A Look Back on Sales from 2010 to 2021: The Lost Decade

alt text for image of a sign The End is NearThe Return of the Charlatans

At the turn of the Century, as the growth and adoption of the Internet and surrounding technological innovations took hold in both business organization and society at large, a group of Charlatans that had been thought long extinct, slowly reappeared. They were snake oil salesmen. Charlatans. They had long sold a simple premise: improvement could be had with no effort, if only you will buy what we sell.

This group of Charlatans sold a more modern snake oil, selling a set of ideas and beliefs that insisted that the foundational attributes and skills required to succeed in sales were being slowly and irrevocably replaced. Their primary ideological weapon was built around a belief that picking up the phone and calling a prospective client was no longer a useful or effective skill set. Instead, the new technologies could be used to build an online presence, content could be created, and research could be done, that would have prospective clients beating a path to the salesperson’s door.

At first, the return of the Charlatans was though to be the useful arrival of new ideas that would simply be adopted and applied by well-trained and well-developed salespeople who had great command of long true basic sales competencies. But by late 2010, the Charlatans began suggesting that their new methodologies would replace the need for what had always made salespeople successful. Cold calling was wrong, and there were no legitimate ways to succeed at cold calling. And they were winning hearts and minds.

Exploitation of the Bottom 80%

The Charlatans preyed on the bottom 80% of salespeople, promising them that success could be had without the hard work and self-development that sales had always required. The bottom 80% had always hoped and prayed for an easier way to produce sales results without ever really having to learn to sell. In fact, they believed that selling–especially asking for commitments–was inherently wrong. The chaffed at the idea that should be thought of as salespeople. They wanted the results, but without ever really behaving like a salesperson or asking for anything.

Occasionally, they would produce some results, albeit smaller than would have been expected in the past. The bottom 80% insisted to their sales management that they were out of touch with the technological revolution that had occurred, and that they were relics from another time. The fact that they were still trying to insist that their salespeople cold call and produce measurable result was proof positive that they were out of touch. It was insisted that results would be produced; it was merely a matter of time.

The old ones were mocked for failing to believe in the new results possible without the efforts and struggles of the past; this was a new time, a revolution.

In 2015, despite having not produced the results that would have been expected of salespeople before the return of the Charlatans, many of these 80-percenters were moved into roles where they had the authority to help determine the sales processes, systems, and strategies of their sales organizations. They became sales managers, and eventually, Vice Presidents of Sales.

The Decline of Sales, Professional Selling and the World Economy

In 2018, sales organizations had lost the skills and abilities that had previously allowed them to succeed. The gross domestic product of the United States declined from 14 Trillion dollars to just under 6 Trillion dollars. Despite the incredible ideas, products, and innovations, without the salespeople necessary to open the relationships and to obtain the commitments necessary to sell these ideas and products, the economy sank into a gloomy despair.

Voice from the Wilderness: Misused and Misunderstood Sales 2.0

In 2019, long forgotten Voices from the wilderness began to reappear. The professional salespeople, sales managers, sales consultants, and coaches who were mocked for their adherence to the foundational attributes and skills that success in sales had always been built upon began speaking out against the new ways and the Charlatans who sold them to the bottom 80%.

These Voices decried the abuse of technology, helping salespeople to regain their understanding of what had always been required of salespeople. The Voices spread the message that Sales 2.0, and all the other technologies that were helpful to salespeople, were never meant to replace the foundational sales skills and attributes. The bottom 80% revolted against the idea, but slowly, in 2020 and 2021 sales managers who were now responsible for producing real sales results began to adopt the old, tried and true sales practices that had built the sales organizations that had built the global economy at the turn of the Century. Some of the 80-percenters began to learn and study. They were slowly producing results.

The Voices began to sell the idea of a new revolution that they called Sales 3.0, marrying the ideas they called Sales 1.0 with the technologies the Charlatans had earlier abused. The combination was producing better results for the salespeople that had chosen to learn Sales 1.0–even though they were still ridiculed for practicing the old ways, especially cold calling. In 2021, the bottom 80% and the Charlatans still hold massive influence over a large part of the sales community. But the 3.0 sales managers have begun making inroads. The world of sales teeters on the edge of a precipice. It is not known whether what was lost is lost forever, or if the small band of Voices can rebuild the practice of professional sales.


The profession of sales is at a crossroads. The Charlatans battle to convince sales professionals that they can succeed without cold calling and without the skill sets that have always enabled success. The Voices from the past continue their struggle against the shortcuts that only build the sales of the Charlatans who sell their snake oil.


  1. How will you let this story end?

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