From Mad Men to today: The evolution of sales


If you’re not familiar with the “draping” meme, it’s when a person replicates Don Draper’s iconic pose from the Mad Men title sequence. A photo session at the office lead into everyone donning Draper’s pose, which in turn lead into our graphic designer turning those shots into silhouettes, following the visual style of the original intro. Just a bit of fun around the office. This bit of fun, however, got us thinking about all the ways sales has — and hasn’t — changed since the swinging decade. Apart from the rampant alcoholism and chauvinism, of course.

For the purposes of our final point, let’s start with what has changed over the decades.


This one is obvious. From a business perspective this means less secretaries and more direct contact. The salesman is always available with a push of a button or a swipe of the screen, no more “I’ll have my office contact your office”. In a sales meeting, modern technology has done away with flip boards and the rapidly obsolete printed catalogues. Digital sales tools mean that a salesperson’s briefcase is no longer a back breaker.


Today’s client knows more. Numbers and hard facts weigh more than ever before. The prospect now expects a proposal with quantifiable ways to measure savings and profits and they expect the salesperson to back those numbers with facts.

There's less time

The rapidly globalizing market has brought the world together, making everyone your competition. Mobile technology has made everyone available any time, anywhere. We are all constantly pushed to be more efficient, taking on more tasks and wearing more proverbial hats. This means that most salespeople don’t have the time or the resources to schmooze and booze clients for hours on a Tuesday afternoon. They’ve got emails to write, phone calls to take and presentations to make. The same goes for the client. They want the salesperson to make their case then and there and go about their business in less than an hour. “It was nice to meet you, I’ll send you the proposal by the end of the week.” Now where did I park?


Most salespeople don’t have don a perfectly draped suit to sales meetings any more. Gone are the days of Misters and Sirs. Letters have been replaced by hastily written emails and cocktails at the club by a phone call on the drive home. None of us have the time or the energy for the unnecessary pomp and circumstance. For better or worse, the informality of the 21st century has made us more familiar and relaxed when conducting business.


With all that being said, there's a lot that hasn't changed over the years


The Relationship

This. The most important thing in sales is still the relationship you have with the client, bar none. You’re far more likely to make a sale if the client isn’t a 100% convinced about the product yet, but trusts you as a person, than if they’re sure about the product but not so much about you.

The Face-to-Face

Would you buy a 100 000 $ truck or 50 000 $ worth of software licences from a guy over the phone? I didn’t think so. Yes, new technology allows us to show accurate projections, quantifiable data and snazzy presentations, but if you won’t come to meet me and look me in the eye, I probably won’t trust you. Simple as that.

The Tip-of-the-Hat

The little things. Taking your prospective client to lunch. Sending your clients modest gifts in December. The courtesy call after deployment. No matter what the business is, the client wants to know that they are more than just a commission. Sure, looking at Mad Men, you’d think that entails a two-day bender with prostitutes and a preposterous quantity of booze, but while the times have indeed changed, the gesture is still just as important.

Getting the Client

What the client needs and what the client wants aren’t always the same thing. A good salesperson can identify the client’s challenges and offer the best products or services to tackle them. Nowadays a salesperson is more consultative, not pushy. Their job is not to tell the client what they should do, but rather to offer them solutions to challenges the client didn’t necessarily identify themselves.

So, what am I trying to say here? While much has changed in sales since the days of Draper, the core of what makes a good salesperson remains the same. Understanding your client, building a relationship on trust, appreciating the client and, most importantly, making the sale. The environment in which a salesperson does these things has certainly changed a lot, as have the tools at their disposal but the goal itself, and the checkpoints on the way, remain unchanged.

Lauri Ruhala