Selling and evangelizing are more similar than you might think. There are quite a few differences, to be sure, but there are features that are common to both. At first glance, sales and evangelizing appear as disparate as vice and virtue, but that’s a false comparison. There are good and honest salespersons just as there are shady and conniving ones; the same holds true for folks who spread the Gospel. Yes, the monetary component in sales is more prevalent than in evangelizing (at least it ought to be) – after all, one is a career while the other is a vocation by virtue of our Baptism – but successful people in both arenas display similar traits and approaches. Let’s look at three of them in no particular order.
1. Know your product
A good salesperson knows and understands the product they’re selling. Product knowledge accomplishes several things in the course of the sale: shows competence, instills confidence (on the part of the prospect), establishes credibility. The same holds true when evangelizing – we have to know what we’re talking about in order to effectively share the Good News with others. Does it mean being an expert? It helps, but it isn’t necessary. In some cases, knowing who the experts is more effective than trying to come off as the expert when you know you’re not. It’s okay to respond to a question with “You know, I’m not entirely sure, but I know who is. Let me get back to you with that answer.” And then follow through.
Successful salespeople and evangelists constantly learn and research about their respective fields. This leads to greater success, and strengthens their reputations.
It doesn’t mean being a “know-it-all”. There’s a stark difference between confidence and arrogance. People don’t like being talked down to, or treated with condescension. No one likes to be made to feel dumb or ignorant. I try to keep two things in mind when making a sales call: one, I can learn from the customer just as much as he can learn from me (if not more so); and two, there was a time when I didn’t know what I know now. Just because my product knowledge is more extensive than the prospect’s, it doesn’t mean I have an advantage over him. It means I have to share what I know so that we can both be successful. That’s what evangelizing is – it’s sharing what we know with others. It’s sharing Christ with others so that we can both be better off.
2. Establish and strengthen relationships
Sales is all about people. My approach to my career is this: I’m not interested in making the sale, I’m interested in forming relationships. I want long-term customers, not one-time sales. Does it always work out that way? No, it doesn’t. When it does, though, it can be pretty special. I have customers that go back nearly twenty years, and people that continue to buy from me even though they’ve moved on to other companies or industries, all because we have established and maintained relationships over the years. Business closures and failures notwithstanding, I am blessed with a nearly 95% customer retention rate. The reason for having lost customers? Practically without exception, it was because I hadn’t established strong enough relationships.
Evangelizing is all about people, too. While the maxim “A prophet is never welcome in his hometown” is all too true, it is equally true that evangelization is more effective where there is a relationship. Yes, evangelizing can and does occur where no personal relationship exists. I’ve never met Jimmy Akin or Scott Hahn, for example, but they’ve evangelized me through their books, programs and interviews (see point above).
But let’s put the prominent evangelists aside. How about your parish priest? Your neighbor? A family member who had a reversion, or a high school friend you reconnected with on Facebook? I contend that the greatest evangelizing occurs in intimate relationships, where it’s one-on-one. I know this because it happened to me.
About twenty years ago, I was a nominal Catholic. One day, I got a call from a client who had become a good friend as a result of our having done business together for several years. He said “Larry, you have to come see me as soon as you can. I have something to share with you.” So the next day, we meet in his office, and he tells me a story. A few months earlier, a woman in his parish approached him and said “Mike, I can see that you’re unhappy and weighed down with a lot of worries.” He told her, well, I own a business and have a young family. Who wouldn’t be worried? She replied “Can I share a book with you that may help you?” He said sure, she gave him the book, he read it in two nights, and it changed him. He had been a nominal Catholic to that point, and was now on fire – and he has been ever since. He told me “Larry, you have to read this book. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about – just get it and read it. You’re in the exact same spot spiritually that I had been in. Will you read it?” I was a bit skeptical, but curious, and since I trusted Mike – because we had a relationship – I got the book, read it, and my life changed. I didn’t become a perfect Catholic, but I became a faithful and fervent one. All because my friend had enough confidence in our relationship to share his joy – and he wanted me to have that same experience.
Sales and evangelizing – it’s a one-on-one thing. It’s about establishing and maintaining relationships. It’s about love – where we’re more concerned about the good of the other than about the benefit we receive.
3. People don’t like being sold
Prior to being in sales, I was in the engineering field, and often time, I was The Customer. Salespeople called on me all the time, and it didn’t take long for me to recognize when I was being sold, as opposed to when I was being helped. When I made the transition from engineering to sales, I decided to treat my customers and prospects the way I preferred to be treated when I was The Customer. I hated being sold to – I still do, in fact, when I’m buying anything – so I made a concerted effort to avoid being That Guy.
The best compliment I ever received from a prospect (who became a long-term customer because we established a relationship) was when she described me as being “pleasantly persistent”. That made me feel good – it meant I hadn’t been pressuring her. I had gained her trust because I hadn’t been aggressive.
My approach to sales is different than what many sales resources suggest. I don’t use open-ended question techniques, or treat objections as some challenging obstacle to crush, or wear down the prospect’s “No” until it becomes a “Yes”. To me, those are the signs of Being Sold To. I didn’t like being treated that way when I was The Customer, so I don’t treat prospects that way. My approach generally speaking is “Here I am, what are your needs, this is what I can offer, here are some testimonials, neither of us have time for games – so how can I help?” If the prospect says no thanks, or not at this time, I take it at face value and either move on, or follow up at a later date. I allow the prospect to control things as much as possible. And hey – it’s been working. I only have to look at my numbers and retention rate to know that my technique has been successful.
It’s similar when it comes to evangelizing. If we’re living the faith, if we exhibit joy and are not “dour faced saints”, people will notice. They might ask us what’s up, and if they do, we can say “Here I am, this is what I can offer, here is my testimonial, neither of us have time for games – so how can I help?” If there’s already a relationship with the person, then we can make that “cold call” (see my story above) and pray for good results. In either case, we have to be prepared to give reasons for the hope we have within us.
We can’t be in people’s faces about the faith. I had a co-worker who was that way. He was a faithful Catholic, active in the pro-life movement, but unfortunately was a devotee of Fr Gruner and his group Fatima Crusader. He was rather aggressive about it, to the point where I had to tell him to just shut up about it. His method of evangelizing – not to mention his pet subject – wasn’t good. What’s that saying? “You can’t argue someone into the faith”? I think that’s what he was trying to do, and he failed. Of course, Gruner and the Fatima Crusader are a bad bill of goods to begin with – but even if we’re talking about Truth, we can focus too much on winning an argument and end up losing the opportunity to bring a person one step closer to Christ.
You can’t “sell” people into the faith. It has to be authentic, without pressure or coercion. We are called to share the Gospel, not apply sales techniques to evangelizing. I think one trap in evangelizing is thinking if we come up with a slogan or catchy phrase, we can win souls for Christ. That’s not how it works. All we can do is share, and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. We’ll fail if we try to do His part. Every time.
Can you think of other ways in which sales and evangelizing are similar? Share them!
p.s. – You’re wondering what book I read, aren’t you? It was The Final Hour by Michael Brown. It was the exact thing I needed to read at that time in my life and at that point in my faith journey.
© 2013. Larry D. All Rights Reserved.