The Gospel in the Life of a SalesmanFriday, January 20, 2006
Sales work is some of the most difficult there is. I'm not sure if it is any more difficult than pastoring. But in its own rite, it is extremely difficult. Both vocations have come to make something more clear to me than it ever has been before: you will probably not see the results of your work as soon as you want to. In ministry, you plant and sow and water and fertilize.....but you may not see maturity and growth (at least in outwardly noticeable ways) for a (sometimes long, long) season.
Sales is the same way. You call, prospect, dig, quote, propose, and woo. Yet I have not seen the results of my work as quickly as I desired. In my field, sales takes time, especially if the size of the job is larger. The larger the job, the more handholding there is to do. And that's fine. I'm definitely a hand holder.
In the field of telecommunications equipment, the tab can sometimes run anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000 for a small to medium sized business of 50-100 employees. For small businesses with 2-20 employees, the tab can hit anywhere between $3,000 and $20,000. The upside is that the equipment I sell (Avaya and Mitel) lasts 15-20 years. Many of the folks I'm prospecting now, who have the equipment we sell, have had it for this long. So it's a great product, and probably the best as it is the market trend-setter for telecommunications equipment and software in the industry. It's great to sell a great product and feel great about it, and feel completely honest about what I say.
The downside, however, is the cost. It's all relative. For a small business, plopping out $3-4,000 is difficult, though leasing (by rar the wisest decision) takes the sting out of the price). It's no different for a medium to large sized business, whether it is a two or three site doctor's office or a Fortune 500 company. Ignorance is also a factor. As IP Telephony takes over the telecom world, most companies will have made the move by 2008, according to the latest statistics. That's good for me (cause I can feed my family), and it's good for the company (cause the money the can save and the productivity increase they can experience with the technology is nothing short of amazing, and sometimes jaw-dropping). But because they don't know about it, they are scared of it. And that fear drives them to stand firmly entrenched against people like me, no matter how much they could be saving.
I'm no salesman, though folks say I have the personality for it, whatever that personality is supposed to be like. I have been exposed to worldly sales methods for several years, mostly felt, though, in the impact it's had on the local church. The late eightees and early ninetees saw George Barna enter the local church scene with sales and marketing helps that have driven the church into the seeker-friendly mode it is now trying to recover from (and which has also birth the Emergent Church Movement). The church is not a business. The gospel is not a product. And preachers are not salesmen. That's the attitude I chose to take when it came to pastoring and ministry.
But now that I'm in sales, things seem different. I am a salesman. I have a product. And I am in business. Persuasion is the name of the game. In pastoring, I worked diligently to persuade people to follow Christ and believe the gospel, leaving the results in the hands of sovereign God. But in sales....Oh! But in sales! I feel the pull and have often succumbed to it, to diligently persuade people to buy my product. This is not so bad, in one sense, because every business needs phones, and while every business does not need the phone systems I sell, most will greatly benefit from purchasing them.
Yet in five months of working for this company, my persuasive efforts have fallen to nothing. I have successfully closed one sale since starting with the company, and that was in the very first week. So after three months of no closes, and seeing the savings dwindle to nothing by the end of this month, it was simple. I'm no dummy. I can figure out pretty quick where all this will indefinitiely lead if something doesn't give way soon. In sales, it's always a numbers game. If you don't perform, you don't keep a job. I broke down and began buying and reading books on sales to help fix what I though was an obviously broken something in my approach.
All that did was to introduce an element into my spiritual equation which produced nothing but confusion. The razor's edge between God's sovereignty (to close business for me) and my responsibility (to learn how to be a better salesman) began to cut my feet into ribbons. Spiritually and emotionally, it's been a bloody mess for me. I study, I learn, I watch, I listen, I read, I ask questions...all in hopes of getting better. Yet the "better" I supposedly get, I still see no fruits - at least no immediate results - from my labor.
So I walk that delicate razor's edge at this time in my life, with self-confidence on the one side and Christ-confidence on the other. And to make sure no one misreads what I'm saying, I'm living in the tension of fulfilling an obvious path of wisdom to get better at what I do so I can feed my family versus leaning on the power of Christ to provide for me because He promised to feed my family.
The tension is not one that can be easily escaped. If we fall to the left side, we work in our own strength and either gloat in our successes or despair in our failures. If we fall to the right side, then we will become lazy expecting Jesus to just drop our needs out of the sky with little if any effort on our part. Walking this road is difficult for our family, to say the least.
The promise, however, that we live and breathe is found in Romans 8, and if you're a regular reader of this blog, you've heard it time and again. "Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?" (v. 32, NLT). Jesus' death and resurrection on my behalf is the greatest thing I could ever have. If I don't get what I want, I still have everything I need. This is an a fortiori argument Paul is using here, meaning, he is arguing from the greater to the lesser. If I have the greatest, I need not sweat the lesser. But I still do. I'm human. But He's God. And He's gracious and merciful with me. He knows I am but dust. And He gently and tenderly sweeps me up in His divine dustpan and strangely treasures it, pouring out His blessings upon it.
So I work, day by day, getting up morning after morning with hope in a great God who is able to supply all my needs "from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19, NLT). I work hard at getting better, but I work according to His power (cf. Eph. 1:19; Col. 1:11). The end of the day seems often filled with discouragement, wondering where I have failed, wavering back and forth between the truth and error of wondering what I could be doing differently in order to close some sales. That is such a trap.
But the gospel is helping me strive diligently, yet trust Him with the results of my labor. With eleven days left in this month, and with the desperate (human) need to close a deal in order to have funds in March, I focus on the fact that the same power that works in me to believe is the same power that works in me to sell and provide for my family. I want the believing and the selling to be married to each other, providing a calm and peaceful assurance in my efforts and God's pleasure with them. Pray with me that the gospel would continue to root out what denies it, and fortify what acknowledges it.