By Christopher Cunningham
As I focus on closing 2010 with strong business sales, there may be only one thing I will do that will matter for eternity. I will pray for my competitors.
Those competitors may be “friendly” within my own sales team or they may be employees of other companies who sell products that compete directly with mine. But, I will pray for their success as well as my own.
Many of us in business have the innate ability to push for a strong finish, to focus on the bottom line, to offer brand new sales and marketing solutions to hit a fourth quarter number. But how many of us realize that our true worth is in our ability to pray for someone who might be perceived as harmful to our own success?
Ask yourself this question: “if I could pray for one thing for the person I compete against; or the company that beats me in sales; or the enemy of my success; what would I say to God about them?”
O.K. what would the second thing be?!
I have found that wisdom begins when I say to God, “I’m not sure what to say to You about this person. Everything they do goes against my success.” Praying for my competitors is no different than talking to God about other tough issues. I just have to get my own agenda out of the way first and be willing to hear God’s direction.
As I press once again into a very difficult fourth quarter, I am reminded of the soul of the sale. Oh sure, I’m also reminded of the embarrassment I feel if I don’t hit my quota; or the number of people who are unemployed because they didn’t get a deal done; or the envy I have for sales people who seem to have a lower forecast. But, I am also prompted by the Holy Spirit to consider the integrity of my soul as I walk with grace inside that pressure.
In my business, I am constantly driven to hit the sales number. If I don’t, I self-inflict some old tapes from the past and say to myself “there are plenty of other people out there who will be willing to step in and do your job, Cunningham. You better sell something now.”
It can be a grind for all of us.
The pressure to close the year above forecast, to win the awards, to succeed in the promotions and to beat the competition is intense.
In addition, the time that I spend on the road this time of year can be even more exhausting. I am now away from family more than I am home and it is a time when most families are home for the holidays.
Tonight, I missed my 12-year-old daughter’s chorus concert. “That’s o.k. daddy,” my daughter said on the phone tonight. It sounded brave coming from a great young lady, but it rang hollow in my heart as I remembered all the other missed celebrations.
These kinds of thoughts tangle up a business person’s heart. It makes us vulnerable to losing sight of what matters as job pressures and long hours are poured into creating great business success.
In fact, fourth quarter pressures can cause us to lose perspective and to push too hard if we allow the never-ending drum of sales performance to take over our souls.
Getting caught up in the “SELL! SELL! SELL!” mentality during this time of the year is a pattern I have tried to avoid since it stung me several years ago.
It was December and I was close to winning our prestigious Rep of the Year Award. I sold and oversold my customers to the point that I was doing whatever I could to win the big award. It became the year of my greatest sales victory (and my smallest spiritual growth).
That December, I had the upper hand on a man who was my primary competitor. He had once worked for our mutual customer and was very well respected for his product knowledge. However, I was the one getting all my products sold into the customers. I was crushing him with my sales programs, promotions and my self-imagined prowess.
My competitor was also a Christian.
During Christmas week, I remember walking into the customer’s office and my competitor was sitting there. He did not know I was standing just outside the door where I could hear their conversation.
Silently, I listened as my competitor was being told that he could not bring in his products because they had bought too many of mine. He had two kids and a wife. He had a number to hit. He had all the pressures of the job that I had but he did not have a sale.
“Good for you, Chris” something very un-Bethlehem-like whispered in my ear.
Then, my competitor began to talk about something that still humbles me to this day. He began to talk about very kindly about me to the client.
“Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!” I now heard ringing in my ears.
He introduced peace into an environment filled with pressure.
He praised the way I had handled a tough situation and he even talked about an instance where my products had outperformed his. I slipped away just before he exited the office. I heard him say “Merry Christmas” and when he did it sounded like he knew the Christ child – personally. With his integrity intact, he left that day and he was always welcome in that customer’s office.
To this day, I pray for his success. I was so moved by his steadiness, his calmness, and his poise under pressure. I understand so deeply now that my competitor is a human being … a man or a woman with a heartbeat. Someone who calls on their customers everyday just like I do but who isn’t the enemy.
What I should have done was hold some of my sales until the next year. I had already sold plenty; in fact, I had sold too much. It was sort of like running up the score on the guy. If I had done that, it would have freed up some resources for the customer to be able to work with this guy too. I wish that I had found the courage to step up and do the right thing.
The next year, my competitor won one of the top awards for his company. I couldn’t wait to congratulate him.
There is no substitute for victory with integrity.
My prayer for you during this all-out, end-of-the-year fourth quarter sales season, is that you know what a joy it is to pray for your competitor and that you have the courage to do it!
I pray that you know that behind every briefcase, every button-down and tie, every clip board, every sales sheet, every promotional brochure there is a person, with a heartbeat, who is thankful for your prayers . . . someone who is loved by the living God of the universe.
I used to think that the scarcity sell (i.e. “limited offer, limited time, limited price”) was a good way to sell. It isn’t. My customers are a lot smarter than I am and they quickly tire of those tactics.
I now believe that God’s ability is limitless. There is enough opportunity for me and my competitors to grow our business when I dedicate my work to doing it God’s way.
I also now know that in the quiet moments, when I am failing at my sales job, I force myself to pray for the success of my competitor before I pray for my own business. My time with God is then built around someone else’s needs before mine. There is a brutal honesty that I must confront as I engage God in prayer. This discipline keeps me from being greedy. It stretches me to believe that thankfully there is a place in God’s heart for me too. It reintroduces me to God’s grace.
I am committed to outperforming, outworking, outselling my competitors but not without God’s guidance and not without integrity. Like a quarterback in a great football game, I will play my heart out to win but I’m more than willing to take a knee with my competition after we’ve left it all out on the field.
Praying for my competitors brings out the best in them and it levels the playing field.
During the holidays, I need to be reminded that it all belongs to God anyway. God loves me, enough to send a baby as a Savior in a manger, so that I can live in peace with my competitor even as I close out the fourth quarter.
This is the time of year when God’s angels declare “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” even for those of us who are fighting everyday for the same customers. Thankfully, God is with us this year, next year and for eternity. “Dear God, make me a person who honors You with the way I conduct business, now more than ever. Amen!”
Christopher Cunningham is a salesman who has worked at the vice president level in sports and entertainment marketing, representing clients such as NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Mitre Soccer, Saturn Automotive, and The Democratic and Republican National Conventions for Qwest Digital Media. He currently works for a division of Johnson & Johnson, selling products used for the treatment of brain aneurysms. Cunningham is the author of Jungle Warfare: A Basic Field Manual for Christians in Sales (Thomas Nelson, 2010) and The Salesman’s Little Blue Book of Daily Inspiration (2007). Learn more at www.christopheracunningham.com.