What has faith to do with marketing and sales?

A version of this article by Greg Smith, associate professor in the practice of business and marketing, originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of STILLPOINT magazine.

What has faith to do with marketing and sales actions, roles and careers? After all, isn’t the world of marketing filled with deception, falsehood and manipulation? Isn’t the goal of marketers to convince people to buy things they don’t need or push people to buy more than they want? It can be easy, based on the actions of some, to conclude that Christians either need to compromise their faith to be successful in these activities—or simply avoid them altogether. Not so.

At its core, sales and marketing is the process of coordinating an exchange between people that have needs and wants. Companies and individuals need to sell their products; consumers need the products these companies and individuals sell. Imagine what would happen without those exchanges. Businesses that don’t have consumers for their products and services stop operating; without businesses, consumers don’t have access to products they need. The cascading effect would be catastrophic. Good marketing and sales prevent this from happening.

Facilitating this exchange is a noble and worthy cause but, regrettably, the sales and marketing functions have received a bad reputation. It’s not the principle or the foundation of the discipline that is the problem but rather the practitioners who veer from ethical values when creating and conducting promotion. Ethical lapses, of course, are not unique to marketers or salespeople; every type of employment has temptations and opportunities to steer away from what is right and true. Marketers may face increased opportunity for moral shortcomings, but that does not undermine the entire system. In fact, it only increases the need for ethical marketers to turn the tables on a discipline that has historically been devalued by the practices of some participants.

Prior to teaching, the bulk of my career was in leading teams who interface with existing and potential customers. I have worked alongside hundreds of strong, ethical sales and marketing professionals, including many Christians, who have demonstrated their gifts through these roles, gained incredible job satisfaction and had a lasting impact on those they served. Conversely, I have also seen my share of bad marketing behavior and have been presented with opportunities to participate in marketing activity that was suspect, incomplete, inaccurate and manipulative. Choosing not to do marketing and sales that way made all the difference in the relationships I built and the results I achieved.

The world needs Christians in these business roles and functions. Marketers who will promote goods and services that consumers need—to the consumers who most need those products. Salespeople who will look out for the best interest of their customers. Marketers and salespeople who will act within a framework of faith as they do these jobs.

Skeptical? Look no further than Jesus, the master marketer. He knew his target audience, which is the foundation of solid sales and marketing. He knew what that target market needed and spoke directly to those needs. He spoke to that audience in a way they would understand through stories and parables. And he never once dipped into deception or manipulation to boost his following or achieve results.

In the end, Jesus, the master marketer, facilitated the greatest of all exchanges: the gift of the Kingdom of God in both this life and the next—for those that needed it. His impact spans thousands of years and billions of souls. As Christians gifted in sales and marketing, we can follow his footsteps and be salt and light in an area that is often viewed as leaning toward darkness.