Decades ago, I almost lost my first professional sales position because of my Christian faith. “Being a Christian sales person is going to be tricky,” I concluded. While that may have been true in my young and immature mindset, over the years, I’ve come to see that not only is there a Christian approach to sales but that in many ways it sets the standard for the best practices of the secular community.
First, let’s identify the points of contention. There is, within a large segment of the business community, an idea that sales is about ‘winning’ and manipulating people to buy your product or service whether or not they need or want it. The focus is on results and the sales person’s ability to ‘close every sale.’ Typically, people who occupy this camp emphasize ‘closing’ and the money that comes to the organization and the people who successfully do so.
The Christian approach is to see sales and organizational sales systems as a means of discovering what the customer wants and providing him/her with that. The emphasis is on the customer, not the financial results. Instead of ‘closing,’ this approach emphasizes ‘opening’ or understanding the customer as a necessary prelude to recommending a solution.
Sales, by its nature, is a highly measurable, results-driven endeavor. Whether it is a company or an individual, if you sell a lot, everyone is happy, and if you don’t, all kinds of problems pop up. There is probably no other business endeavor that emphasizes results more than sales.
Yet, one of the fundamentals of Christianity is to attend to the process, and leave the results to God. Most sales managers are not going to be amenable to the idea that, as a salesperson, you are not responsible for results.
So there is, at least superficially, a fundamental conflict between the common ideas of sales and the Christian ethic.
Can these be reconciled?
I’ve spent most of my adult career working with sales forces and developing sales systems for B2B businesses. One of the things that I have learned is a foundational truth that applies to sales: To sell well, you must do enough of the right things, and you must do them well enough.
That sounds so simple. Yet it is the fundamental challenge for selling organizations. It’s a simple concept. The financial transaction which ultimately occurs is a result of the activities of the salesperson and the customer which precede the decision to buy. So, in a typical B2B sales process, if you want to make one sale, you must present a proposal to a certain number of prospects. In order to present your proposals, you must have identified a certain number of opportunities. In order to identify those opportunities, you must have created a number of first meetings between the salesperson and the prospect. In order to create a certain number of first meetings between the sales person and the prospect, you must begin with a number of qualified prospects.
The ultimate sale, then, is a result of the sales person completing a certain sequence of activities, and doing those in sufficient quantity and quality. The process leads to the result.
The Christian approach to sales emphasizes the process, whereas some segments of the business community emphasize the result. As a veteran sales trainer, I can tell you with absolute certainty that focusing on the process is the key to successful sales. Improve the quantity and quality of the key activities in your sales system, and the results will follow.
This, of course, tracks consistently with Biblical teaching.
Colossians 4: 23:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (NIV)
That approach leads to a number of specific practices that are indicators of a Christian approach to sales. Here are some of them.
Customer focused That expresses itself in all sorts of ways, from the design of the sales tools, through the training of the sales people, through the corporate culture that supports that behavior.
Integrity. Some years ago, I spoke at a meeting of salespeople in Cape Town, South Africa. On my assertion that integrity was both a moral absolute as well as good business, a small group of the audience snickered. To them, successful sales had nothing to do with integrity. That’s too bad. Integrity, for a Christian sales organization, is an absolute requirement.
Process oriented. Understanding that a fundamental difference between a Christian sales organization and a more worldly-focused group lies in the process orientation of the Christian entity. Therefore, Christian sales organizations understand sales processes more deeply and emphasize the quantity and quality of the key activities inherent in the sales process.
Honesty. Integrity is one thing, honesty is yet another. The honest sales organization does not exaggerate its claims and falsely inflate the language in its marketing collateral or sales conversations. It prefers accuracy to hype. One of my pet peeves is the number of dishonest practitioners in my profession who claim to be “nationally known” or have written a “best-selling book,” when the truth is they have never presented in even half the states, and have a garage full of self-published books. That’s not honest.
Commitment to do what they say they will. I know, it seems so basic. Yet the sales profession is replete with practitioners who make promises that they are unable to keep, and continuously oversell their solutions. The Christian organization establishes a culture which never over promises and works diligently to do what they say they will do.
High regard for the employee. It is a fundamental characteristic of Christian businesses that they highly value the individuals who work for them. This is evident in their view of the sales people as well. In a world where sales people are often seen as a necessary evil to be tolerated, Christian businesses view the team as high-value individuals who have intrinsic value by virtue of their humanity.
With just a little bit of thought, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that these characteristics of Christian sales organizations really are best practices that can be applied to any business, regardless of the theology of its owners. In sales, as in so many endeavors, the best practices emerge from a Christian mindset and inform the practices of organizations of all types who want to do business better.
The Heart of a Christian Sales Person is a book about my personal journey.
How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime is all about sales processes, and has become a worldwide book. Three international entities have recognized it as “one of the five best English-language business books.”