At Apple Computer in the early 1980s, Guy Kawasaki and his marketing team didn't just sell computers with an easy-to-use user interface…. Instead, Apple sold the Macintosh dream: to improve productivity and creativity, and to resist the IBM “clone,” literally.

Building on the momentum of loyal and extremely passionate customers, Apple created an evangelism department and hired marketers to accomplish three things: evangelize, evangelize, evangelize. Guy was eventually named the company's “chief evangelist,” and Apple evolved into something resembling a religious doctrine. Its customers are believers, and true believers help spread the word based on the emotional connection that the company promotes and inspires.

Evangelism is an authentic sales format because its roots lie in sharing ideas, insights and hope. It's rooted in what's good for the prospect, not the seller. It's more powerful than most traditional forms of selling, because…

  • Evangelism is authentic. To be an evangelist for your company, you must believe in its products, services and, most importantly, the company. Passion is difficult to fake. Customers smell a commission-driven sale a mile away.

  • Evangelism is about long-term relationships. Sharing insights, ideas and values builds long-lasting relationships with customers; it's not just brokering an emotionless transaction.

  • Evangelism builds upon itself. When people believe in you, the company and your cause, they want to bring others under your tent.

Using a chart adapted from Kawasaki's book, Selling the Dream, let's examine how a traditional sales culture compares to an evangelism ideology:

Concept Traditional Sales Evangelism
Motivation Make money Change the world
Philosophy Sell to Convert
Method Impose Expose
Goal Quota Referral
10 percent Commission Tithing
When 8am-5pm Anytime
Where Clubhouse Anywhere

Take the concept of motivation and answer this question: What is the primary motivation of your company?

  • To make money? Create shareholder value?

  • Or is your motivation to change the world and improve customers' lives?

Examine your sales method. Does it…

  • Impose: Do you cold call? Do you rent lists and send unsolicited direct mail or email?

  • Expose: Do you focus intently on educating customer and prospects by freely giving them knowledge via articles, your Web site, webinars, speeches and your blog? Do you freely share your knowledge and intellectual capital, discovering ways it can reach prospects via their networks, thereby making it more valuable?

Finally, what's the ultimate goal of your sales efforts?

  • Is it primarily to fulfill your quota and score a commission?

  • Or is each sale another step toward building a long-term, committed relationship with a customer who will happily refer you to family and colleagues?

The technology industry has long understood evangelism's power. Technology advances often become life-changing products. Some technology companies embrace the emotional connection their products and services inspire and create internal evangelists. For instance:

  • Microsoft has hundreds of employees around the word whose titles are “developer evangelist” and “architecture evangelist.” Their jobs are to share technical knowledge and build community locally where they work. In slow but deliberate steps, Microsoft has been humanizing itself to the developer community, most recently with its Channel 9 initiative.

  • Jonathan Knowles of Adobe Systems is the worldwide evangelist for the company's ePaper division, which includes the Acrobat and PDF products. His job is to speak at industry conferences and to anyone who will listen to how Adobe's products will make their business lives easier and more productive. He has no commission.

Which category does your organization tilt toward? Sales or evangelism? If it's more about sales, here are six ideas on migrating toward a more fulfilling—and eventually more profitable—evangelism ideology:

  1. Create internal benchmarks on where your organization falls on the sales-versus-evangelism spectrum. Discuss with a partner or a group of company thought leaders—or customers—each of the concepts in the above chart, and evaluate where you fall.

  2. Grade yourself on the evangelism scale.

  3. Ask customers to grade you and your salespeople on the scale.

  4. Discover what customers love about you now. If they are stretched for an answer, ask what you could do to make their lives better.

  5. Form a board of employees and customers who will help you plan toward your conversion in each of the methods. Use the chart as a guide, not as dogma.

  6. Be strategic about your evangelism. Appeal first to your most loyal and enthusiastic customers and interested prospects: i.e., preach to the choir, as they are the most passionate.

In the customer evangelism model articulated so well by companies that have grown thanks to strong word of mouth, the ultimate objective is not revenue, profit or shareholder value; those will follow. Rather, it is finding and connecting with customers who share your passion for what you're doing.

Support them in expressing that passion in as many forums possible generates prospects, reduce sales cycles and create longer, more profitable customer relationships.

This leads to the ultimate question: are you a salesperson or a business evangelist?

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Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba are the authors of Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force.