has been in the financial services business for 29 years now (Yikes!), it has been intriguing to witness the growing de-emphasis on the role of "sales" in our profession. In the '70's and '80's, during the era of stockbrokers buying-and-selling, full-on salesmanship was a recognized skill set. As the transactional nature of our business has yielded to a more holistic wealth advisory model, the role of sales has become less clear. Indeed, most financial advisors today would recoil at being described as "just a salesperson."

Nonetheless, if one considers selling to be a "systematic process of repetitive and measurable milestones, by which a salesman relates his or her service and product in return enabling the buyer to achieve their goal in an economic way*," it is hard to deny that selling is not a significant success component of today's wealth advisory practice.

* Greening, Jack (1993) Selling Without Confrontation

Topics: Selling

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