What is the Doctrine of American Salesmanship?

The American Theory of Selling states that the salesperson closes the sale.

The American doctrine of selling or salesmanship says that ‘the salesperson‘ NOT ‘the customer‘ closes the sale.

This old-fashioned strategy of selling has caused many grievous problems in the marketplace. It is not only counter-productive for shareholders but also is a flawed strategy as it is unscientific because there is no evidence to support the theory.

Because it has a religious door-to-door, bible-selling provenance it is called the American Theory. I have called it oldsell. The bottom line is: oldsell sucks!


“……And finally I’d like to thank my 5 brothers, 4 sisters, 3 uncles, 2 aunts, 23 nephews and nieces and 37 cousins.”

Currently, big banks in Australia are being criticised for their oldsell tactics with their salesperson ‘closing-the-sale’ manipulation training and a range of oldsell deceptions including grave-stoning and false advice.

There is even a Royal Commission into the oldsell culture, something that would never happen in America!

FACT: Bank leadership has spent millions of Australian dollars on importing the American Doctrine into Australia in the form of sales training, compensation and motivation programs, meetings and Amway-style evangelical, sales conventions.

Customers hate oldsell. Families, friends and strangers hate being the target of oldsell importuning and dodgy bullying tactics.

Yet, oldsell has been around for quite a while. It was first written about in the 1920s. Oldsell is a recognised part of the culture by the word-of-mouth spreading of salesman’s jokes and reflected in the arts with the tragedy of Willy Loman’s neurosis in Miller’s Death of a Salesman and in Broadway plays like Glengarry Glen Ross, TV binge-worthies like Billions and widely-acclaimed movies like Tin Men, Wolf of Wall Street and Sorentino’s epic Loro.

But my favourite is this classic scene in Woody Allen‘s movie Take The Money and Run where the ultimate punishment in prison is to be put in solitary confinement … with an insurance salesman …

Of course, everyone in the movie audience gets the joke. In 2016, I played this clip to an audience of senior insurance managers at a sales conference in Japan and they all laughed, too. So, I challenged them, “Why are you laughing! This is YOUR profession you are laughing at!”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

This Yankee carpet-bagger strategy has proven very costly to shareholders because it is difficult to recruit, to teach, to manage and to retain salespeople using this strategy. In America 80% of salespeople get only 20% of sales using this method. Most salespeople fail and leave the profession. This is very costly to shareholders and gives the sales profession a very poor reputation.

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The American method is also costly to shareholders because it is difficult to gain and retain satisfied and loyal customers using this pre-social media method. Why? Because customers do not like this strategy and they tell their friends by word-of-mouth and so brands and reputations become damaged at great expense to the shareholders.

For example, recently the CEO of a major Australian bank had to apologise to the Parliament of Australia for how badly its sales culture has been mistreating Australian customers. Mr Ian Narev, CEO of the CBA apologised by saying,

I have said before how sorry I am for the pain that we have caused them. I say so again today. Our goal is to uncover any cases where the customer has not had the right experience and to put it right. We understand we need to be fair and seen to be fair. We have done wrong by some customers in that business (Comminsure) and our other businesses.

Yet, at AUD$12million annual compensation for his efforts Mr Narev was the highest paid bank boss in Australia.

American salesmanship is about winners and losers. It’s a zero sum game. Although many Australian businesses have imported American sales training “close-the-sale” methods into their culture there is plenty of evidence to show that Australian customers prefer win/win to win/lose strategies.

In Australia, customers widely reject the ploys and tricks and games that salespeople play using the American method of “closing the sale”.

What it is further off-putting is that books on the American method have a strong evangelistic subtext (convert the sinner/close the sale) written by American preachers such as Zig Ziglar, Norman Vincent Peale and others and the method is often taught at revival-style, rah-rah meetings.

Most notorious are those accused of being pyramid-like schemes such as Amway and Herbalife. Oldsell, in America, has even been voted into the White House!

However, Australian customers have made their preferences clear. In dozens of Gallup Polls and many other polls conducted annually (since 1980) customers have rated American-style sales practitioners at the bottom of all the various professions in terms of professional and ethical practices.

I have called this American Theory of Selling “OLDSELL” and have written at length both about the theory and practise of selling in a range of books over the last 30 years (eg NewSell (1984) and WOMBAT SELLING: how to sell by word of mouth (2006).

While many CEOs have indeed switched to newsell many, many more are still stuck with oldsell. Their customers are still punishing them for it by word-of-mouth and defection to competitive brands.

Image of Professions 2017 – (note bottom four lowest ratings)

Image of Professions 2017


How can you tell if a sales culture is dominated by OLDSELL?

One straightforward way you can discern the kind of sales culture that exists in a business is by recording the question habitually asked by the sales manager of the salesperson.

If, whenever a salesperson returns from a customer visit, the sales manager always asks, “Did you get the deal?” or “Did you close the sale?” etc then the focus of the salesperson is cued on the deal rather than on the customer … aka OLDSELL!

There is an alternative strategy that works ten times better than oldsell. Here the sales manager always asks, “Did you serve the customer?” or “Did you escape from uncheck?”

It is called NEWSELL.


Oldsell references:

Close That Sale!: The 24 Best Sales Closing Techniques Ever Discovered

The Secrets of Closing the Sale

The Sales Bible

Close the Deal

Tom Hopkins 16 Power Closes

Trump: The Art of the Deal

Newsell references:

The NewSell Switch (2015)

WOMBAT SELLING: how to sell by word of mouth (2006) 

The X10 Memeplex: multiply your business by 10! (2000)  

SELL: the lateral thinkers’ guide to selling and leadership (1993) 

NewSell Australia (1990) 

How To Sell Without Working (1990) 

NewSell America (1984)


2 thoughts on “What is the Doctrine of American Salesmanship?

  1. Having been in sales for 40+ years now, much of it in insurance sales, I’ve come to realise that Michael has got it right. We were taught how to sell and very effectively. But it was by pressure tactics. In one example, so-called closing techniques stated that after the salesperson made his presentation and his close he should SHUT UP. From that it was deduced that the first person who speaks loses. This meant that if the client/prospective one spoke he lost – that is he bought!! How is that a loss and what did that manipulative tactic make the new salesperson think of selling?

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