“The key is to keep believing in your product even when your target is determined to destroy it. If your faith is strong enough, it will punch its way through the smuggest facade and into the mind of the target. And once the target has an “I wonder…” moment, reel him in and close the deal.” –Al Eline
The quote above is from a former giant of the retail hardware world. I do not believe he was a Christian. When he said this to me and a few other young twenty-somethings, he wasn’t talking about Jesus or religion or evangelism. He was coaching us to sell 200 insanely large and unmarketable spray paint kiosks he received from a manufacturer. It took us a little longer than he wanted, but a lot of New Jersey hardware stores had really ugly spray paint displays that summer, thanks largely to Al’s mentoring and determination.
Sales was hard. I was awful at it. But as with any life experience, I learned a lot from those times. And in trying to achieve wisdom to go along with my old age, I often look at past experiences to make sense of my life today.
Nowadays, I peddle Christianity. I have faith in our product. I have faith in God. I know He is in control. I know everything is part of His plan. I know this largely because when my mother died, when I was told I had cancer (I didn’t), when I was financially broken and felt totally alone… every person of faith told me I would get through it because of those things. So, if we really believe God is in control and everything is part of “The Plan”, why are so many worried about the ruination of Christian Faith? Have these folks lost their trust in God? Where is their faith in our product? Maybe they need to learn some of the lessons I learned as a young salesman:
- NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOUR PRODUCT IS, BUYERS WILL WANT SOMETHING MORE. “Where’s the bottle opener?” It was a line usually met with jovial laughter at the expense of a manufacturer’s rep. He may have just presented the most complete all-in-one tool known to man, able to slice, dice, paint, mend, lift, scrape, clean and polish every item ever made. And then someone would ask for one more thing, usually a bottle opener, and remove the smile from his face.
“Christ offers you eternal life with God in Heaven.” Ok…but why do I have to suffer through illness and loneliness here on earth? Your competition is way more helpful with those things.
- PEOPLE RARELY WANT THE WHOLE PACKAGE DEAL.Great marketing minds spend thousands of hours developing wonderful promotional display devices. But when we sell them to the stores, the retailers are focused solely on product price points and sale-ability. The unit that held it together, promoted the manufacturer, and explained how to use the product is often cast away. The sellable items are placed in their assigned space to be sold or not.
“Christianity offers salvation and love”. OK…but that whole church and community won’t fit in here. And I’m not sure I can squeeze in all that obedience either. Let me play with it.
- NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOUR PRICE IS, SOMEONE ELSE WILL UNDERCUT YOU. In sales, competitors have a good idea what products cost the other distributors. So, when someone comes in at a ridiculously low price, we know there is something going on. For instance, “if you buy this other item, I’ll give you the price you want for the first.” The buyer is so happy that he got “his” price on the first item, he is blind to the fact he just paid double for everything else.
“Christ has already paid the fare for you to travel the path to eternal happiness.” OK…but your competition says they paid the fare for me to travel this much wider and smoother path over here.
- BUYERS’ PRIORITIES ARE A MOVING TARGET. First, there was the screwdriver. Then came the magnetic tip, the power screwdriver, the variable-speed drill, the reversible drill, cordless drills, longer-lasting batteries, solar rechargers and finally the self-loading, long-life solar-batteried, ultra-light, variable-speed, reversible power attachment tool with self-stored magnetic tips, flashlight and carrying belt. For only $999, you can easily do the work of a $1.19 screwdriver (but you still can’t open a bottle of soda).
“Believe in me, Love Me and love your neighbors. That’s all you have to do to be saved.” OK…but your competition says if I believe and love him, I can love all my neighbors too and he’ll throw in drugs, alcohol, and sex. These things are kind of important accessories to me right now.
- QUIET SALESMEN ARE EFFECTIVE, TOO.There was a television and radio ad campaign in the seventies that consisted of a disheveled man screaming at the audience for fifteen seconds, ending with the catchphrase, “Crazy Eddie. Our prices are insane!” It was one of the most successful advertising bits in history. The principal of “make them remember your name at all costs” persists even today. Annoying jingles, shocking visuals, and volume are all tools that make us remember a product. But there is a large component of society that doesn’t want to be told what to purchase or think. They want to make decisions themselves in their own time.
Bart was a successful salesman who trained me. We brought coffee to a hardware store one day and waited for an aggressive competitor to have his time. Afterward, the harried owner looked warily at Bart, who simply held a cup out to him and asked, “How’s it going?” The conversation turned to children, sports, and the weather. We were about to leave when the owner asked if we offered the same huge spray paint display the competitor was trying to sell. He took two.
“Remember me.” OK…but your competition sure is loud and he takes up a lot of my time.
- SOMETIMES, WE’RE COMPETING WITH OURSELVES. The basic spring-loaded mousetrap still sells well today; but glue traps, box traps, and various repellents put a serious dent into that business over the years. People who never bought into the new items feel justified because the original still works and sells well. Those who invested in the newer versions feel justified because they also have sustainable numbers and results. All the products work to promote the common goal of mouse-free homes. So why do we need to argue over which one is more successful or “better”? Does it matter which one we sell?
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) OK…but there are so many people giving me different directions to get to you…
- CROSS THE BRIDGE; DON’T BURN IT. We don’t always make a sale on a first visit. In fact, that is truly rare. Timing is important, but so are other factors. Maybe the price is a little too steep at that particular moment. Perhaps a third party’s reaction is being considered. Seasoned buyers look for better offers before committing.
Each autumn season, we offered customers great deals on snow shovels. Some anticipated a harsh winter and received a full load of shovels. Others bet there would be fewer storms and bought less. Others bet there would be virtually no snow and would not accept the offer at all. Throughout the autumn, I’d remind the buyers about snow shovels.
But every winter, as storms approached, my phone would start ringing. “I need more shovels!” We would come through for our customers, but they would pay a much higher price than those who prepared for the storms earlier. Still, they were always grateful for the “save” whenever it came.
“You may not understand now, but someday you will understand what I have done for you. Call me and you will find that I am right here.” OK… but right now your competition seems to be taking good care of me.
What would Jesus do?
Jesus practices a passive perseverance style of sales. He doesn’t scream at us to be saved. He tells us He is here when we need Him. (And then He is.) He does not rant and rave about how evil we all are. He calmly explains the issues we face and what he is offering. Then He stands by, content to nurse a cup of coffee until we understand. He has more than snow shovels. He has big snow movers and snow-melting chemicals and big tall boots and mittens and everything we need when we are ready to ask. He won’t pull us out of the storm until we say we are done playing in it, even if we freeze to death first.
Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations, but even He watched thousands walk away when they heard the requirements of following Him (John 6). It appears that many are not willing to buy our snow shovels right now. All we can do is CALMLY remind them of all that Jesus offers; be here when their storms hit; and accept that despite our intentions and love, some will not be saved.