Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Sales Matters in EdTech: Evangelists

In my first "Sales Matters in EdTech" post I questioned the impact education had by treating sales separately from other business functions like business administration, marketing, economics etc and by ignoring successful sales organisation like Dale Carnegie. Today I am going to explore Evangelism... both sales and religious variety. 
  • Ever wonder what the very first sale in the history of man was? Is the "sale" as old as humanity?
  • Ever wonder why we call the early adopters and fans of a particular brand Evangelists?
Whats that? Never talk about sales and religion?

No I am not trying to court controversy... indeed the issue of comparing religious figures to salespeople, or Apple as a religion is way too hot for me to handle! Therefore all I am going to do in this post is provide 3 extracts from Philip Delves Broughton's book "Life's a Pitch" (US: The Art of the Sale).
I'm not sure how many educators will have read this book, but as Steve Johnston highlights in "Where Ideas Come From," ideas are the result of "slow hunches" which come from diverse sources... This book has provided me with some "Eureka moments" one of which I will pick up on in my next post which I have got from reading the (potentially controversial) extracts below.

In the Beginning...The Apple and the Snake
A sale made us human. Before that sale, Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden, blessed by God, naked, joyful, surrounded by abundant food and beauty. Just one thing, God said. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge. If you do, he warned, you will die. The threat could not have been much clearer. then along came the serpent, "More subtle than any beast of the field," to persuade the man and woman to do the one thing they fear will surely kill them. 

The serpent at this point was not the slithering creature of today but a walking, talking biped. Its purpose was to destroy the prefect equilibrium of Eden. To do away with Adam and get its scaly mitts on Eve. It did so by turning the threat of severe punishment to its advantage. How terrific must that tree be it said to Eve, for God to make such a threat? And by the way, did he threaten you? Or just Adam? Suddenly, Eve is reeling. Well, yes, she stumbles, I suppose God did only tell Adam. Then, the Serpent asks, why do you think God is so determined for you not to eat of the tree of knowledge? Because he doesn't want you knowing good and evil like he does. He doesn't want any other Gods around the place. 

So go on, take a bite. Won't hurt you. Might even do you some good. Disaster. Eve tastes the fruit and persuades Adam to do the same. They are banished from the garden, clothed in animal skins, and forced to work the earth for food until the dreadful day when to dust they shall return. Easeful immortality forsaken for a bite of apple. But from a sales perspective, one has to admire the serpents hustle. No longer did Eve regard the tree as deadly, but rather as the attractive bearer of tasty fruit, which had the additional effect of making her wise. The serpent was a master of the one-off sale.(Life's a Pich P9 & 10)

Selling Religion
In 1923 sociologist Thorstein Vablen wrote that commercial salesmanship had its roots in evangelism. He called the Roman Catholic Church "Quite the largest, oldest most magnificent, most unabashed, most lucrative enterprise in sales-publicity in all Christendom." In 19th Century America, organisaed armies of salespeople were sent out to sell books and other products, replacing independent peddlers. These new sales forces were organised using the model of Methodist and other proselytizing religious groups that abounded in the country at the time. The instructions to salespeople retained an evangelical flavour, emphasizing the importance of faith and a sense of duty in overcoming the loneliness and many rejections on the road. Asa Candler, who turned Coca-Cola into a major enterprise in the late 19th Century, was a devout Methodist who would lead his salesmen in singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers." He was also vice president of the American Bible Society, one of the most successful door-to-door sales organisations ever.

In 1925, Bruce Barton, an advertising executive and the son of a Congregational minister, fused selling and religion in his book "The Man Nobody Knows," in which he depicted Jesus Christ as a heroically successful salesman. "Let us not forget all creed for the time being, and take the story just as simple as the narrative gives it... a poor boy growing up in a peasant family, working in a carpenter shop, gradually feeling his powers expanding, beginning to have an influence over his neighbours, recruiting a few followers, suffering disappointments and reverses, finally death. Yet building so solidly and well that death was only the beginning of his influence!" He listed 3 reasons for Christs success as a salesman.

1) He had a magnetic voice and manner, supported by an "overwhelming sincerity"
2) He hired well, he recognising the hidden talents in the ragtag group who became his disciples 
3) He possessed "unending patience" which he used to train his organisation. He was empathetic, but had enough resolve to succeed.

Because of his marvelous instinct for discovering their latent powers, and because of his unwavering faith and patience, he molded them into an organisation which carried on victoriously"

Barton was widely lampooned for his brazen conflation of sales and the sacred, but his book sold 750,000 copies and propelled him to a seat in congress. (Life's a Pitch P102-105)

The Miracle of Sales Evangelists
To this day many direct selling companies hew closely to religious organisation and rhetoric. Mary Kay lists its priorities as God first, family second, career third, as it flogs its salespeople to move more inventory. The Southwestern Company, which employs fleets of college students to sell textbooks door to door over their summer breaks, used prayer and religion to help their salespeople accept rejection and to persevere. Omnilife a direct seller of health products, host recruitment events at which audience members come on stage and testify to the products' miraculous powers. Tupperware used to "baptize" its top distributors at an artificial lake Poly Pond at its headquarters in Florida.

Apple is more subtle than this but, in essential ways, no different. 

When people talk of Apple as a cult, they are referring in part to the slavish abandonment of self to a cause of questionable value.

Apple thinks and behaves like many of history's greatest evangelical organisations. It was founded and was run for many years by a highly charismatic leader, who refered to his own achievements as "magical" and "revolutionary." Its advertising describes its products as possessing miraculous powers. A video celebrating the first year of the Ipad featured a mother of an autistic child saying, "I define a miracle as something that comes in and changes your life for the better in ways you did not expect." The miracle was the iPad and her son's enthusiastic engagement with it. In the same film, Ron Johnson, who oversaw Apple's stores at the same time, says, "The iPad has to be held, has to be touched to truly understand how magical it is" - as if it were the Turin Shroud.

Apple's Stores act as churches, dedicated spaces for gathering the faithful and attracting new converts. When Apple was planning its first stores, in 2000-2001, it emphasised the importance of putting them in central, urban locations to attract passersby, and letting visitors use the products. The company's intention was to increase the number of "switchers," people ready to abandon their PC's to become Apple users. 

The difficulty of converting millions to Apple demanded soaring spaces, latter day cathedrals like Apple's glass cube on 5th Avenue, and a selling method akin to missionary work. The stores were laid out with the new products up front, so customers who had never owned an Apple product could try them out; next was a Red Zone, abuzz with staff and energy, where the conversation could take place in the form of a sale; and then finally the Family room, where customers would be called by name and helped with service, support and lessons. As Johnson said of the stores, "We invest here to build promoters for Apple," fresh armies of consumer evangelists who can go out and preach Apple's gospel. 

The symbol Johnson used to describe the earliest days of the Apple stores was an Evian bottle, because the company gave out 3,000 of them to people waiting in line for the first Apple store to open. The first Genius Bar gave away water to connect with customers, to show Apple cared. at a time when its rivals were trying to sell $2,000 computers in soulless big-box stores using cutthroat sales tactics, Apple went in the opposite direction. Johnson said that while others were hiring sharks to sell PCs, Apple sought "Not sharks, but...teachers, photographers and filmmakers," converts themselves who sold out of enthusiasm, not commission. 

Today, school groups can book Apple stores for night and summer camps held for children to spent time learning about technology. Visit an Apple store day or night in many locations, and you realise it has become a secular church hall.

The most favourable interpretation of Apples sales tactics is that they reflect a genuine desire to improve the lives of their customers. An iPad can be a wonderful thing, just as miraculous and transformational as the evangelists claim. The ugly interpretation is that the company is exploiting its customers desire for meaning, significant, belonging and inspiration for commercial ends, with no concern for its adherents beyond what they are willing to spend. As an Apple customer milling through the stores, I've felt both sensations myself, that of exhilarated devotee and powerless commercial mark.

Apple delivers goods with real benefits. But the essence of its pitch is about more than touch screens and processing speed. [As we have seen] It goes back centuries. (Life's a Pitch Page 100-102)   

I hope you have found these extracts enlightening (No pun intented). Keep an eye out for my follow up post to this to see how I feel that educators and EdTech could use some of the examples from this book with Tech integration and roll out. If you are involved work in EdTech you really should have this book on your bookshelf. Educators might even benefit from it too. 

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