The term salesmanship often conjures up sleazy connotations. Its trademark cliche is the used car salesman—the living embodiment of lies, coercion and manipulation.
Salesmanship should be nothing like this. Christian businesses rely on sales, and sales rely on salesmanship. So I’d like to help you take the idea of salesmanship captive to obey Christ by putting it into a biblical category.
I go into this in depth in my book Copywriting for Christians: How to sell without selling your soul. But here, I’d like to give you the central idea. It can be summarized in just three words…
Salesmanship is leadership.
What this means is that the key to effective selling is to help customers think of you as more than just a provider. They don’t just want someone they can buy from, but someone they can follow. They are looking for someone they can trust to lead them.
But lead them where?
Well, what customers are usually doing when they buy is not, in fact, purchasing a service or a product.
That might sound strange, but actually they are giving you money in exchange for a way to facilitate a certain vision of their own futures.
You’ve heard that no one goes into a hardware store looking for a drill; they go in looking for a way to make a hole. But really, they’re not interested in making a hole either. They’re interested in hanging a picture. And they’re not even interested in that. When you trace their desires back, they are ultimately interested in bringing about a certain vision—a vision for how their future will be better by having that picture on their wall mounted in the hole that was made by the drill.
Perhaps it is a modern painting that will make them feel more sophisticated. Perhaps it is an expensive piece that will garner admiration. Perhaps it is a family photo that will make their spouse feel warmer toward them. Perhaps it is a portrait of their son who they don’t want to forget.
It is this future, and not the drill, that they most care about. The hole and the drill are the means—the vision of the future is the end.
When your own customers look around for someone to help them with whatever you do, they are going through a similar thought process. They are looking for someone to lead them to their visions of their futures.
Therefore, whatever you’re trying to sell, doing so makes you a leader—someone your customers believe can lead them to the future they envision.
Surprisingly, this means Christians have a natural advantage. Contrary to what many think, once you frame salesmanship in terms of leadership, you discover that following the Bible makes you better at it.
Indeed, it is secular copywriters who are often hobbled, inasmuch as they often buy into the lies the world tells about leadership. This is why you see so much salesmanship that revolves around:
This all reflects a self-centered, worldly attitude to leadership. Because it is a “me me me” approach where “leaders” are just the people at the top of the food chain, it is ultimately not sustainable—there’s always a bigger fish.
Leaders aren’t men with sticks. They are men with chests. The Bible’s view of leadership is as effective as it is counterintuitive:
Leadership, paradoxically, is a serving role.
So, a man is the leader in the marriage (Ephesians 5:23;1 Corinthians 11:3)—but before the shock and horror can set in, the apostle instructs husbands to love their wives, not by buying them flowers and lingerie, or by going easy with the rod of discipline, but in the same way Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25ff; cf 1 Peter 3:7). Which is to say, by being willing to give up his rights, his status, his preferences, and being made utterly low in order to save them (Philippians 2:6-8).
Salesmanship doesn’t involve such extremes, because the customer relationship is not as extreme as the relationship of Jesus to his people. But selling biblically does mean serving the people who really want your help—and showing them that you have their interests at heart. That you are serving them first, rather than yourself.
When you write copy, then, don’t think in terms of trying to persuade—think in terms of serving your customer by helping him make an informed decision about whether you can lead him to the vision of his future that he wants.
If your marketing is well-targeted, that decision should be “yes”.
This is what salesmanship, marketing, and copywriting are all about. And this is how Christians can glorify and honor God without resorting to the kind of coercion, manipulation, hype or lies that are sadly so often associated with worldly sales methods.
Dominic Bnonn Tennant is the author of Copywriting for Christians: How to sell without selling your soul, and the creator of “Learn Copywriting Backwards,” a training program for solopreneurs. He lives in New Zealand, where he is active in apologetics ministry when he isn’t teaching businesses how to turn more visitors into customers.