Why is it that when we look at the story of selling there is so much focus on American icons and what on earth does Benjamin Franklin have to do with how we sell today?
Benjamin Franklin is known for many things from being an inventor and scientist, a politician and activist, to a founder of America as we know it today – to, well yes, standing in a thunderstorm flying a kite to prove that electricity did exist.
Nowadays we would probably just call him eccentric, but what old Benji did for sales back in the day, made a significant contribution to sales as we know and practice it in the 21st century.
In 1752 he founded the first American Insurance Company – with their sole product being fire insurance as, oddly enough, things caught on fire quite often in those days! (He also founded the first fire department, very clever guy our Benji) *
The business operated very simply. A salesperson (or ‘rep’) would meet with the client and conclude the transaction for a fire insurance policy, the same person who sold the fire insurance would then go from customer to customer to collect their premiums every month.
This proved to be a lucrative business and eventually so many fire insurance policies had been sold that the salespeople were now spending all of their time collecting the premiums and not selling fire insurance to new customers.
A Small Problem – To remedy this, Benjamin proceeded to do something utterly unique. He split his sales force into two, the first division would be tasked with finding new customers and selling the insurance – these people would be called hunters, and the second division would be tasked with collecting the monthly premiums and ensuring that the customers were happy and looked after – these people would be called farmers.
And this is how the terms ‘hunter’ and ‘farmer’ were introduced to sales by this legendary man in the mid 1700’s – and, what’s more – we all still use these terms today.
Something else that Benjamin also brought to us today is known as the ‘balance sheet close’ or the Ben Franklin close, in which the salesperson and the potential prospect build together a pros-and-cons list of whether to buy the product/service – the salesperson obviously doing his best to ensure that the list of pros is longer than the list of cons. He knew then what many have forgotten today, and that is that sales is a logical process best embarked on with your customers participation and collaboration.
*In 1736 Benjamin Franklin co-founded the Union Fire Company, also known as the “Bucket Brigade”. It was the first formally organized all volunteer fire company in the colonies.
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