I recently had a discussion with a CFO of a technology company. We were meeting because he is trying to better understand the role technical evangelism could play within his company. Ten minutes into our conversation he said, “so evangelism is pretty much rogue sales”. Internally I cringed. I politely corrected him that the two could not be further apart.

Allow me to be a bit philosophical or rather, etymological here. Evangelism is an apt title for what it does. Let’s look back at the origin of the word. The Old English ‘gōdspell’ (a union of two words good and spell. Spell meaning news here. This is a translation of the Greek word ‘euangélion’ which also means good news. Breaking it down further, this is ‘eu-’ + ‘angelos’. Angelos means messenger and eu- means good. So this is someone who brings good news. Throughout the centuries the words have developed strong religious overtones, the initial terms were more generally used.

Sales comes from the Old English ‘sellan’ which means to give. More specifically ‘sellan’ meant to give up (someone) to an enemy in exchange for money;

So Evangelism means bringing of good news and sales means betraying a colleague for money. Sounds like the definition of things haven’t changed much in thousands of years.

In modern usage, the two roles of sales and evangelism are about as different as the original definitions. An evangelist role is to increase awareness and excitement through sharing his/her own experiences. The goal is not and can never be sales. The entire operation depends on authenticity, an authentic personal experience.

Good sales people are authentic, but an authentic sales person means something completely different. It means being honest about intentions and a sales persons intentions are to make a sale. A sales person rarely speaks from their own experience. Especially in technology, they typically cite other’s experiences in place of their own.

Good evangelists are not motivated by what they can gain from a relationship. Instead they are motivated by a genuine excitement and passion around a technology and want to share that with others.