Every South African newspaper contains advertisements for travelling representatives and with the cry of Buy British a field of unlimited possibility is open to the English Public School Boy and well educated and adventurous Britons of both sexes.
Britishers abroad are full of British sentiment – a travelling representative of an agricultural machinery firm will often do a large amount of business simply because he was at Christchurch. He will meet hundreds of Public School fellows in a country like Rhodesia or Kenya and an evening spent laughing over Bluecoat scraps with those who jeered at their uniform might nett him a tractor sale.
British-built Vickers tractors in the early 1920s were equipped with a sunshade
for export to Australia
His host will probably introduce him to Rugby men – to Winchester chaps – to a stray from Eton or Harrow – and all will give him orders.
Unlike the American trained salesman, he will endeavour to arouse clannish instincts rather than make direct appeals to business considerations. He will feel that he is a member of the British Diplomatic Corps and that his mission is to show the world that British workmanship is worth more than glaring advertisements – that a few pounds more or less in buying a car or tractor don’t matter when such a purchase is a help to Blighty.
Let us take direct instances. I myself found that service with the 9th Division gave me a standing with every Scotsman in the district I was working for an agricultural implement firm. My lines were British implements of undoubted excellence, but travellers far more experienced than myself were busy selling American implements at cheaper rates than my firm could consider.
At one farm I was offered accommodation for the night but told that I hadn’t a chance of pushing the tractor my employers were handling. I left the subject of agricultural machinery and remarked that my hosts’ accents gave me a memory of South Uist. I wasn’t allowed to leave for two days. Sold a tractor, a windmill and some hundred feet of piping – was introduced to a dozen Highland folk and tipped as to their requirements.
Comparing notes with a fellow traveller I found that he had secured orders amounting to thousands of pounds solely because he had met a man who like himself had been at the Merchant Taylor’s School.
Salesmanship and Journalism are kindred spirits. In both human appeal is irresistible and there are few unsophisticated folk left these days and a man knows that no trashy article can possibly survive the strain of competition.
Ten travellers may work a district with the same type of article – one will place all the orders he can deal with and nine will fail – why simply because the successful traveller is of the people with whom he is dealing.