Proving Theodore Levitt Wrong About Sales

I (Lori Wizdo) am on a plane, flying to San Francisco, to participate in Forrester’s Technology Sales Enablement Forum. As I was prepping for my (limited) role in the event, I had a flashback to one of the most famous disses of the sales profession ever written. 

It’s contained in the 1960’s article "Marketing Myopia”, written by Theodore Levitt, which has become one of the best known and most quoted of Harvard Business Review's articles. The article is essentially about having a business strategy that concentrates on meeting customer needs rather than selling products. A key take away, which most marketing or business school grads remember, is the observation that “had railroad executives seen themselves as being in the transportation business rather than the railroad business, they would have continued to grow.”

However, it is also in this article that Levitt was breathtakingly critical of the sales profession: "Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about." He went on to explain that sales "does not...view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs. The customer is somebody 'out there' who, with proper cunning, can be separated from his or her loose change."

Well, that might have been true then (who I am to disagree with a marketing legend) but it’s definitely not true now – and certainly not in the tech industry. 

Read more