The returned missionary to summer sales pipeline

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Everyone loves a good “knock, knock” joke, until someone actually comes knocking. But for missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and door-to-door salesmen alike, knocking doors is anything but a joke. 

Every year, the seasonal migration of door-to-door salesmen, or D2D, sees young men and women flocking to various destinations across the country, full of zest, and ready for the potential of a “six-figure summer.” The “eye on the prize” mentality and a plethora of unknocked doors are not the only commonalities they share. For many, a mission experience in the not-too-distant past also unites them. 

In 2021, the Church reported having more than 54,000 full-time missionaries teaching throughout the world. Disciplined, trained and ready for further success, many returned missionaries venture down the path of summer sales across the nation. 

“I always wanted to serve a mission,” 25-year-old Harrison Kelly said. Kelly, a salesman for Moxie Pest Control, served as a missionary for the Church in Independence, Missouri, from 2016 to 2018. Now a husband, and father to one with another on the way, Kelly sees sales as more than just a summer job with friends — it’s a way to sustain family life. 

Harrison Kelly served a mission in Independence, Missouri, (left) before becoming a salesman for Moxie Pest Control. (Photos courtesy of Harrison Kelly)

Similar to Kelly’s desire to serve a mission from a young age, sales is something that has always been on his radar.

“It’s not the normal recruiting story,” he said. “I was planning on doing sales as soon as I got off my mission. As weird as it might sound, I was exposed to the D2D industry when I was probably fifteen. I was on a cruise with my family and these guys were there that had won the trip. As a 15-year-old I was like, ‘That’s the coolest thing ever.’ That opened the door to it.”

That wasn’t the only door that opened — or closed — for Kelly, and many other returned missionary salesmen. All too familiar with the discipline and preparation required for success, returned missionaries are a shoo-in in an industry that requires just as much grit. 

“The main principles are all the same, of maintaining and keeping relationships,” Jacob Newell said, comparing the skillset similarities between missionary life and sales life. 

Newell, who served a mission in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, relayed how serving in areas with low Church membership helped prepare him for long days of knocking on doors as a salesman. 

“Every day we just spent walking the streets talking to people and knocking on doors. It obviously translates really well to my current job. There’s just so much crossover,” he said.

But with lots of doors comes lots of rejection — a trademark experience for missionaries, and for salesmen too. For returned missionary Jack Freeman, some of the most important skills he’s taken into sales revolve around rejection as a missionary, and the lessons it taught him.

“The most important skillset I saw transfer was the ability to not take rejection personally,” he said. “Whether you’re at a door as a missionary or at a door selling something, it’s similar in the idea that if someone is telling you, ‘No,’ they’re not rejecting you personally. They’re not saying, ‘I don’t want you,’ they’re just saying ‘I don’t want the product.’”

For returned missionaries like Claira Watson, connections with clients-turned-friends was something that softened the blow of daily rejection.

“The rejection as a missionary hurt worse because I knew what they were saying no to,” she said. Watson, who returned home from a mission in Colorado in May 2022, worked as a summer salesman for Glide Window Cleaning in Salt Lake County this summer.

Claira Watson served a mission in Colorado in May 2022 (left) and spent the summer working as a salesman for Glide Window Cleaning in Salt Lake County. (Photos courtesy of Claira Watson)

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is way bigger, so there’s that side of it. As a missionary I had to disassociate myself with, ‘They just see me as a missionary, they don’t actually know who I am.’ I kind of had to carry that into sales,” she said. “So that helped with rejection, but also, it encouraged me to be more personable. I actually got to connect with lots of people and meet some pretty cool people that way.”

From rejection to connection, returned missionaries fit the mold for successful salesmen. Brianne Jensen, a recruiter for Blue Raven Solar and a returned missionary herself, shared how missionary skill sets can prepare candidates for employment success.

“When I see that someone has served a mission on their resume, I know that they can stick to something,” she said. “They know how to work hard and stick to something even if it’s hard. I know that missions are goal-oriented so it tells me they’re probably a goal-oriented person, and I can assume that they have good values and morals, and that they’re trustworthy and reliable.”

With every good stereotype comes an inverse negative. For summer salesmen, a negative stigma exists around what has become somewhat of a subculture. Not wanting to debunk the stereotype, Kelly shared his reasoning. 

“The bad rap that comes with sales, it’s an earned bad rap,” Kelly said. “For me, there’s way too many RMs (returned missionaries) who are going and doing sales and losing sight of what’s important. People are going out and they’re learning these skills of persuasion and influence. It’s not necessarily governed by good principles.”

The “summer sales bro” stereotype often encompasses nonchalance, egotism, a certain look and an inclination toward short-term gratification. 

“It’s really easy for a 20–30-year-old kid to go and justify telling a little white lie if it meant they got a lot more sales. It happens all the time,” Kelly said. “That translates into the rest of their life — what else am I willing to compromise a little bit on? 

Kelly added, “That plays into the ‘Provo Allstar’ vibe — these guys who go and NCMO (non-committal makeout) with a bunch of girls or whatever. They care about the short-term gratification. I believe there are some programs that are failing to institute good values on top of skills of persuasion.”

Brianne Jensen is a returned missionary (left) who now works as a recruiter for Blue Raven. Jensen said missionary work creates a work ethic that helps her know who is a good candidate to hire. (Photos courtesy of Brianne Jensen)

Jensen from Blue Raven Solar agreed with Kelly and shared how the stigma is often true, and how it is being combatted.

“I do think it’s unfortunate because I think summer sales is a great opportunity,” she said. “As much as I hate to say it, the stigma is confirmed a lot of the time for me. Not everyone is that way. They don’t fit that ‘bro’ stigma. They just wanna work hard over the summer and make some money.”

RMs like Kelly, Newell, Watson and Freeman who are actively defying the ‘sales bro’ stereotype say that genuine connection with people from their missions, along with their experiences from sales, are what make the long days all worth it. 

“A lot of people think it’s all about the money that you get,” Newell said. “My customers that I’ve had for years still call me with referrals. They’ll text me on holidays. I’ll still talk to them years later.”

The returned missionary to summer sales pipeline continues to see young adults knocking their way from rejection to success. While money may not be a reward for hard work and dedication in the mission field, the skillsets learned from one door to another may one day lead to that “six-figure summer.”

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