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The 10 most famous and influential salespeople of all time

Job Market
Aug 11, 2022
The 10 most famous and influential salespeople of all time

The world has seen many successful salespeople across many different fields. Brush up on your history in this field with this look at some of the most famous (and infamous) sales experts in history

№1 Jordan Belfort aka “The Wolf of Wall Street”

He built a multi-million dollar empire, managed to avoid imprisonment for 30 years, and when he did go to jail, he wrote his autobiography, which Martin Scorsese adapted. He was played by Leonardo DiCaprio. 

We are talking, of course, about that same wolf of Wall Street—Jordan Belfort. 

Since childhood, Jordan was an entrepreneur:-selling ice cream on the beach, shoveling snow. He grabbed every available job. 

Unexpectedly, he was educated not in economics and business but in biology. But his thirst for big money and success did not let up. Later, he decided to study dentistry, but as soon as his teacher told him that the "golden age" of dentistry was over and there was no way to make big money in it, Belfort took his documents and left.  

After university, he started a business selling fish and seafood but soon went bankrupt. In the end, his parents got him a job at the Rothschild L.F. office as a broker. Jordan started with cold calls, trying to sell cheap, unsaleable stocks, and within a month, he was licensed. 

Later, Jordan quit and decided to work for himself. He started a company called Stratton-Oakmont. Using cold calls, employees handled clients, forcing them to make primarily unprofitable deals. This was the most important part of the company's work, so Belfort personally trained the novice brokers and formed the call schedule himself. The methodology proved successful, and the commissions grew day by day. There were so many deals that the employees couldn’t  handle  them all.

In the end, the FBI gathered enough evidence to shut down Belfort's operation. By this point, the company was so large that money urgently needed to be stored somewhere safe. Belfort again decided to circumvent the law. He took it out of the country through a relative of his wife’s and put it into a Swiss bank. 

He was arrested and was supposed to be given 30 years in prison. But even here, he found his way through.With the help of his lawyers, he got away with 22 months and a hefty fine of $100 million. He tried to cheat, which almost got him more time. 

While in prison, on the advice of an actor friend, Belfort begins to write his autobiography. Scorsese expresses a desire to make a film on it. Jordan agrees on one condition: he will be played by DiCaprio. 

Now Belfort travels, conducts seminars and trainings, and acts as a visiting expert. 

Image credit: instagram.com/wolfofwallst/

№2 Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kay Ash is a true legend who became the creator of the first multi-level marketing system. She is considered to be one of the first businesswomen who built an empire through an unconventional approach to sales. 

Mary believed that people were more likely to buy from friends or references than from salespeople. That's why she urged her coworkers to host parties, invite their friends, and sell to them unobtrusively, as if recommending products. 

She used another innovation to motivate  her employees: incentives. Her cosmetics company made headlines by rewarding the best salesperson with a pink Cadillac.

In the hiring scene, Mary wasn't able to move up the career ladder. So she decided to start her own cosmetics company, where she applied her own sales philosophy. Her rule, which was followed by other employees, was to treat others as you would want to be treated. 

After a year in business, Mary Kay's company had sold over $1 million worth of products. 

Image credit: Mary Kay | Official Site

№3 Dale Carnegie

He was born into a family of  poor farmers in Missouri, not knowing that in a few decades, his company would employ nearly 3,000 people in 80 offices around the world. 

Dale began his career selling groceries and eventually ended up in New York City. In college, Dale was so good as a speaker that his fellow students were willing to pay him to share his knowledge. He began leading full-fledged public speaking classes, teaching people the art of communicating. 

He would later write his bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book helps you learn how to communicate with people in an effective, healthy way. Dale also became one of the first experts to promote the concept of work-life balance.

The book, which was published in 1936—almost 100 years ago—still sells out in bookstores and is actively downloaded online. Dale Carnegie has become a teacher to millions of people around the world and across the years. His work is especially recommended for salespeople, since communication is their main tool. 

Image credit: dalecarnegie.com

№4 David Ogilvy

"The worst mistake a salesman can make is being a nerd." These words belong to the great and brilliant David Ogilvy, who stressed the importance of relating to customers in order to sell to them. 

A teacher to millions and a legendary advertising executive trusted by major brands around the world, he began his career as a salesman by knocking on doors and selling kitchen stoves. Remarkably, Ogilvy was so successful at it that his boss got him to write a sales manual for other salesmen.

More than eight decades later, this guide, The Theory and Practice of AGA Cookstove Sales, is still considered one of the best such guides ever written. In this  book, he encourages salespeople to learn as much as possible about their customers before the first meeting.

He later went into advertising, where he established principles that still underpin the industry today. He is also known for his iconic advertising campaigns for Schweppes, Hathaway, Rolls Royce, and Shell.

Image credit: businessandleadership.com

№5 Erica Feidner

How would you cope with a job interview if you were asked to sell your boss not a pen, but an entire piano? Not an easy task. 

Erica Feidner has done exactly this practically her entire life as a master piano dealer.  She has sold nearly $40 million worth of Steinway brand pianos. AThis is especially impressive considering this kind of  musical instrument is far from a necessity and lasts a very long time, meaning that re-purchasing a piano is a rare occurrence. 

"It's not uncommon for Feidner's customers to call her a force of nature," journalist James B. Stewart, one of Feidner's customers, wrote in The New Yorker magazine in 1999. "This is not because they feel pressured by her, but because after meeting her, many soon find themselves at the mercy of musical ambitions they never knew they had. These ambitions often include buying a certain piano that they feel they can no longer live without, even if it strains both their living room and their bank accounts."

In her early 20s, Erika was injured while skiing. A torn ligament in her arm put an end to the piano playing that she had been doing since she was three years old. It was a terrible stress for Erika and her loved ones. But it also encouraged her to try her hand at something else that still related to the instrument she loved. That's how Erika began selling pianos. 

She sold  instruments even to those who had never played, awakening in them not a desire to just buy an instrument, but to love music and to start playing. With  experienced players, she’d ask them to play so she could listen, and identify peculiarities. Afterward, she’d pick out the perfect instrument for them. She believed that she needed to pick the perfect match for the client, like picking a partner. And it worked! If she thought that the piano chosen by a customer was not the right one, she would not sell it. 

In 2005, Erica started her own instrument selection and sales company, Piano Matchmaker™ LLC.

Image credit: teacher.steinway.com

№6 Ron Popeil

You've probably heard the phrase "Wait, there's more!" in commercials. Or before your favorite talk show, you've been overtaken by the “couch store”—seeing the wonders of new knives, kitchen appliances, and versatile tablecloths and wondering if you need a couple, too.

Ron Popeil is the creator of the couch store format. In other words, it was his efforts that developed the remote-retail format. He was the creator of Ronco, a company that specialized in selling all sorts of gadgets, with most of the items developed directly by Ron. 

Over the years, the organization has grossed over $2 billion in revenue, with Popeil becoming the star of the teleshopping trend.

It can be said that Ron's career began thanks to his father, who was involved in the creation of household appliances that made life easier for housewives at the time. His son was assigned to work as a salesman, selling inventions to stores. And so Ron began to hone his sales skills. 

One day, he had the idea of making videos to sell tools. What made the videos special was that  he used them to show what people could do with the product. This was the birth of the new format, which proved to be extremely effective.

He would later pioneer the "couch store" format. "If I create a product, I can market it as well as or even better than anyone else on the planet," he told Inc. magazine in 2009. "I have confidence and passion. People see it, and they know it's real."

Image credit: instagram.com/ronpopeil/

№7 Zig Ziglar

One of the world's most popular motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar has left a rich sales legacy of books, recorded speeches, and more. 

Zig was the twelfth child in his family. As a five-year-old boy, he moved with his family to Yazoo, Mississippi. Soon there was grief in his family: Ziglar Sr. died of a stroke, and his mother was forced to support her large family alone.

After serving in the military, graduating from college, and getting married, Ziglar went to work as a salesman in 1946. Within a few years, he had learned so much that he was invited to train newcomers. For our hero, training always came first, whether it was for others or for himself.  

In 1968, he was promoted to vice president and director of training at an automobile manufacturing company in Texas.

In the early '70s, he concentrated entirely on lecturing and teaching. He published his first book on sales, See You at the Top, which is an immediate success. It was subsequently reprinted and supplemented several times and became a bestseller, and the sales rate has not slowed down in 30 years.

During his career, Ziglar published more than 25 books on sales, success, leadership, personal growth and development, faith, Christianity, etc. More than 10 of them have become world bestsellers.

He founded Zig Ziglar Inc., which continues his work, helping people and companies discover and realize their potential. Ziglar has produced a wealth of video and audio material on training in companies, and he teaches successful sales personnel training techniques to more than 300,000 listeners each year in his lectures. 

His training materials have been translated into 40 languages, and some of the world's largest corporations are interested in working with Zig Ziglar.

Image credit: nytimes.com

№8 Sam Taggart

Door-to-door sales are some of the most difficult. You ring the doorbell and have just a couple of seconds to get people interested and then lead them to buy. Sam Taggart is a master of his craft in this sales format, and is known to just about everyone in the trade.

Sam is the founder of the D2D Association and D2DCon, author of ABC'$ of Closing, creator of his own podcast, and speaker and CEO of The D2D Experts.

He professionally creates, develops, and implements door-to-door sales programs. In less than three years, he built a consulting business with seven-figure revenue and has consulted for over 150 companies nationwide. 

At Solcius, he rose to vice president, later founding two technology platforms—Recruit-O-Matic and Vanilla Message—independently. His main professional goal is to elevate D2D sales as a whole. And he's up to the task! 

Image credit: thed2dexperts.com

№9 Napoleon Barragan

Napoleon Barragan was born in Ecuador and moved to Colombia when he was 17. His first job was delivering drinks on a donkey, since he had no car. At 28, he moved to the United States with no money and no knowledge of the language.   

For the first few years in America, Napoleon had to take any job that came up: For example, he sold door-to-door encyclopedias. It wasn't easy: He was often kicked out of apartments and had the police called on him, but Napoleon continued his business.

In 1974, he founded a small furniture store. Sales of chairs, tables, and cupboards were poor, but mattresses and cushions were in demand. Napoleon then decided to concentrate his trade specifically on them.

One day, he happened to see a sign at a restaurant that read, "Order Steak by Phone."  Barragan thought, why not apply this sales method to mattresses? So he founded his own company, Dial-A-Mattress.

But even here, success did not come immediately, but ten years later. This was due to the fact that Napoleon had obtained a toll-free 800 number, which made it much easier for customers to call Dial-A-Mattress, which by that time had already changed its name to 1-800-Mattress. Now, 1-800-Mattress is successfully growing. The company has 300 employees and a 24/7 phone line. They also have showrooms across America, as well as an online store. 

Napoleon didn't stop when he met difficulties and setbacks. He understood that it takes patience and hard work to grow. It’s because of this that he is now one of the top 10 salespeople in history.

Image credit: napoleonbfilm.com


№10 Joe Girard

Imagine a huge field with 13,000 cars on it. That's a lot of cars, right?   Now, take in the fact that this many cars were sold by ONE man: Joe Girardi. 

From the age of nine, Joe was shining shoes on the street, and at 11 he was delivering newspapers. For each client he brought in, Joe got a box of soda. He made a business out of it, selling those drinks to neighborhood kids for a very high price. 

Later, he got a job at a car dealership and sold 13,000 cars in 15 years. While working at that Chevrolet dealership, Joe was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as selling the most cars in a year. 

What was his secret to success? Girard always got customers to come back. He  took great care of them when they came in for service, even paying for parts for them. He also continued to send his customers handwritten greeting cards every month.

Joe Girardi is a prime example of how extra service can make you a sales star. 

Image credit: Joe Girard | Official Site

№11 You?

All it takes is some hard work, and you could very well join the ranks of sales legends. This goal is especially reachable if you break into the promising field of tech. If you already have experience in sales—whether you've sold coffee, clothes, etc.—you have almost everything you need to become a sales engineer and earn $75,000 or more per year. It just takes a bit of training to get to know the tech field.

Take a closer look at our upcoming Sales Engineer course: https://www.careerist.com/saleseng 

We'd love to have you as one of our students! 


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