The Tale of The Snake Oil Salesman

The Tale of the Snake Oil Salesman

Have you ever wondered what the history is behind the phrase snake oil salesman? The following is a story to enlighten and entertain.

In the early 1800's workers from China signed labor contracts with several railroad companies to build the railroads. The Chinese workers brought with them a medicine made from the Chinese water snake. This medicine was effective in treating arthritis and sore muscles. The Chinese shared this medicine with Americans, and the effects were said to be miraculous. This snake oil was a real cure for muscle stiffness and soreness.

Later, in 1893 Clarke Stanley made and began to peddle his version of snake oil. The ingredients included camphor oil, tallow, turpentine, and capsaicin. The ointment was similar to ingredients in Vicks Vapor Rub. Clarke sold his concoction at fairs and exhibitions. He never stayed in town for more than a day. He feared the anger of the crowd after realizing they had been duped. Clarke hired people to stand in the audience and make false claims about the medical ailments the snake elixer cured. Clarke stood before a large crowd at the Chicago Fair of 1893 and split a snake wide open and placed it in a pot of boiling water to demonstrate how the elxier was made. ( There were no snake ingredients in Clarke's formula.)

So what happened to Clark Stanley after it was found that his whole empire was based on a lie? He was fined $20 (that's about $429 in today's dollars) for violating the food and drug act of 1904 and for "misbranding" his product by "falsely and fraudulently representing it as a remedy for all pain."

So what does this story have to do with great selling?

The practices of sales peddlers have created an environment of "buyer beware" for today's buyers. How do you as a salesperson overcome this mistrust?

Try the T.E.A.C.H. method to build trust with others.


Be a teller of truth even when it costs you a sale. This single act of integrity will pay dividends in the future to build trust in individuals and your industry. Truth invites trust.


The amount of product information you possess compared to your buyer is about 80/20. You have eighty percent more knowledge than the buyer on the different aspects of your offering. Use this knowledge to help your buyer make an informed choice. Buyers do not want to be sold to, they want help in making smart decisions.


Do you aspire to help your customers be the best they can? If you look at your buyer's industry where do you see areas of improvement? How can you help them get to their promised land? Help your customer aspire to greatness. Ask great questions to identify their needs.


How clear are you when describing your product? Does the customer clearly understand the differences between you and your competitors? Do they know the advantages and disadvantages of each? Clarify customer goals and make it easy for them to understand the differences between each option. Clarity includes being a truth-teller in all levels of the sale.


When you are helping you are giving to others. The word sell is derived from the Icelandic word "selja" and the Anglo Saxon word "syllan" both mean to serve or to give. If you are not living up to this definition, you are probably in the wrong profession. You cannot give to others while having a self-centered mindset simultaneously.

Unfortunately, a few bad apples spoil the bunch in life. The business of sales has a bad rep due to images of greasy salespeople hawking their wares.

In today's economy, great salespeople are leaders in their field and are relied upon as a source of knowledge and guidance to their customers. When you put the customer's needs above your own, you will not have to worry about being perceived as a sleazy snake oil salesman.

Sales professionals that are serving the needs of their clients should take pride in their profession. All too often salespeople hide their job by telling their family and others they do something other than sales. Companies have developed new titles to use instead of sales professionals. Relationship manager, Solution Specialists, and Marketing Agent to name a few. It is a tragedy that some businesses do not use the title of a sales professional. Sales professionals are the engine that drives the revenue for a company.

One in eight people in the United States are in the sales profession; This number is growing every day. Each sales professional sells differently. The way people sell is as unique as their fingerprint. What comes easy for some, does not for others. There are some shared traits I see in successful sales professionals. The ability to inspire trust in others is one shared attribute. The ability to ensure confidence in the buyer is another successful sales trait. Without trust, selling is difficult and even impossible. How do you develop trust? Put the customer first in all things and educate with the goal of help others.

Be truthful, educate, aspire shared greatness, be clear and make it easy for your customers. Help them to make the best choice in the face of information overload of today's world.

Be Great and Prosper- Nan

#publisher #salesdevelopment #salesmanager #salesdirector #salesteam #salesprocess #salestraining #editor

Featured Posts