Penguins can’t fly with Eagles

This is the marketing rant I’ve been warning you was coming…sort of.

We have a policy that we never buy from high pressure salesmen. Why? Well, because if they had a good product, they probably wouldn’t have to push so hard. If they’re pushing, they’re probably hiding something they don’t want me to find out. High pressure makes us look much more closely at the product.

Last week, I requested a bid on some windows. I’m not going to mention the company, but I bet you can guess. We have a room that I dream of adding a window to, and I wanted to know how much it would cost to have someone else do it rather than having the husband struggle with permits and such during our busy time at the aviation shop. Our house has been a bit cold this winter — as has the entire Northern US — and I decided it would be nice to have a quote on some truly insulated windows. The salespeople took 4 hours. One was nice and seemed straight forward, occasionally slightly in error but always within the range of possibility. I mean it was possible she didn’t know how to read tax law, right? Maybe her computer really couldn’t give me the estimates I really wanted. Her assistant, however, was high pressure and as it became obvious that we were not going to sign papers that night, she became more aggressive and her un-truths became a bit more startling. "Our prices are going up drastically in a few weeks because we have more business than we can do and so many people are buying our product right now." Um. Right. There were a few other lines, my favorite being how people like me cost her company $9 million dollars a year or some such figure. I explained that was fine that she’d just pushed me from the ones that cost her company that money to the ones that wouldn’t buy at all from her company and asked her to leave. End of interview. (My husband says he enjoys watching me with a high-pressure sales person. My red-neck upbringing starts to show pretty fast, and he laughs to see his mild-mannered wife transform into something fiery. Bad for my blood pressure. Good for his amusement.)

Here was the problem: I happened to really like the products she was selling! Those were the prettiest windows I’ve ever seen. Cost a fortune, but wow. If I could have afforded to do my windows one at a time on cash, I would have bought those. She had the sale, but now that company will never see a dime of our money. I’ll probably go out and find some local craftsman to make what I want, or we’ll make do with a donated window. I’m not that picky, because I’d rather have faith in the company I buy from.

Why am I so sensitive about marketing? Well, probably because I do quite a bit of it with my own business and my husband’s. I don’t want a customer that is tricked into buying something they don’t need or don’t want. I want satisfied customers who send their friends to me. Call me crazy.

But then I realized, my anger with marketing techniques goes back farther than that. I’ve recently stopped doing business with a company I’ve supported for 15 years because they switched all of their marketing to robots — and they forgot to program the robots to respond to the, "yes, I’ll buy now" prompt! So I had to listen to a 20 minute sales pitch for something I wanted and would have ordered in 2 minutes…and there was no way out of the robotic system. My first complaint should have been enough, but a sales supervisor came on the line and said that the reason the sales person couldn’t deviate from the script was that they were speech impaired. At first, I felt sympathy and then I thought, wait a minute. Speech impaired doesn’t mean brain impaired. "I just want to buy the product" should have gotten me dumped to a supervisor right away. Hey…she’d just lied to me! I called the direct line and talked with a complaint representative — sure enough, it was a robotic calling program. Now I was angry. They weren’t employing disadvantaged individuals, they were NOT employing people. Hm. My support index went way down. I explained that if they could have a human call me, I’d talk to them. I’ve hung up on several robots. We’re now in a billing dispute over our last order. When I fight through the system, I am getting people who don’t sound like they’re in a local call center any more. Way to lose my business.

There’s more to my anger, though, and this is why it becomes so passionate. My husband and I were helped by a religious group a few years back that teaches classes. Wow. That was a fantastic, blessed weekend. We decided we would go back annually. What a great time of learning. The next year, we took some friends who I knew would enjoy the class and be blessed as well. However, someone had hired a marketing specialist in the meantime. Content was taken out of the books in favor of full color marketing ads for books and up-selling techniques were everywhere. In one class in particular, I remember thinking that the woman had left out the part that had meant the most to me the previous year. Then she started talking from her heart and I thought — ah, it will be OK. 3/4 of the way through her talk, she stopped and held up her book (conveniently on sale outside the door) and said that we’d need to buy her book for the rest. My friends didn’t want anything that group was selling, and I certainly didn’t blame them.

Many years ago, a woman said to me something I’ll never forget. "Y’know, you’re the only Christian I can handle being around." I’ve never been able to decide if it was a compliment or an insult. The difference, she went on to explain, was marketing…and that is the real reason that marketing is so close to my heart.

I explained to someone the other day that while I don’t try to push religion in my writing, it is just such a part of my heart, the fuel for my passion…well, I’d like to think it comes out in everything I do. Somehow, I doubt it. I had a vendor notice a small reference to religion in our aviation lobby the other day. He told me off and said that had no place in our lobby. I shrugged and tried to explain. *I* am in my lobby. If you want to cut my heart and soul out of the business that I own, well…then it wouldn’t really be something I could do. He didn’t get it. And it was a small thing, too…a light hearted reference on the back of a card.

And yet, I don’t want to hide my religion. God and Jesus are as real to me and as part of my life as my family. I love the line in Fireproof where the one guy says to someone who asks him how he knows God is real, "because I talked to Him this morning." What a great line and how utterly confusing it must be to people who have never heard that voice.  I see people every day who are hurting, aching…they have needs that I know my God could fill, and yet I am silent. Why? Because I don’t think pushing will help. I feel that if I push, I’ll be right up there with the window salesman…and even if I speak only truth, how will they know? In a world where heavy-handed marketing and up-selling is standard, how will they know that I really just want to pull them out of the tossing seas and into the boat? They should be able to see the boat. But…well, ever tried to rescue a drowning person?

I’m certain I have caused more harm than good with my lack of preaching over the years. I’ve watched good friends lost into some really scary things…only to hear later, "why didn’t you warn me?" All I can say is I’m glad God is patient with me and loves me anyway.

But in the meantime, each instance of high pressure salesmanship is making me just a little hotter. The whole, "be angry and sin not" is getting harder and harder.

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Thoughts on Fear

mountains covered in snowIt’s high time I started writing something for my blog.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about fear and faith. I’ve always thought that the two were mutually exclusive. I thought if I had more faith in…God, myself, etc., I wouldn’t have as much fear in my life. This weekend, I learned exactly how wrong that kind of thinking was.

You see, I am afraid of heights. Any time I am above the ground, I get uncomfortable. I can get dizzy on a 2 foot high ladder. So, of course, my husband happens to be a pilot and he loves flying. This weekend, he offered me a chance to see a friend I hadn’t seen in almost 15 years. All I had to do was go along on the 3 hour flight over the Cascade mountains. I have flown with him on many occasions, and I love flying over picturesque scenery…the Cascades being one of my favorites. The weekend looked perfect.

We loaded up the 3 year old princess, and made the uneventful trip. Had a great time and stayed every moment we could. The weather began to move in, and it was time for the return trip. Right after take off, we discovered that we had a great tail wind. Beautiful day, happy daughter, lots of laughter, everything was right with the world…and then bam. Or rather, sputter. The engine coughed. Just a tiny cough…could have had many causes. Except that our electrical system showed the alternator was no longer charging. With 2 1/2 hours left in our trip and a mountain range ahead of us, we had only the juice that was already in the battery.

My love immediately went into professional mode, diagnosing the problem, reviewing options. He had mapped out several alternative airports, but knew two very important details: we would most likely need parts, and most of the airports on our route wouldn’t have them. With the weather moving in, wherever we stopped, we’d stay. Ideally, we would have turned around, but now that tail wind wasn’t so much of a blessing. We’d be fighting it going back, and if something WAS wrong with the engine, we’d be in trouble.

He explained that we were fine, but he was going to have to turn off the radio to conserve power.

Thus began 2 1/2 hours of sheer terror for me. Since I tend to talk to God even on a good day, it seemed like having a 2 hour conversation with Him at that point was appropriate, and He seemed amenable. Even more so, He seemed eager to have me listen.

"You’ve been wanting to learn about fear."
"Not like this, I haven’t! I’ve been wanting to conquer my fear."
"So, what do you do when you’re afraid?"

I thought about that for quite a while. In my normal life, when I’m in a frightening situation, I tend to try and control everything. That plane, however, is not something I can control. I knew my husband has a reputation of being an exceptional pilot and very rational, so anything I suggested would probably not help the situation. In fact, I realized that the best thing I could do — was to do nothing.

And that was when I finally started to understand faith. Faith didn’t make my fear go away. Faith just helped me control the panic. All I had to do was to stay in the plane, keep quiet, not panic, and in 2 1/2 hours I would be sitting safely on the ground at our home airport.

Minor turbulence accompanied our entire flight. I sat with a death-grip on the overhead handle, much of the time with my eyes closed. I was reminded of something I read recently that life is like a railroad track — one track is good things and one is bad things — and both tracks are there all of the time. We can get stuck on one or the other. I was definitely stuck on a bad track at that moment.

As we climbed over the Cascades, I was reminded of how much I love to look at the mountains. In particular there was a lake I’d wanted to see again from the air, and I knew we had to be close. I pried open my eyes, determined to try to get some good out of the experience. There below me was the beautiful lake that I’d wanted to see, complete with tiny island in the middle. I glanced around. The scenery was breathtaking. Since enjoying the scenery wouldn’t make any difference in whether I died in the next five minutes, I decided I might as well look around.

I didn’t stop being afraid. I didn’t stop watching the minute hand on the clock crawl forward, and I didn’t stop having my very serious discussion with God…but I did start enjoying the journey.

That precious small voice in my head whispered, "Now. What else have you been letting fear keep you from?"

Once we were on the ground, I slowly began to recover. I asked my husband how I could ever get over my fear. He startled me by saying that he didn’t think I ever would…but that fear was normal. "What you have done is master your fear. I watched you do it." He went on to tell me of people he knows who have fears…people like firemen.

Somehow, I’d always thought that other people didn’t face the same paralyzing fears that I do. I wanted to enjoy the ride the way my daughter did — laughing, staring out the window, and crying "weeee!" whenever we hit turbulence.

I asked a dear friend about fear. She wrote back: "Fear and Courage are inseparable."

What else is fear keeping me from?

Photo © Robert F. W. Whitlock