We might not think of sales as a good job for Christians…but we should
Many years ago, when I first arrived in Australia, I was working for a dry cleaner who soon realized that I would never make it as a professional dry cleaner. One morning he asked me what I really wanted to do. When I told him that my ambition was to sell, and preferably clothing, he spoke to a fellow businessman and arranged for me to start working for him.
That was my start in the menswear trade.
Take a genuine interest
The man I started with was a very hard taskmaster, but knew his trade inside out. The lessons he taught me have stood me in good stead.
One of the first things I learned from him was to take a real interest in the customer. Customers soon know whether you are interested in them or only in the money they will leave behind. Taking a real interest means listening – taking the time to hear their concerns so you can best meet their needs. For a teenage apprentice that was sometimes a little difficult, especially on a Saturday afternoon when the beach beckoned and you really wanted to shut the shop but the customer had much to share. If I got distracted, or started giving the customer only half my attention, my boss would soon notice and let me know his displeasure immediately after the customer left. So my first lesson was to take a real interest in the customer.
Sell only what meets their needs
The next lesson: make sure that you sell what suits the customer. Far too often people try to sell what they want to get rid of, or what they have overstocked. Or, they take the attitude anything will do as long as I make a sale. Well, the best way of losing customers is to sell a product for the wrong reason.
If you are not a salesperson, you might think this is self-evident. But when the opportunity presents itself to make a big sale it can be rather tempting to sell the product regardless of whether it suits the customer. And lets face it, some customers are far too gullible for their own good, and will buy whatever the charming salesman shows them. So this can be a real temptation. But not only is it wrong, it is shortsighted. You might be able to sell anything to them, but when the customer gets home that night his wife, or his friends will be sure to tell him he got snookered. Once he learns he has misplaced his trust in you, he will no longer be your customer.
To meet your customer’s needs you need not only to take a genuine interest, but you need to really know your product. That means studying, reading, and listening to others to learn more about what you are selling. I learned the necessity of that especially during the time I was in the insurance business. The client may trust you, but then you better make sure that that trust is warranted. The only way to do that is to really know your product. And it makes no difference what trade or profession one is in. The customer is turning to you for your knowledge, and your experience. The latter comes only with time, but the first can be increased with good effort.
Service, service, service
My boss also taught me about service. Many people have no idea what service is. It means giving of yourself, and making the other feel valued.
This can be worked out in big ways and small. Many in sales, when they answer the phone fail to sound friendly, or they do not announce the name of the firm they represent nor give their own name. Small things maybe, but important ones. It is even important to smile when answering the phone. You don’t believe me? Try it with someone. I did. We had a fellow working for us who always answered the phone in the most serious manner. When I tackled him on this he replied that it should not matter as the other person couldn’t see his face. We decided to do a test. I picked up my phone in my office and rang him. I spoke to him in various ways and asked him later if he had noticed the difference. He had. He could tell when I smiled or when I was serious. Many people forget that the phone is often the first contact one has with a firm. So yes, service starts even in answering the phone.
In a shop or showroom it is important to welcome people in a friendly and sincere manner. Let the customer know that you are there to help them. Even when you are busy serving someone it is often takes but a little effort to recognize another person and let him/her know that you will be with them soon.
Go the extra mile. If you don’t have the item the customer needs, offer to get it. Sure this sometimes can cause extra costs, but if you put yourself out the customer will generally appreciate it and become a customer for life. You might not be the cheapest in town but if your service is better than that of others, customers will even accept that as the price to pay for top class attention.
A real estate agent will tell you that there are only three things that matter when buying property: location, location, location. Well, there are only three things that matter in sales: service, service, service.
If you don’t want to give service – friendly, well meant, genuine service – don’t become a salesperson.
How do Christians do sales differently?
So far I have only dealt with matters that everybody can agree on. But is that all there is to it?
What about the fact that you and I are Christians? Won’t that affect the way we do things? That is a good question.
The man I learned my trade from was not a Christian. The reason he did things the way he did was because he believed that it was the best way to build a business. So whether you are Christian or not, it is easy to see the benefits of having an honest, up front approach to serving the customer. Many salesmen do not use this approach, but the best will.
What then is different about the way Christians might do sales?
The difference comes down to why we do things. Our whole life should be lived in a Christian manner, to the honor of God and to the benefit of our neighbor. That means that we need to examine ourselves to see if we are doing our work out of a real desire to serve God and our neighbor.
We need to remember it is not possible to wear one hat on Sunday and a different one during the rest of the week. You cannot be a pious godly Christian on Sunday and a hard, sharp businessman the rest of the week.
Being a godly salesman means that even if no one will find out about a little untruth – some little subterfuge which can help to increase the bottom line, some little exaggeration, or some not quite honest spin – that can never be part of our thinking. People should know you claim to be a Christian, and they will watch you to see if you are true to your profession. Therefore it is imperative that a Christian businessman lives very close to the Lord and asks Him daily to direct his life, so that in selling, too, we may give glory to Him.
A version of this article was first published in the January 2000 issue under the title “Salesmanship.” Rene Vermeulen published more than 150 articles in the pages of Reformed Perspective from 1984-2010.