This is my last in the series of lessons from the greatest salesperson there ever was—Jesus of Nazareth. And this one deals with a topic at the forefront of today’s sales education: being customer-centric. Jesus set the very first example of this vital sales quality.
Disclaimer: In this series, we’re examining the sales techniques of Jesus of Nazareth, the greatest salesperson of all time.
This doesn’t mean I’m taking some kind of jaded view of Jesus, and only characterizing him as a salesperson. Nor does it mean I’m stepping all over religious toes and pushing Christianity. I am simply and only focusing on lessons we can learn from someone whose “product” is still selling incredibly well after an unimaginable two thousand years—and this is two thousand years after he himself is no longer walking the Earth. There certainly must be lessons there to learn—and there are.
The Greatest, the Biggest, and the Best
Today, it is not uncommon for salespeople—or anyone, for that matter—to engage in arguments on who is the greatest or the best. It was no different in Jesus’s time, and in fact, there is an account in the book of Luke (chapter 22, verses 24-30) of an argument between the disciples of which one of them was the greatest.
Jesus told them that there are kings ruling humanity, and even those that rule kings. But he told the disciples that they should not be that way—that the greatest among them should become the youngest, and the one acting as chief should be ministering. He asked which is greater, the one seated at the table, or the servant waiting on him? He pointed out that he was in their midst ministering to them.
To Serve or Be Served
If we look at being a servant in light of sales, we see that serving applies to a customer. Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a customer. We all want to experience perfect service—at the restaurant, at the airport, airplane, spa, hotel, the theater.
When it comes to serving others, though, it can be a totally different story. Many don’t really want to serve others, or at the least they don’t enjoy it.
As we can see, nothing has changed in 2,000 years. We can learn a vital lesson from Jesus here—he was the first customer-centric teacher in the world. He stated that the greatest among them should be like the one who serves.
In the next account I will cite, Jesus set an example instead of giving a lecture or a talk, and a few of the disciples, frankly, didn’t quite get it. He was actually demonstrating, through his actions, what he was previously describing with words, quietly demanding that the disciples glean the lesson through experience. You can find this famous story about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the last supper in John 13, verses 1-20.
During the meal, Jesus arose and obtained a basin and filled it with water. He began to wash the feet of each of the disciples. His chief disciple, Peter, questioned him and even refused to have Jesus perform this act. Jesus countered that if Peter didn’t allow it, he would no longer be part of this very exclusive group.
Jesus told them that just as he had washed their feet, so should they behave in the same manner to others.
Leading by Example
In both of these stories, but especially in the second one above, Jesus was leading by example. He was actually performing an act that was normally done by the lowest person in a hierarchy.
Today such a thing would also be viewed as either outrageous or exceptional. Let’s say a group of businesspeople from a company were traveling to a retreat. What is the normal behavior in such a situation? The lessor employees would be attempting to assist the C-levels: “Can I carry your luggage? Can I help you get into the plane? Here, you can have the better seat.” And so on.
But following Jesus’s example, it would be turned around. The CEO would be grabbing the luggage of the lowest employee present and carrying it. Normally that would never happen—the CEO is used to being served and wouldn’t be likely to change.
Putting aside any religious significance, this lesson could be taken as a boss setting an example for their employees so that they truly understand what being served means. Only through the implementation of a service culture, executed from top down, can a real customer-centric approach be successful. This is the radical change we need to see in many companies today.
Elsewhere in History
Elsewhere in history, we can see a very similar demonstration of this same principle. As can be seen in the film Gandhi, there was a time when Mahatma Gandhi, in a meeting, took the tea being served by a servant, and served it himself to each one of the meeting attendees. This was in the same spirit—an example of leadership.
Lessons for Sales
What do we learn from all of this for sales? First, we learn that we actually serve our customers. Second, as sales leaders, we serve our salespeople.
Lastly, though, it can be seen that leading by example happens through actions, not by words. In fact, our actions either underscore our words—or show our verbal claims to be totally false.
There are many people whose actions do not match their words. It’s like a mismatched pair of shoes, one for the words and one for the actions. It’s easy to talk, but not so easy to actually demonstrate through your actions that you really mean what you say.
As a sales manager, lead by example and, above all, have your actions match your words.