On Sales Resistance

Throughout recent years, a vast amount of money and time and brains has been employed in overcoming sales resistance, i.e. in inducing unoffending persons to waste their money in purchasing objects which they had no desire to possess. It is characteristic of our age that this sort of thing is considered meritorious: lectures are given on salesmanship, and those who possess the art are highly rewarded. Yet, if a moment's consideration is given to the matter, it is clear that the activity is a noxious one which does more harm than good. Some hard-working professional man, for example, who has been saving up with a view to giving his family a pleasant summer holiday, is beset in a weak moment by a highly trained bandit who wants to sell him a grand piano. He points out that that he has no room large enough to house it, but the bandit shows that, by knocking down a bit of wall, the tail of the piano can be made to project from the living room into the best bedroom. Paterfamilias says that he and his wife do not play the piano and his oldest daughter has only just begun to learn scales. ``The very reason why you should buy my piano'' says the bandit. ``On ordinary pianos scales may be tiresome, but on mine they have all the depth of the most exquisite melody.'' The harassed householder mentions that he has an engagement and cannot stay any longer. The bandit threatens to come again next day; so, in despair, the victim gives way and his children have to forgo their seaside holiday, while his wife's complaints are a sauce to every meal throughout the summer.

In return for all this misery, the salesman has a mere commission and the man whose piano is being sold obtains whatever percentage of the price presents his profits. Yet, both are thought to have deserved well of their country since their enterprise is supposed to be good for business.

All this topsy-turvydom is due to the fact that everything economic is looked upon from the standpoint of the producer rather than of the consumer. In former times, it was thought that bread is baked in order to be eaten; nowadays we think that it is eaten in order to be baked. When we spend money, we are expected to do so not with a view to our enjoyment of what we purchase but to enrich those who have manufactured it. Since the greatest of virtues is business skill and since skill is shown in making people buy what they don't want rather than what they do, the man who is most respected is the one who has caused the most pain to purchasers. All this is connected with a quite elementary mistake, namely, failure to realise that what a man spends in one direction he has to save in another so that bullying is not likely to increase his total expenditure. But partly also it is connected with the notion that a man's working hours are the only important part of his life and that what he does with the rest of his time is unimportant unless it affects other men's working hours. A few clergymen, it is true, speak of the American home and the joys of family life, but that is regarded merely as their professional talk, against which a very considerable sales resistance has grown up. And so everything is done for the sake of something else. We make money not in order to enjoy what it provides but in order that in spending it we may enable others to make money which they will spend in enabling yet others to make money which.... But the end of this is bedlam.

22 June 1932