The Next Faithful Step
Dave the Salesman
Scott Cormode, Fuller Theological Seminary
Dave was a forty-something year old salesman when his life changed. He had a grave health crisis in 1994. He was in a deep depression as he prepared for a dangerous surgery. “I was convinced,” he said, that “my illness was punishment for my sinful life.” He had gone to church for years and had even been an elder. “But I wasn’t really a Christian,” he says now. In tears, he met with the new pastor at the church down the street.
The pastor “just listened as I talked.” He heard me talk “about my fear and about my sin.” And then, “he shared Scriptures that I had heard before but did not understand.” They talked about the parable of the Prodigal Son, only the pastor focused on “the running father.” Dave said he locked onto the image of a dignified, well-respected leader in the community hiking up his robes so that he could run to meet his long-lost son. “And the tears stopped.” I was now a Christian. “I had the ability to face what was in front of me because Christ had changed me.”
This conversion changed the way that Dave viewed his job. He sells a multi-million dollar product with a long sales cycle. So there is a lot of time to get to know the client. Indeed, a significant part of Dave’s skill in sales is his ability to listen to the clients’ needs. Dave says that he makes a point to do what he calls “personal caring inquiry before taking up the business side.” Sometimes that means hearing about people’s illnesses or difficulty--and then quietly praying either with them or for them. And every time he makes a presentation, he prays in advance for the junior executives, the senior executives, and decision-makers he will meet that day.
The way he prays about his job changed after his conversion. “Always my prayer is to use the gifts God has given me and to be a good steward of those gifts. I pray for each person in the process.” But he no longer prays to make the sale. “Praying to win is to ask God to be just God over me,” and to give me what I want even if that is not good for anyone else. “But God is God over all.” And says that having faith means believing that “God will provide the best situation and not to walk away with bitterness” no matter what happens. He says that he wants to avoid being “judgmental--to walk away thinking ill of others. So I work at not forming judgments. God goes before me. I have a sense of God being with me.”
Dave can take this attitude because he believes that “my ability is a gift from God. I did not learn it in a book.” But “there are a lot of other gifts in the room. And my gifts do not make me better than you.”
This allows him to work for everyone’s best interests, not just to look out for the interests of his company. “If I have to win at any cost, the losers are also the company I represent and my client.” When asked to give an example of what it means to be “concerned about all the parties,” he gives an example. He tells of working with a client and discovering that the client would have been willing to pay as much $600,000 more than the bid that the company had accepted. If he were just looking out for himself or his company, he would have tried to grab all $600,000. But he took this as a warning that he had perhaps not heard all there was to hear. So he went over the contract and found that the client was expecting a level of service that the current proposal could not provide. In other words, if the client accepted this contract, the client would someday be unhappy or Dave’s company would have to provide services that they had not expected or budgeted for. Once Dave understood this problem, he suggested that they re-write the contract to provide the needed services and charge $400,000 more in order to make up the costs. The client was happy. And Dave’s company was happy. All this happened because Dave did not see the $600,000 as some trophy to be won but as a sign that he had not listened well enough to the client. His first priority was to work for everyone’s best interests.
A few years after Dave was interviewed for Part One of the story, Dave told another story.
Dave was looking forward to a vacation. He was going to take his family to Disney World in Florida. It would be a reunion with his daughter who was in school on the East Coast. He planned for it.
One day, the week before his Spring Break vacation, Dave got a call from his new boss. She was going to be in California for a visit. She wanted to schedule a time with him. But it was going to be while he was in Florida. Dave had to decide whether or not to postpone the trip. Of course, in the end, it was not difficult for him. His daughter was only available that week and the tickets were already paid for. So he politely told his boss that he would be away that week. He put his family first.
The next week, as Dave was walking around Disney World, he got a call on his cell phone. Since it was his boss, he took the call. Over the phone, she explained that the reason that she had wanted to talk was that he was being laid off; everyone in his office was. She wanted to do it in person. But since he was away, she had to do it over the phone. He’d done good work, she said, but they were closing the office.
This call came in the midst of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression. Dave had worked with a number of people at his church who were looking for work--many who had been looking for a long time. And now he was one of them.