With this post, we begin a series examining the sales techniques of the greatest salesperson of all time: Jesus of Nazareth.
Before anyone gets upset, this doesn’t mean I’m taking a 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 of course there are.
The Right People
There is a book I often quote—Good to Great, by Jim Collins—in which the author discusses, when building a company, sitting the right people in the right seats on the bus, and taking the wrong people off the bus. But we can see in looking at the life and career of Jesus that the qualifications for building an organization are quite different today, compared to the ones he used.
Today the advice you’ll get for choosing your initial personnel for an organization is to select those that have great experience and well-known “influencers” who can represent your company exceedingly well to the market. But the people Jesus chose as his first followers, that were later referred to as Apostles, could not be described this way. They were virtually unknown and, in at least one case, were true outsiders; Matthew (also believed to be known as Levi) was a tax collector—not someone you’d consider to be a great representative for your cause, or someone people would want to listen to.
The Paralyzed Man
The first story I will focus on can be found in the New Testament, in the book of Luke, chapter 5, verses 17 to 26.
This story tells of a day when Jesus was preaching inside of a house. People had already begun to believe Jesus could perform miracles, so many, both common and learned, had come from nearby and also from some distance to hear him.
It is interesting that we have a form of this today—people always want to come close to someone famous. Why do people want to get close to and often touch celebrities? They want some of their power. They believe such people have something magic because they have become so successful.
A group of men, having heard that Jesus had the power of healing, came carrying a paralyzed man on a small bed. They were seeking a way to place the paralyzed man before Jesus, but because of the crowd they couldn’t get near him. They got cleverly inventive, though—they brought the man up onto the roof of the house, and lowered him through an opening in the roof to be right before Jesus.
Jesus regarded the paralyzed man, and said to him that his sins were forgiven. This statement created a stir with the religious scholars in the crowd, as they didn’t consider Jesus had the power to forgive sins.
Knowing what the scholars were saying, Jesus posed a question to them: Which is easier: to forgive a paralyzed man his sins, or to command him to rise up and walk away? So that they would know he indeed had the authority the scholars were questioning, he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up and pick up your little bed and be on your way home.”
The paralyzed man immediately rose up, picked up what he used to lie on, and walked out the door, telling everyone he encountered what had happened. Additionally, the crowd who witnessed this event all thought that something truly unbelievable had happened, and spoke about it to many others as well.
The first lesson we can learn from this story, from a point of sales, is that we need to overcome barriers. There are walls—and, for that matter, roofs—everywhere. We have to become inventive in a way similar to these men who climbed on the roof to lower the paralyzed man down before Jesus.
It paints a beautiful picture of what we need to do today, in getting in front of someone we want to see. We often have to overcome barriers, and what we can learn from this story is that overcoming barriers is not always done in a conventional way.
These men were incredibly committed because they fully believed in the product Jesus was presenting. Obviously the product or service you are presenting doesn’t fall into the area of miracles, but you can nonetheless have a strong commitment and become similarly inventive.
Today there are always barriers to overcome. And we must often get unconventional, too. We have to climb up on our own roofs.
Words and Actions
The second lesson we can learn from this story: today in sales it is very important that we demonstrate with actions what we say with words. We certainly saw that with Jesus in this story. We’re obviously not healers—for example I cannot say to you, “Your problem is now immediately solved—there is now a perfect CRM installed on your system. Go forth and use it.”
But the outcome of the product you and your company sell must equal its promises. When it does, you have a results similar to the one in the story, when the paralyzed man walked off with nothing but praise for Jesus and his works.
In our context, this praise equals referrals. Many products and services do not get great referrals—and this is because salespeople are simply leaving customers with their products. Salespeople aren’t digging deep enough, really getting at the root of customer problems and presenting solutions to them.
But when they do, referrals truly happen, and the word spreads—just as it did from the crowd who witnessed Jesus’s encounter with the paralyzed man.
We can see that this kind of reputation doesn’t happen very often. Why? Because problems are not greatly solved today. It happens when a product or service is so unique that it truly changes an industry. A prime example is Uber, totally upending and changing paid personal local transport. I’m not necessarily a fan of the business model, and there is a lot of controversy about it, but it has certainly changed an industry. You only need your phone, the app and a connection to credit or your bank account, and you can get a ride.
Do the Hard Thing
When Jesus decided to command the paralyzed man to get up and walk, he was definitely taking the more difficult of the two approaches he mentioned—forgiving the man’s sins or curing his disability.
This is another lesson we can learn. When we are going into solve a problem for a company, we really want to dig in and solve their real issue. We should do the hard thing.
And we should continue to care for the customer after it’s solved; all too often we stop when the issue is solved and don’t really care after that. Referring back to our story, it would be like the men who lowered the paralyzed man down before Jesus just stopping after that, saying, “Our job is now done.” No, the job was done when the man arose and walked out.
Yet another lesson is that when you truly solve a major issue for one or more companies, you create interest. This interest can be both positive and negative—the negative coming from your competitors who failed to solve the problem. In the case of Jesus, there were many who carried the positive word of his deeds, word that has carried down to this day. His deeds were also spread in negative ways as he threatened vested interests of the time—and this is what ultimately ended his life.
Well, people do avoid change, and so remember that as you go forward with your own offerings. Because change is essential for everything we do.