By Dave Kahle
For most of my adult life, I have been a salesperson. I’ve sold a variety of things to a mixture of markets. As a college student, I worked during the summers as a route salesperson. During the school year, I sold men’s suits in a clothing store. Later, I sold capital equipment, surgical instruments, and hospital supplies. In between those major affiliations, I recruited salespeople, and sold franchises.
Since 1988, I have been a sales consultant and sales trainer. I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, written ten books on sales, spoken at hundreds of conventions, and trained tens of thousands of salespeople. Sales, in one way or another, has been how I have made my living for four decades.
For all but the first couple of those years, I have also been a Christian. That combination of Christian and salesperson has presented both tremendous temptations as well as dramatic opportunities for growth and development.
In this article, I explore that dynamic in the hope that my reflections will be helpful to others facing the same challenges. While I’m sure the same thing can be said of almost every profession (the challenge of being a Christian manager, or professional baseball player, or truck driver, etc.) I’m unequipped to comment on those professions. My experience has been as a salesperson.
For years I’ve felt that the position of a salesperson offers great opportunities to be a light to a dark world – to lighten your tiny corner of the universe. A salesperson, by virtue of the job, is in contact with a lot of people. That is, after all, the heart of his job. And each contact and every relationship offers an opportunity to shine just a little piece of God’s providence and love into that situation. By maintaining the perspective of a Christian servant, and tightly clutching an inviolate set of ethics, the Christian salesperson can add light to a set of relationships and transactions that often sorely lack it.
That doesn’t mean that the Christian salesperson should view his customers and contacts as a captive audience for a non-stop barrage of preaching. That violates the first rule of ethical behavior for a Christian – he needs to do good work, to be a credit to his employer. By viewing most every contact as an opportunity to preach to the customer, you turn off almost everyone, and rob your employer of your dedicated sales time.
Rather, it means that the Christian salesperson should maintain his Christian orientation in every one of the myriad opportunities that compose a typical day in the life. The challenge is to live out, in all the transactions and interactions, the direction of Colossians 3:17:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him.
The job of a salesperson is, if not unique, then certainly exceptional in a number of ways. First, it is one of the few occupations wherein the salesperson has the ability to decide, every moment of every day, where he will go and what he will do. Monday morning, the slate is blank. You can go here or there, see this customer or that prospect. You can choose to make phone calls, work on a quote, prepare a presentation, or visit a customer. Virtually unlimited choices.
And, while this “freedom” is one of the aspects of the occupation that almost all salespeople cherish the most, it also carries with it tremendous responsibility to make wise choices. This combination of virtually unlimited freedom and corresponding responsibility is one of the greatest challenges of the salesperson.
There is, therefore, a constant, daily temptation to cheat, to cut corners and to make choices that serve your pleasure rather than your employer’s best interests. For example, a Christian salesperson may choose to take a 45 minute lunch rather than a 90 minute break. He may choose to make the last sales call at 4:30, and the first at 8:00 AM, while his more worldly-oriented colleague may choose a more comfortable 9:00 to 3:00 schedule.
It’s in these kinds of choices that the Christian salesperson’s commitment to doing his job as if working for Christ becomes evident.
Here’s another challenge that comes with the job: the temptation to become driven by the pursuit of money. Most sales positions offer some sort of monetary incentive as a form of motivation. The conventional wisdom is based on the understanding of the freedom of choice discussed above, and posits a need to motivate the salesperson to make responsible choices. Therefore, a monetary incentive (often a commission).
The salesperson often lives in a world, therefore, where money is a constant topic of conversation. High commissions are applauded, and the big earners singled out for recognition. It’s easy to allow the pursuit of more and more money to overwhelm you. Not that there is anything wrong with making money. As a salesperson, I always preferred working on straight commission so that I could make an income proportional to my success. I enjoyed receiving the commission checks which were a measure of my success.
The challenge is to walk the line between, on one side, being compensated for your success, and taking some pleasure in attaining that success; and on the other, to allowing the pursuit of money to overtake you, leaving your ethics and Christian priorities in the dust. When you find yourself compromising your priorities and your ethical standards in order to make more money, you’ve crossed the line.
For example, if you promise a delivery date that you know is unlikely, so that you can receive an order and the corresponding commission, you’ve compromised your integrity for the sake of money. If you exaggerate your company’s offerings for the sake of a sale, you’ve crossed the line. If you fudge a price, over-promise anything, or speak badly about the competition, you’ve crossed the line.
Deception, in all its forms, is another constant temptation to the salesperson. That means such tiny and daily temptations to over-promise, to promise when you are not sure of your company’s ability to keep that promise, to exaggerate both the features of your offerings as well as the deficiencies of your competitors, to embellish an expense report, to embroider the details of a call report, to be anything less than 100% honest all of the time – that is a constant temptation that shows itself in dozens of ways throughout the day.
Here’s an additional insidious temptation resident in the profession: the temptation to grow arrogant and full of yourself. Capturing a major sale in a big account is often a difficult, challenging task that requires astute strategy, well-developed interpersonal skills, perseverance and dedication that plays out over, in some cases, a couple of years. It’s similar to the winning the big case as a lawyer, completing the difficult procedure for a surgeon, and making a life-changing breakthrough with a student for a teacher. No small accomplishment. Rather, a moment to celebrate.
Do this with regularity, and you begin to sense that you are exceptional, someone who lives just one level above the mass of humankind. Couple that with the isolation which is inherent within the job of the salesperson, and it’s easy to become arrogant, demanding, and dismissive of those around you who have helped you reach these lofty places.
Maintaining a Christian spirit of humility within this environment is a constant challenge.
And that is what makes the profession of sales such a great place for Christians. The constant challenges serve to shape your character. In a world where the temptations are great and many of the practitioners succumb, the Christian who can, in spite of his weaknesses, gradually overcome, will grow significantly as a human being while at the same time shine a badly needed light into a world that suffers for the lack of it.
I am a Christian & an inside salesman. My superiors often utilize pressure to motivate, and I am not sure how to feel about it. I endeavor to do my best & trust God with the rest.
I am seeking to be in sales leadership, however. How do I motivate those under me who don’t believe in Jesus without leveraging undue, anxiety-spawned pressure?
Ben, motivating people is about finding and unleashing the motivation that is already there. It comes from the inside, not the outside. Make it a point to come to know each person under you, and find out what motivates them. Then, try to link that motivation to to the results you’d like to have from them. Go get my book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime to gain a system to help you do that.
I am a Christian and in straight commission sales . I have been financially stolen from by many of my co agents as I was in training . I am very new to sales and worked in social services prior.i don’t want to cheat others at all !! However I’m finding it a challenge to remain in Gods way “ in the world not off the world” and provide for my family .
I can feel for you,Liisa. Hang in there. Keep your focus on Jesus, do the best work you can, and know that you shining a light into a dark area.
I am stepping out by faith to assist a fellow Christian in their sales position by taking the everyday burden of cold calls off of their agenda-thereby freeing up their time to personally connect with new clients
I’ve excelled in small scale selling in the past but this is a Much bigger arena Quite honestly out of my comfort zone
I have read a few of your book excepts online and I Thank you for your insight
Please pray for us as we endeavor to uplift God by example in ALL that we do and say 🙂
Will do, Emma.
Thank you for sharing this. I may be applying for a inbound phone call, presales role for an internet based company I currently work for in customer support. We will be paid a small base hourly rate with varying monthly goals to hit so that we receive our commission bonus. This would be my first truly sales focused job.
They place a great emphasis on upselling and “sealing the deal” in the moment so the customer places the order on the phone right then. Like if the customer wants to discuss it with their husband or think it over, we should try to convince them to make the purchase on the phone (I also won’t get credit if they make it later and will get fired if I don’t meet my goals).
I understand the need to do this, but I genuinely want to help the customers make the best choice for them. I want to give them every bit of helpful information I can, and let them decide. I don’t appreciate being manipulated/pressured in to making a decision if I’m not ready (and these could be fairly large money orders), so how can I in good conscience do this if it’s not abiding by one of the most simple tenants of our faith (treat others as you would want to be treated). ?
I think the best sales is when you are trying to meet a need/want of a person, not meet your own goal. I myself would typically compare and research items before making a large purchase, so why should I pressure someone to do otherwise?
If we’re not even supposed to unhealthily manipulate or pressure someone in to giving their life to Jesus (the biggest decision of their life, but we can’t decide for them), how can I do that with furniture?
Thank you for your help!
Unfortunately you are caught between a rock and a hard place. Your employer has directed you to follow a certain path, and as a good employee, you should follow his directions. On the other hand, your conscience makes that very uncomfortable. Honestly, I think your best course of action is…
1. pray about it, asking God for a solution,
2. do the best you can as an employee,
3. immediately start looking for a job that doesn’t violate your conscience.
THANK YOU, Devon for summarizing EXACTLY how I feel (I was in face-to-face sales) and Dave for your answer. Now I know I’m not alone in how I feel and making this change is the right path for me! May God bless you both!
My first job straight out of college was a automobile sales consultant,Working for an international brand.Inwent on to be a salesperson fearing God. Telling the truth ,And not taking orders when cannot be delivered as per customers wants and needs…my productivity went low..I got memos …And than I had to choose the dark way of selling,lying, manipulation and the seeking numbers increased,but I was helpless and restless..no peace. ,cheating the customers inorder to achieve targets ,left me frustrated and low..Finally left the job but has impacted my life in a way I have sales .I cannot get a different job due to my previous experience of sales ,and I cannot afford to loose my mental strength again in a sales job.
Sorry you has such a bad experience, Austin. Trust me, there are sales positions where such unethical behavior is not acceptable. There are employers who expect ethical
behavior from a sales person. Ask God to lead you to one of them. In the meantime, you might it find it valuable to join the Christian Sales Association group on Linkedin, and network with some of those folks.
Hi Dave, I’m thankful to have found this article.
I just quit a position with a timeshare company. My job was to be the bait to bring people in for a presentation with an aggressive sales rep who would tell them anything to make a sale.
The company offers great benefits and incentives and commission to employees, but it hassles its timeshare owners so they can’t make use of their purchase. I would get paid based on the numbers of people I sent in for the presentation. I thought I could put my personal values aside and just let the customers determine for themselves if they believed the sales rep and needed a timeshare, but after hearing from many timeshare owners about their dissatisfaction… I just couldn’t be the bait and make my income worth more than the truth.
I’m really messed up over this and afraid I’ve made the wrong decision. I could have earned a lot of money and paid off debt and also used that money to help my church, but at what expense? I’m afraid I’ll always be broke.
Sounds like you made the right decision. Trust me, there are ethical companies out there, and solid, fulfilling positions for sales people. Make it matter of consistent prayer, and network with every Christian business person you can find.
Hello I’ve searched for God & sales job because I wanted to know what God had to say about what I was doing. This is my first sales job as a life insurance agent I’m only on week two & so far I haven’t been successful with sitting down with people either they don’t have the money or bows not a good time or they don’t have a checking or savings acct. Others just don’t keep there appt time. So far this has been discouraging & I’m not sure how to make this work?
I’m not sure what company you are with, but the folks who hired you should be training you in the attitudes and techniques you’ll need to be successful at this. I know several excellent Christian life insurance sales people. The life insurance business is notoriously difficult to get started, and bring lots of rejection. What you are experiencing is typical for that business. If you feel you can put up with the rejection and persevere through a year or two of difficulty, then hang in there. If you don’t think you are capable of that, I’d begin to look around for something else. There is no shame in realizing that your skills and abilities would be a better fit somewhere else. The world is full of people who tried life insurance sales and didn’t like it.
I am a female in a tech industry, not in a direct sales roles but in a channel reseller role.
It is a male dominated industry with a mix of women who are aggressive to make their mark.
I have often been disrespected or stomped on by my display the fruit of the Spirit. My observation is they may see me as weak or that, I just take it. Though I am very good at executing a sales strategy and making my numbers, I have a difficult time dealing with extremely egotistical personalities. The more kindness and forgiveness I display, the more they seem to think it is okay to run me over. I have defended myself time and time again, maybe it is not direct and firm enough?
If my basic salary is not much, can I add to the comany price so that I will be able to match up expenses and have something on my own.
This is an idea you should discuss with your company’s management.
Hi Dave, I am so thankful I came across your website. I will be investing part of my personal development to reviewing your materials. I am a licensed securities and insurance agent working to build my book of business. I came into this line of work through a difficult previous working situation; but as it so often happens I look back now and I see the hand of God was working in my life. I love what I do now! I love working with people to help them solve needs in their lives. However, I need to learn more about how to get in front of the right kind of people consistently to help them and therefore helping my family with a pay check. I need a repeatable and sustainable process for qualified prospects. Please pray for me. God bless you for what you are doing for Christian sales people.
Glad you find the content helpful, Dwayne. You will be on my prayer list. In the meantime, there may be some ideas for you in my book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytimes.
I started a new first time ever sales position at a car dealership. How do I keep my Christian beliefs and integrity intact when the management professes to be Christian and work with Christian values( even having a bible study group ) but the whole sales procedure is done with white lies, manipulation and deceit? The Christian management has convinced themselves that this procedure of theirs allows them to keep their faith and beliefs intact.
I think you ought to share you thoughts with the owners, Ken. It may be no one has ever pointed out the discrepancies that you see. Do it with love and humility. If there is no change, then you have a choice. Continue to work in under terms that violate your conscience, or find another job.
I have been in commercial sales for 6 years with a communications company. We are a sales group of 12 and 3 of us are born again. We are told by the company to set our own pricing if we wish but the company does have set pricing for their products. Our problem is that the pricing the company has set is very low and if we sold everything at their pricing we would not make quota, we are expected to raise the price if we can which means if a customer asks how much is this product we will say 229.00 a month but the company set price is 199.99 We would like to know are we doing right by the company and God by getting the best price possible for our employer or are we in sin by not dropping down immediately to the rock bottom price? We owe allegiance to God does he ask us to do the best for our employer and ourselves or to the customer that calls in wanting service. Are we lying when we start at a higher price or if the customer asks “is that the best you can do?”
look forward to your reply
I am encouraged by the sensitivity of your conscience which lead you to ask this question. Good for you. Here’s one person’s opinion.
1. You have a responsibility to be a good employee and honor your employer’s directions and requests, as long as it doesn’t violate your ethical standards. While your employer’s system is a bit unusual, there is nothing unethical about allowing and encouraging you to get a better price. The issue is not on the employer side of this issue, but rather on the customer side. 2. There is no Biblical guideline that I am aware of that would say that you must always offer the lowest price On the other hand, the customer is making a decision as to the value of the proposition you offer. If, in his/her mind, the service is worth $229, then it is. While salespeople often fixate on price as the largest determinate in a sales offer, very rarely is it the top issue in the mind of thee customer. You, for example, are probably not driving the cheapest car you find. You made a decision to pay what you did, based on the value you received for your money. How the customer feels about you and your company, and what value they receive for their money are bigger issues than just the price. So, can you ask for a higher price? I believe so. What you cannot do is be deceptive or manipulative in the interaction. You need to have a honest answer to the question, “Is that the best you can do?” When that happens, you are in a negotiation. There are two classic ways to handle that. 1. Reframe the issue into a value proposition. I could see an answer something like this: “You may be able to find a better price online, but you will have to do it all yourself. You won’t have me working with you to make it easier for you to set up the service.” That kind of answer is honest, and it also points out the value that you add to the equation. 2. Offer a concession in exchange for a concession on their part. I could see something like this: “I can get you $10 less. If I do, would you commit right now?” Which of these feels most comfortable to you is a function of your own particular perspective. I hope this helps. I’d love to hear how you resolve this.
Thank you for the fast response and this definitely will ease our minds and hearts.
We want and will do what is right by God’s standards to honor and obey.
Thank you and God bless
You summed it up nicely and we have been doing your suggestions for some time now but I guess we needed to hear from someone with more experience as a Christian and as a salesman.
We sell ourselves and the quality of the product, I will bend over backwards for my customers and do everything I can to keep them happy. We are also very upfront with them, setting real life expectations.
We really appreciate your web site for Christian sales people.
I loved this article, thanks so much for writing it. I’ve recently been reading the book of Acts and am so inspired by the Apostle’s journeys and I have been thinking how I can use that in my own job as a travelling salesmen. The problem is I’m not that motivated by money and I earn enough but I want to be filled with the same passion they had. I sometimes think if I was going around preaching the Gospel rather than selling electrical appliances I would feel more motivated. Is there any way I can in some subtle way use the opportunity to meet lots of different people to spread the gospel or let God’s light shine beyond just through my own ethical practices. P.s. I live in a Muslim country so I am also limited by what I can say in that regard
Laurence, Thanks for your comments. Please subscribe to my Building Biblical Businesses Ezine, here (https://www.davekahle.com/subscribe-daves-e-zines/) and be looking for an article we have scheduled entitled “Workplace Evangelism.” It will provide you with an answer to your question.
I have had seven jobs in the last 6 months. I don’t think I’ve come across one person at any of these jobs that was truly honest. I have a disabled wife who has not been able to work for some time and I have very high overhead. I have not taken or have quit many jobs because I knew that it would not be glorifying the Lord to do them. I find myself looking online for a loophole so I can just lie when I need to and make as much money as I can believing God will understand all that I have been through. After losing everything we had in 2 hurricanes and ending up homeless we are terrified that would ever happen again. I don’t know what type of sales jobs that all of you have had. The ones I have had are so competitive that if you don’t do anything you can to measure up you’ll probably lose them or get leads that are a waste of time. I want so bad to please the Lord because he has been so very good to me. I don’t sleep much at night because of this.
I’m sorry to hear about you difficulties. How can I help you?