Lifestyle

The Art of the Sale

Book review: Philip Delves Broughton examines the world of sales, from Tampa to Morocco.

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(Photo: Tristan Kong)

The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life
(Penguin)
Philip Delves Broughton

Selling is one of the most important, and yet one of the most reviled, aspects of business. For each Benjamin Franklin who regards salesmanship as a virtue, there’s an Arthur Miller, who casts the profession as the ultimate in humiliation (see Death of a Salesman). Broughton, a former journalist, began ruminating on this societal ambivalence when he arrived at the Harvard Business School and discovered sales was not on the curriculum. “When I asked one of my Harvard professors to explain it,” writes Broughton, “he told me that if I really wanted to study sales, I could pay for a two-week evening course somewhere.” So the author launched his own examination of the subject, travelling widely to glean tips from some of the world’s best hustlers. The insights themselves aren’t that surprising. A shop owner in Morocco preaches the need for patience, while a man who trains salespeople for high-end retailers says you have to listen to your customers. But the book does serve to rehabilitate the profession’s reputation. The best salespeople, says Broughton, care about their customers first and their commission second. Readers who regularly grapple with pushy retailers and grating telemarketers may not buy his conclusion, but it’s a pretty appealing pitch.