(First of all, thank you to Stacy, Chelsea & Tito for inviting me to be part of CatholicStand. I’m honored and humbled to be included with the other outstanding writers assembled for this e-zine. I hope I can contribute worthily, and provide an insight or two on the intersection of faith and business.)
My chosen profession is sales. After seven years in the package engineering field, I stepped into the world of sales in 1994, and have been enjoying it ever since. In May 2012, I took the leap into self-employment, leaving my employer of the past 11 years, to create a manufacturers rep company. I now represent 10 different packaging-related companies (my previous employer is one of them – the major one, in fact), and to this date, I have no regrets. I love sales – I really do.
In fact, Jesus loves salespeople, too (true, He loves everyone, but salespeople? We be #1). Think about it. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, he sent out the twelve on the Great Commission. And the apostles – several of them were fishermen, right? So they were really good at closing sails, and net working* – as was St Paul. Not to mention, Jesus came for our “sale”vation.
But I digress.
Now, there is a famous scene in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, in which Alec Baldwin, playing a hyper-alpha motivational salesman, gives a “pep talk” of sorts (cleaned up because, you know, this is a Catholic site) to a group of real estate salesmen:
“You drove a Hyundai to get here. I drove an eighty-thousand dollar BMW. THAT’S my name. And your name is you’re wanting. You can’t play in the man’s game, you can’t close them – go home and tell your wife your troubles. Because only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me you ——- ——-? A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING.”
To be sure, a very important aspect of the sales process is The Close. No close = no sales = no income = find a new job. But I’m going to modify the mantra of Always Be Closing. I’m not a big fan of it. It’s not the only thing that counts in this life. I prefer Always Be Catholic.
In its simplest terms, sales is relationships. It’s people business, whether you’re selling cars, sofas, packaging, life insurance – it’s not about the product, it’s about the people. The bottom line is not really about The Bottom Line – or the dotted line – it’s about the interchange between two people. It’s one person – the salesman – meeting another person – the customer – and trying to persuade him to give something of a known value (his money) in exchange for something of a perceived value (the product), because the product is either the same value or is of greater value than the known value. It’s how it’s supposed to work, at its root, shysters and crooks notwithstanding. How the salesman regards the customer determines whether the persuading is Self-driven, or Other-driven. And that’s where Always Be Catholic comes in.
Being Catholic is also about relationships. It’s about being in relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s about loving our neighbor, and our enemies. Our God desires to be in relationship with us. He is in relationship with the Son, and together they are in relationship with the Holy Spirit. It’s about persons, and loving the other as we love ourselves.
Given that sales is about people, and being Catholic is about people, the danger of “Always Be Closing” is that it reduces the person to a means to an end. The customer or prospect becomes a tick on the quota sheet, a step on the path to earning a prize or recognition or higher commissions check. Sales becomes Self-driven. Catholicism requires us to be Other-driven. Being Catholic and in sales can often times put those two forces – Self-driven and Other-driven – into direct conflict. Being Catholic puts a demand on us to love the other, which means acting ethically, honestly and intentionally at all times.
But Larry, you might say, that’s just standard professional behavior. Any salesperson worth their salt is going to act ethically, honestly and intentionally, right? So what’s Catholic about that?
Well, anything that’s true about professional behavior is true because, after all, Truth is Truth. The difference is the focus – are my actions Self-driven or Other-driven? In other words, am I doing the right things for the right reasons? Do I avoid the unethical because it might get me in trouble, or I might lose the sale, or do I avoid it because it’s wrong and takes advantage of another person? Do I show up for appointments on time because it’s to my advantage, or because the customer deserves the courtesy? Do I dress appropriately to make a certain impression, or because my customers are worth the time and effort? Do I behave in ways that are consistent with my faith, or do I compartmentalize based upon the circumstances?
And it’s not just the relationship between salesman and customer that needs to be seen in this light. It involves how I treat everyone – from the customer service people at the different firms I represent, to the truck drivers, to the guy in the shipping department, to the receptionist at the customer. They’re all made in the image and likeness of God, and I can’t Always Be Closing around them any more than the buyer who makes the final decision and issues the purchase order.
I have to Always Be Catholic with everyone. We all do, regardless of profession or vocation.
*Note: I recognize that being self-employed puts me in a different position than someone who’s a direct salesperson with a manufacturer or a dealership or what have you. I enjoy a degree of latitude that others don’t by virtue of that difference. My next installment will explore those differences a bit more deeply, and future contributions will continue to expound on the Always Be Catholic theme. I hope you enjoy them!
*Alas, I cannot take credit for the brilliant ‘net working’ line – that goes to Matt Swaim, producer of the EWTN Radio Son Rise Morning Show, during a recent Twitter pun exchange.
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