This is the sixth article in a series called Biblical Principles for Sales and Marketing. The first article expounded on five principles that are foundational to Biblical marketing decisions:
- Love. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31
- Truth. A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight. Prov 11:1
- Humility. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Philippians 2:3
- Contentment. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5
- Service. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Ephesians 4:28
For the purpose of this article, sales is the direct communication that a company representative has with a prospect. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is the paper system or software the representative uses to keep a record of past communication with a customer and to set reminders for follow up.
If you don’t have a disciplined approach to sales and a CRM to track activity, you are not alone. Many small businesses have a salesman or two that operate from memory or random sticky notes. I hope this article inspires you to rethink the value of establishing a service-oriented sales process and beginning to use a CRM system. If we are to model God’s standard of love, truth, service, humility, and contentment, we need to give this area attention. Why? Keep reading to find out.
How can I serve others through sales?
As plain businesses, we place a high value on humility, and rightfully so. However, sometimes this emphasis wrongly contributes to a weakness in sales. We can do better by considering what humility is and isn’t.
Sometimes we think about sales like this: “I want to be humble. If I promote myself or my products, I’m being aggressive. Aggression is a form of pride. Besides, if I’m trying to sell my product over the competition’s product then I need to either promote mine as better or criticize the competition. I’ll either be bragging or tearing down someone’s reputation. I won’t do either of those if I’m humble.” (We’ll call this Example A.)
Is there a better way? Is it possible to promote our products without bragging or tearing down the competition?
Yes, there is! Let me share a different thought process: “There are many people who have a problem that my product will solve. My responsibility is to find and help those people (or help them find me). I realize that not everyone’s problem is exactly the same. Some may be best served by my competitors. But that is for them to decide. My job is to educate and guide them the best I can, so they can choose the best solution for themselves.” (We’ll call this Example B.)
Let’s observe a few differences between these two lines of thought. Example A focuses on oneself instead of others. Example B focuses on the prospect. Humility is others-focused instead of self-focused.
In Example A, selling is considered aggressive and boastful. That isn’t selling, that’s repelling! In Example B, selling is about helping.
In Example A, your prospects must do their own research to figure out themselves if and how your product will solve their problem. That is too much work for most people. In Example B, they are handed the information they need, or a salesman honestly answers their questions about the pros and cons of the product for their unique situation. Rather than aggression, this is a great service to the prospect.
In Example A, there is no clarity on which situations my product is best suited for and which would be better served by a competitor. It’s not clear who my ideal customers are. In Example B, prospects can make an informed decision because they’ve been educated about the product and can qualify or disqualify themselves as a good prospect for your product or service.
Now that we have unpacked these two ways of thinking about sales, which way best exemplifies the Biblical principles of love, truth, humility, and service?
How can I provide more value through sales?
If we are going to serve our prospects well, we need to understand what they value in a solution to their problem. You can divide value into two categories: hard value and soft value. Businesses tend to focus more attention on hard value, but customers usually put more weight on soft value.
Hard value consists of facts and specifications and data—hard evidence, something measurable. Examples of hard value when you are selling a trailer:
- Payload capacity
- Suspension type
- Strength/durability (aluminum vs. steel)
- Spring-assisted ramp
- Bed size/capacity
Conversely, the aspects of the buying process or user experience that are not measurable in inches or pounds make up the soft value you offer. Examples:
- A cheerful salesman
- A clean, organized lot/sales counter
- A trusted brand name
- Easy purchase process
- Feeling valued or cared for
- Demonstrated expertise
Think about your own search for a solution to a problem that you didn’t know much about. As you interacted with various potential solutions, how much did soft value that you sensed from a company impact your decision? Likely you were not comfortable buying the hard value until you were convinced the business provided the soft value.
A business friend told me about a major machine purchase his business had made. They chose to purchase a machine that they believed was lower quality than an alternative. They expected this machine to break more often. So why did they buy it? Because they trusted the company’s service department. They know all machines break down, and when it does, they want a service department that can fix it quickly and properly.
Similarly, I’ve made purchases that were not necessarily because I felt it was the best solution, but because I trusted the salesman and didn’t want to spend more time looking or researching an alternative.
I think you would agree with me that as Christian businessmen, we should be the best in the business when it comes to providing soft value. Soft value springs from a desire to genuinely love and serve our customers. It comes from being content that perhaps they can sometimes be best served by our competitor. It comes from building a reputation of telling the truth. It comes from true humility. Who likes to deal with an arrogant, selfish salesman?
Why should we use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system?
What if you could not remember your wife’s favorite color or favorite flowers, and you kept asking her periodically? She may begin to wonder why you are not able to remember this simple information about the most important and beloved person in your life.
Remembering unique information about one person, your wife, is manageable. But your business needs to “remember” information about dozens or hundreds or even thousands of people. To avoid coming across as the blundering, forgetful husband, you need a CRM system.
Modern CRMs are sophisticated software programs that can keep track of a staggering array of data points, from prospects’ interaction with a website to the number (and status) of prospects in a sales pipeline to email open rates to much more. I know that sounds overwhelming. But your CRM doesn’t need to be complicated to be successful.
Think about the R in CRM: Relationship. The point of CRM is simple: to help you build, maintain, and improve your relationship with each unique customer. This requires that you have a place to store information on each specific customer (remember the example of a forgetful husband). At a minimum, a CRM system is our brain or memory for items like the following:
- Notes about specific customers
- Follow-up reminders
- Sales history
- Customer preferences
- Tracking promises to prospects
A good CRM, whether paper or digital, has two major functions: 1) maintain a history of activity, 2) remind you of actions you need to take.
Maintain a history of activity. We should care enough about our prospects that we take notes on our conversations with them. It is easy to forget details. Write down pertinent details about their need or situation.
In addition, keep notes on what was agreed on. If we write it down right away and file it in an organized system, we can quickly find it when we need it. Please don’t make your customer give you the same information more than once. It wastes both their time and yours.
You might want to make a habit of reviewing your notes from the last conversation before you make a follow-up call.
Remind you of follow-up actions. Scheduling future follow-ups is important to show that you are reliable and honest. Anytime you make a promise to a customer, it should be recorded and scheduled, unless you take care of it immediately.
Keep your CRM as simple as possible. Many of you can function efficiently and effectively with a notebook and calendar. The key is to develop the habit of using it consistently.
Is it okay to follow up?
Salesmen sometimes struggle with the idea that they are bothering their prospects by following up. In Permission Marketing, Seth Godin recommends asking your contact when they want to be followed up with. You can suggest a date and ask them to suggest an alternative time if that does not work well for them.
By arranging this agreement with them, you know they are expecting and even depending on your follow-up call. Remember, if you are providing something of value, you can follow up with confidence.
A good sales process serves the customer by providing clarity and value. A CRM keeps customers and prospects from slipping through the cracks.
Both sales and CRM can be powerful tools in Kingdom-focused business as you use them to serve your prospective customers with humility and care. Take time this week to make sure you are implementing them well in your business.