Bridging the gulf between professors and practitioners

7th April 2015 |   Neil Rackham

As sales continues to develop at breakneck pace, business and academics need to open channels of communication.

For well over a century, there have been organised attempts to increase sales professionalism. The case for doing so is nowhere more engagingly expressed than in an editorial appearing in 1884 in the magazine of the Society of Commercial Travelers: “If we do not strive for the professional respect accorded to other occupations of substance and worth, then the world shall judge us no better than peddlers and rogues.”

In the intervening century there have been many attempts to elevate sales into a profession of “substance and worth”. Most of the earlier efforts focused on improving moral character, as all professions must be underpinned by an ethical code. The Order of United Commercial Travelers, for example, was founded to “improve character and instill temperate habits”. And, here’s an interesting piece of trivia, the Gideons, of hotel bible fame, were founded to “eliminate, gambling, drinking, dirty jokes, Sunday trading and other forms of temptation peculiar to traveling (sales)men1.”


Neil Rackham is Visiting Professor at four universities, including: Visiting Professor of Sales and Marketing, Portsmouth University; Visiting Professor of Sales Strategy, Cranfield School of Management; and Visiting Professor of Sales, Sheffield University. His current research looks at the integration of sales and marketing and at emerging issues in large complex sales. Three of his books have appeared on the New York Times best-seller list and his works are translated into over 50 languages. His classic book SPIN Selling is widely credited with starting the consultative selling movement.

image © Mark Green