My wife and I just attended a timeshare presentation. You know, the kind where you are given great gifts and vacation stays for simply agreeing to listen to a 90-minute sales pitch on the incredible, undeniable value of timeshares.
It wasn’t our first one.
We have been to at least six different timeshare presentations over the course of our thirty years of marriage.
We never seek them out but somehow we are offered a trip here or there that comes with the standard sales-pitch-hitch.
In reality, I don’t mind.
Liz and I are both firmly entrenched in our “timeshare resistance.” She is actually better at saying “no” than I am…and seems to even relish it at times.
Her parents actually own a timeshare that they tried to give us at one point. She even said “no” to them! If the woman refused to take a “free gift” of a timeshare (which is really not a free gift because of the inescapable, in perpetuity, $2000 a year “maintenance fee”) then you can be sure that no salesperson is going to sway her with a timeshare purchase.
And I am just plain cheap.
So timeshares are just not going to happen.
So with an offer of four days and three nights at a resort in Orlando if we listened to the standard 90-minute presentation, we said “yes”…before we inevitably said “no.”
Since we were not “newbies” to the whole process, I went in to this sales presentation with my antennae up. I wanted to analyze the way that they do things…the way that they soften people up before making the sale…the way that they bait the hook before making their catch.
(OK. I know some people like timeshares and are happy with their purchase so I am sorry for the baiting analogies. But even for those who are truly interested and want to buy a timeshare from the start, there is a similar process that is interesting to watch.)
We arrived at our appointment at 9:45am.
We were escorted graciously to a fourth floor room with large kiosks and friendly people milling around.
At the kiosk, we were asked general questions about ourselves…our marital status, our income, our dream vacation destinations, and our general vacation values and priorities. While we were looking at all the wonderful places around the world where we could go, our sales rep came over and introduced herself.
She was young, vibrant, nice, attractive, and personable.
She immediately sought to allay our fears by saying that the presentation would be low-pressure and time efficient with no strong push to have us buy anything that day. She then offered us some snacks, coffee, and soft drinks from the hospitality center…which I gladly availed myself of.
I’m like a kid at snack time when it comes to free coffee, pastries, and cookies. Liz, on the other hand, took a small bottle of water. They probably already targeted me as the “weak one.”
“Easily influenced by sugar.” Check.
Next, we were directed to the “Hawaii Room” for a short multimedia presentation and an explanation of the boundless benefits of timeshares. While waiting for all the other couples to meander in, our sales rep befriended us with lots of questions about our lives, our marriage, our family, and our past vacations.
I admit. She was super friendly and it really did seem like we connected on some “shared experiences.” We got to know about her life, her family, her faith…and even her fear of heights. Somehow the conversation even got around to joking about saving money and how I tended to like coupons and free deals (which was why I was in the presentation to begin with).
When everyone was finally in the room, the big-kahuna-sales-guy welcomed us all and started his presentation with a two-minute video of all the wonderful destinations around the world where we could go…along with smiling people enjoying every minute of the breath-taking views, the golf, the swimming, the adventures, and the family time.
It was a large scoop of “Kodak moments” with a cherry on top.
Better than my free coffee, cookie, and pastry in a wrapper.
After the video, the sales guy again reassured us that his presentation would be short and sweet (he said about 30 minutes) and that they wouldn’t pressure us to do anything. He even jokingly did a role play of how couples rehearse their “just say no” script before arriving.
He was actually pretty accurate.
As I listened to his 42 minute presentation (I watched the clock), I mentally checked some of the sales strategies that they use.
- The Be-Like-Me Strategy. Our sales guy was the classic young, Florida-tanned, white-smiled world traveler. He told his story of being a dolphin trainer and a cruise ship entertainer in his previous occupations, showed pictures of his beautiful wife and children, and talked about his travels to all four corners of the world. It was the kind of life that you would envy and would want to emulate.
- The You-Deserve-This Strategy. The assumption was made that we all deserve more vacation time. Europeans take the whole summer off and Americans only take a week here or there. We work too much. We deserve more play.
- The This-Is-Where-Life-Really-Is Strategy. Everything centered around travel as the secret to happiness. The real problem of life is that we don’t visit enough destinations…we don’t have enough “dream vacations.” Thus, we are trapped in the daily drudgery of stationery existence.
- The Family-Making-Memories Strategy. Real family time is centered on making memories and these only happen when you are on vacation. Happy families with well-adjusted, successful kids are always found in vacation photos. The sales guy even bore his soul, sharing how hard it was to know his dad because he worked all the time…but then a Disney vacation with his dad changed the whole trajectory of their family. He confessed that, to this day, he still tears up every time he sees Mickey and Goofy at Disney.
- The We-Are-Letting-You-in-on-a-Deal-That-You-Don’t-Want-to-Miss Strategy. We were being invited into an exclusive club, a happy family of vacationers who made the smartest decision of their lives and entered into a wonderful world that few ever experience. It was the opportunity of a lifetime that may never come our way again…and which we may forever regret if we pass it up.
The sales guy was good…and funny. And in the end, you found yourself wanting to know more. No numbers were thrown out just yet so it all sounded like a great deal that would lock in low vacation prices for the next thirty years of your life.
And, best of all, it would give you a chance to have that dream vacation that you always wanted…and deserved!
It was time to go to the cubicle of our sales rep for our “customized offer.”
But first we had the opportunity to grab more coffee and cookies. Woohoo!
With our sales rep (and with my cookie and coffee), we were given another chance to talk about our dream vacation and to contemplate how wonderful it would be to take great vacations every year…in accommodations that would rival the best of the best.
No Motel 6 leaving-the-light-on-for-you-experiences ever again.
But we made it pretty clear from the beginning that we appreciated all that they said (and all the free goodies) but that we were simply not interested.
She said she understood but wanted to show us the numbers anyway.
After computing a hypothetical number of how much we could feasily spend on seven vacation nights in a hotel per year for the next twenty years of our lives, she presented us with a number of $30,000.
If she could give us an offer that wasn’t more than $30,000 total, would we take it?
“Because we won’t spend that much?”
“Are you not taking vacations?”
“No. We just find other ways to save money.”
“But this is the best deal you can make!”
“No, it really isn’t. But thanks anyway.”
She continued massaging the numbers and making other offers.
The math was shady. She took the $30,000 hypothetical number and somehow made that equivalent to paying close to $30,000 for a timeshare plus a yearly maintenance fee of $2000…for the rest of your life! But we didn’t call her on it because we wanted to be nice and we were ready to leave.
Then she said that she was going to talk to her sales manager to see if they could come up with better deals that might appeal to us.
We were nearing two hours into the presentation by now. But we waited patiently as another sales rep presented us with more “opportunities.”
As he talked, I noticed on our sales rep’s desk a sheet that had her hand-written notes. I don’t think it was supposed to be exposed but it was. On it was written down all the places that we had vacationed along with notes about our family, things that we said, and even the words “Husband tends to be cheap.”
I realized at that point that the friendly banter was all just part of the sales strategy.
The sales manager finally gave up after hearing us say “no” four or five more times.
At this point, we were ready to go since we were well past the two hour mark of our 90-minute presentation.
“Just stay for another minute so that you can give a final evaluation to my supervisor.”
We waited for a few more minutes until another person came to “close us out.” Instead, he made us one final offer. Pay $1700 now and we will give you a vacation to one of our prime locations and give you a full year to freeze the timeshare offer.
The man was obviously disppointed and said that he would lead us back to the elevators. As we walked out, we passed our sales rep who was already scrolling through her phone and seemed disappointed as well. We said thank you to her but she didn’t even lift her head to acknowledge us.
I guess all the friendly vibes were gone.
On the way back to our vacation accommodations, Liz and I relived all our other sales presentations and compared notes on our most recent experience. We noticed similar strategies which I listed above.
As I thought about the whole experience more, it hit me how often gospel presentations run along similar tracks.
We use young, vibrant, attractive personalities. We market with free offers and slick multimedia. We only show the “Kodak moments” of faith and family. We appeal to people’s desires to have “their best life now.” We “sell” all the benefits of believing in Jesus. And we even give out free cookies and coffee!
I wondered if the world sees the gospel like a timeshare presentation.
Just another “deal” for those who need something more in their life, offered by sun-tanned, superficial sales people who are friendly and smiling as long as you are interested and have an open pocket book.
Lord, help us.
The gospel is not a sales pitch. It is the announcement of what Jesus Christ has done in time-space history.
He died for our sins on the cross.
He rose again to defeat death.
He accomplished what we were powerless to accomplish.
He offers freely what we desperately need.
Relationship with our Creator…the One who made us, designed us, knows us, loves us.
Offered by grace.
Received through faith.
Yes, there are benefits to the gospel but they are all encompassed within fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.
It is like a marriage.
It is a violation of the heart of relationship to “sell” someone on the benefits of marriage. The benefits are the result of the relationship not the reason for it.
The gospel is not an offer for a happier, healthier, wealthier life. It is an invitation into a life of following Christ, coming to Him, taking His yoke upon you, trusting in Him, resting in Him…and suffering with Him, being conformed to His image.
It is not “your best life now” but “your crucified life now,” knowing that whatever struggles, pain, and suffering you encounter in this life are working toward an eternal weight of glory.
It is a call to die to yourself to find true life in Christ.
And as followers of Christ, we don’t market, package, sell, or rope people into the gospel.
We simply bear witness to what Christ has done.
We don’t save anyone.
Only the Spirit can open blind eyes, soften hard hearts, and resurrect dead spirits.
We sow and water.
Only God sprouts life.
This is the real good news in a sin-broken world.
Better than a timeshare.
Better than a dream vacation.
Better than a trip to Disney.
We are invited into the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of heaven coming to earth.
Where there is no more disease, disaster, pain, or tears.
No more sin.
No more death.
An eternal feast.
And I’m pretty sure there will be coffee and cookies for dessert.
You make known to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)