Thursday, May 1, 2014

Selling or Serving?

Who sells stuff on the Web? Ask a question like that to most anyone and you would expect to be among the first responses. But I have heard a few interviews with Jeff Bezos when someone talks about selling things on the internet; he bristles. He responds by explaining that he doesn’t think of selling anything, but rather… helps people make good purchasing decisions. 

Now that might sound like a bunch of baloney (I’m certain that it is some part baloney)… but I’m confident that the semantics here are important. It flows out of’s customer-centric vision. And I find that it resonates as an customer; when I’m shopping on I generally get the sense that they aren’t selling me anything. They don’t care what I buy… just that I find what I want/need (and while I’m there I might as well buy it from them).  

I think a lot of what I’ve done in my career probably looks a lot like selling, at least from the outside. As a fundraiser, recruiter, and marketer for Christian higher education, my work has looked a lot like the sales function of the organization. Even as a preacher of the Gospel, it could look like sales. In my work over the years, I’ve used most all of the tools and tactics and even jargon of sales. 

But I have never really thought of any of my work as selling

I don’t have the charm to sell an institution to a donor in such a way that they write a million-dollar check. But I have been able to help people make good giving decisions. 

I can’t sell a prospective student into committing the time, energy, and cash that it takes to earn a degree. But I have been able to help students make good, life-changing decisions.  

And I certainly don’t have the ability to sell anyone a religion. But I have been able to help people make good decisions… the best decisions.  

For me, these have all been Spiritual transactions. What a privilege to play a small part in helping people follow God’s call to make a sacrificial gift! Some of my most cherished memories are when I watched people write significant checks (regardless of how many zeroes precede the decimal point) that result in accomplishing part of their dreams. Helping them make the decision and then helping apply it to good work is an exhilarating privilege.  

What a privilege to meet graduates that I helped some time ago, now seeing them doing good work. In some cases, I’ve helped directly (doing the hands-on work of recruiting or helping folk navigate financial aid and such). In other cases the help has been indirect as I’ve been part of program development or marketing. Regardless, it is wonderfully gratifying to know that somehow along the way I’ve helped a lot of students (I guess thousands of students) make good decisions.   

And, of course, what can compare to helping someone make a decision for Christ? Whether that be a first step of faith (believing Jesus for salvation) or a next step (trusting Jesus for direction, provision, deliverance…), playing any small part in these decisions is an awesome honor.  

We have probably all seen people approach these kinds of endeavors primarily as selling… and it seems that more often than not people are wrecked along the way. But when selling is replaced by serving, everybody wins. 


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