Can you train a man to sell as one would train a parrot? Sales advice from 1927


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Sales Lessons from 1927Recently I was sorting through a pile of books that had belonged to my grandmother, and I came across a little gem: a book of lectures on salesmanship published in 1927. The author of the book, William G. Fern, was apparently a motivational speaker in his day and had previously published books with great titles including: Marvels of Will Power, Developing Man Power, and, my favourite, Are You Upward Bound?

This book opened a door onto the world of salesmanship in Britain in an era in which it was “somewhat infra dig to talk about salespeople; you call them ‘commercial travelers.'” Indeed, The Master Salesman was published in the same year that saw the first transatlantic phone call from New York to London. Selling and attitudes toward selling in 1927 Britain were very different:

“My bank friend says, ‘Well, I think salesmanship is absolutely unnecessary in a bank.” That is the trouble with banks, insurance companies, and civil servants, for they all think in the same way, to a large degree, that selling does not affect them; someday, sometime, somebody will wake them up.”

Although perhaps some things haven’t really changed:

“A lot of people expect sales without building up confidence first. Lots of people want orders before they have done anything to establish confidence.”

William Fern was not afraid to share his opinions, and, from the tone of his lectures, he certainly didn’t lack confidence himself. Here are some of my favourite nuggets of Fern wisdom:

  • “Appreciate yourself. The most successful marriage belongs to the man who is wise enough to sell himself every day to his wife. So you have to build appreciation, because what is the successful marriage but passing out your good points to the one who matters?

“I have been able to analyse quite a lot of people and quite a number of marriages. I know this, that successful marriages always happen to the women who are wise enough to say, ‘By Jove, yes, splendid, you did that remarkably well.’ ‘Yes, my dear.'”

  • “If a man wants a car, do not try to sell him butter.”
  • “You will find that the average traveller (salesperson) thinks he has done all his duty when he has shown the samples in his bag, in an endeavour to get business; the result is that he keeps on travelling. That is one reason why some people in this country cannot, or do not, sell goods—because they think it is only necessary to travel and not to sell.”
  • “Do you know why we cannot find salesmen in this country? Because many have ‘wishbones’ instead of ‘backbones.'”
  • “We are all salespeople; please do not advertise the fact that we are not. We all have something to sell; please accept that fact. If the people of England would accept the fact that we are all salespeople, the sooner we would succeed.”
  • “Get up every morning and say, ‘I am a man of action.'”
  • “The English are the hardest sales resisting people in the world. To sell in this country is a great task, and there is an increasing need for people who can sell. Americans come over here and give it up in disgust.”

But what of our title? Did William Fern really believe that you can train a man to sell as one would train a parrot?I’ll let him have the final word:

“Unfortunately for those so misguided, the buyer is always a variable.”

Do Fern’s lessons hold true today? Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on social media.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Holly Gage
Holly works for The Forum Corporation in London as the Marketing Director, EMEA. She has been with Forum for seven years, during which time she has also worked in Singapore where she was also responsible for marketing across Asia-Pacific.


  1. It does take action to sell…by being a man of action it almost a call for duty. Selling yourself to the wife every day is my favorite quote, and to me it does make sense.

  2. "If a man wants a car, do not try to sell him butter.” This quotation has inspired me to be more sincere in my current marketing job.

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