A History of 21 Sales Methodologies [Infographic]

Leslie Ye
Leslie Ye



In 1923, the Ford Motor Company’s sales training manuals included this line:

“Sell the vehicle according to the shape of the prospect’s head. High foreheads leave room for larger development and indicate people who are less likely to resist new ideas.”

Yes, seriously.

Over a decade later, Dale Carnegie penned his still-popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the classic tome on relationship selling.

Thankfully, only one of these sales methodologies is still taken seriously today.

While the phrenology-based “Science of Selling” theory pioneered by Grant Nablo and adopted by Ford has fallen by the wayside, it’s not the only sales methodology from years past that demonstrates how far we’ve come today.

Barrier selling, practiced in the 1940s, is a sales questioning technique where reps asked prospects leading questions that could only be answered with “yes.” For example, a rep could ask, “You want your child to have the best education possible, right?”

Today, selling is much less manipulative. Consultative selling (also known as SPIN selling), first introduced in 1988, emphasizes asking questions that turn a rep into a consultant, not just a middleman. And Solutions Selling, created in 2000, requires salespeople to formulate a mutually agreeable solution with their prospects for a “win-win” outcome.

These five sales methodologies are far from the only schools of thought that have been created around sales. The infographic below from HireVue outlines 16 additional theories of selling that have been practiced since the 1800s, from Needs Satisfaction Selling, pioneered by Xerox, and Challenger selling, introduced by the Corporate Executive Board. Click the infographic for a larger version.


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