Sales Lessons

sell 2

Previously I compared two church models to the approach of two tree service contractors. I want to add a few comments based on our dealings with another contractor, but on the subject of “sales” strategy. I will first describe what happened and then draw some parallels to church practices.

Recently we bought a coupon that gave us 75% off on eaves trough cleaning. This is a fairly common “loss leader” that allows a company to up-sell their other products and services to make a profit. Since we plan to install gutter guards to keep our gutters leaf-free anyway, we don’t mind hearing out their sales pitch and quote.

The salesperson was also the owner of the company, so he was free to offer any deal he wants. We explained that we want to solve a problem of rain water splashing onto our neighbor’s property instead of flowing through the downspout and discharging onto our lawn. Based on his expertise, he recommended aligning the eaves trough so that the water flow naturally down slope, and re-routing the downspout so that the water discharge is fully onto our property. He then offered a 15% discount when we purchase the gutter guards, alignment and re-routing together, if we place the order that day, which we accepted.

The work was completed two weeks later, but the real test came two days after the installation, when there was a heavy downpour. The work substantially reduced the water overflowing the gutters and cascading to our neighbor’s side, but not completely.
When we called the owner about the continuance of the problem, he was very defensive and said “Didn’t you pay the technician in full? By paying him in full you agreed that the work was done to your full satisfaction!” We told him we were not accusing the technician of doing a poor job, only that it did not solve our problem. He saw the possibility of extra work and said he’ll send another technician to quote what else can be done.

The second technician came, and suggested:
1. Either installing one more downspout to divert part of the water away from the first one so that it won’t overflow, at a cost of several hundred dollars, or
2. Cutting back the shingle that was overhanging the eaves trough too much, which may have obstructed the water flow, for a couple of hundred dollars.
We asked him whether the company will guarantee (1) will solve our problem. They won’t. He then said that based on his experience (2) should solve our problem, but no guarantees. We were not prepared to spend a significant sum just for them to do trial and error, so we opted for (2).

God was merciful. As soon as the technician finished cutting back and re-sealing the shingle, it started to rain and the water continued to splash, which proved his “professional judgment” was wrong, before he left our home! After phoning his boss, they offered a third solution to connect the upper downspout directly to the lower one, so there won’t be any overflow and splashing, again for extra money. Since we don’t want an irate neighbor, we agreed to try this one last time. Will it work? We won’t know until the next thunderstorm, and are praying that it will so we can have one less worry while on short-term mission. Now onto some observations.

The salesperson used several sales techniques, some legitimate, others inappropriate for a church setting:
1. Discount incentive: There is nothing wrong with offering a volume discount when you buy more. Some churches offer discounted or even free tickets to special events to draw newcomers. While some people balk at churches using marketing, claiming it to be secular, it is actually ethically neutral.
2. Pressure tactics: He tied the expiry of the discount to when he leaves upon completion of the eaves trough cleaning. This time limit is common in commercial sales to exert pressure on the other party e.g. real estate offer to purchase and sign-backs typically expire by a certain time. But don’t ever try it in churches, especially when witnessing. Although the Lord did not want anyone to perish, He did not apply pressure on people to come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). What gives you the right to do so? You would be misrepresenting Him, which an ambassador should never do. Don’t force people to make a decision for Christ. It will only backfire, leave a sour taste in their mouths, and give Christians a bad name.
3. Continuous up sell: Unlike salesmen who are trained to push high-value products, often Christians do not have this “sales mentality” and are not alert to outreach opportunities. While we should not be pushy, neither should we wait for opportunities to fall into our laps. However, be careful about promising benefits that Scripture never promised (e.g. prosperity, healing etc.), and pushing your own agenda. What the salesman wanted was successive orders to accumulate sales. What we wanted was a solution to our problem. Sometimes the two coincide, but in this case they didn’t. He got his quick sale, but at the cost of his reputation. Sometimes churches do things for short-term gain and their own convenience, without carefully examining the issue from their members’ perspective. Don’t be short-sighted and short-change your people. Treat them well or you’ll lose your most valuable asset.

One more thing. Don’t be too quick to defend yourself like that owner. Listen to what people are saying when they have complaints. While there will always be some who are not satisfied unless they have their way, many people are reasonable and have legitimate needs that your rules have not addressed. Focus on others and you will build your reputation. Justify yourself and you will destroy goodwill in a hurry. Reputation is a delicate thing. It takes a long time to build but can be demolished by just one mistake. Protect it carefully.

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