Having been through a few high powered sales training schools and being a professional salesman with a successful track record I feel qualified to critique the COG sales organizations and Herbert Armstrong the founder.
Back when he started, Armstrong was a bankrupt salesman, and he had just left another religious organization under adverse conditions as a result of disagreements over doctrine. He and many others were drifting sheep. Armstrong had nowhere to go and nothing to do, so he had nothing else to lose in his ventures.
Armstrong used his past business experience to start a new “company” which eventually became Worldwide Church Of God. He used his sales experience to start a new “customer base” which were his vulnerable fellow church members from the previous religious organization. He used his religious experience to develop his “product” line which became the Holy Days, Petra, The Elect, and Salvation (which were only available through his organization) very exclusive stuff. He knew there is a certain percentage of customers who like to buy products that are “a little different”, trendy, maybe even a little better than the rest so he designed this into his package.
All good salesmen must have a few good lines and stories to tell and it appears Armstrong borrowed quite a few from other genuine individuals and used them as if he (Armstrong) was the originator. He also stole Christian songs from his competitors, the Protestants, and re-wrote the words to suit his doctrine. This is similar to what the communists did when they re-wrote all history approximately 50 years ago and took control of Russia. All people born after that time would come up believing there was always only one way the communist way. Very dangerous programming going on here.
What better avenue was there for tax evasion than a company in the name of religion? What better product is there than one that is free and does not require any warehousing?
What better customer is there than one that blindly takes your personal word for the product?
What better conditions are there for a tyrant, where there are no hassles from anybody because everybody serves you and you serve nobody.
This man Armstrong was onto something with huge profit potential. This was his way out of the misery he was in.
As any savvy company CEO would do, Armstrong successfully profiled, and identified his customers. Who are they, what do they like, how much will they spend, etc. And he went further to “filter out” any potentially bad customers with screening interviews. He was developing a sharp sales organization with safeguards built in for his future income, while he remained the sole proprietor of the company. If you look back on how he structured the Radio, then WCG, you will see that he was always in control.
One of Armstrong’s favorite sales tactics was to tell his customers “don’t take my word for it go verify it on your own”. He knew most people would take his word for it, or, even if they checked it out they would see it through tainted glasses with his seed of confusion having already been planted in their heads. He pre-conditioned their thinking. It happens all the time in sales.
In the sales world there are two types of sales closing techniques (getting the customer buy your product) (1) High Pressure, and (2) Creative Armstrong used both.
What did Armstrong know about acquiring money? Well he understood the value of cheap radio programs and it how gives the false perception of “celebrity status” to the speaker (emcee or DJ) and he especially understood the value of direct mail. For each 1000 mail-outs there will be a free-will offering return of .5% to 10%. This can be substantial when the number of mail-outs are in the hundreds of thousands. What did he understand about developing repeat business from his customers stay in touch and make them feel good about their purchase. Offer follow-up service and beat down the competition (Protestants and Catholics). Was he good at it? Well you got sold didn’t you?
Armstrong knew he was selling nothing more than thin air so there had to be something more substantial for his customers to hang onto in return for their investment. After all they were literally giving all of their money to the Armstrong company, or its COG subsidiaries. Their reward would be exclusive entrance into the “Narrow Gate” VIP club and the members would be referred to as The Elect. The password at the door was simply “Obedience”. He would provide annual feasts for them, spending orgies (another chance to collect millions) in the most worldly places such as Tahoe, Hawaii, Branson, etc. Wow, this lavish organization was really pigging out on money, resorts, the whole nine yards. And if they didn’t have enough they simply asked the customers to take another tenth of their investment and send it in so they could have a better party.
Any well organized company has a training program where they train their sales agents to sell their products. They pay them enough to get by, give them perks, and pump them up with smoke. The Armstrong company did the same thing. They opened the Ambassador Sales Training & Management School in Pasadena, California. One of the favorites perks for the trainees were free women students who had to date them if they weren’t already spoken for. This was at the personal direction of President Armstrong. It also conditioned the trainees to expect this same thing from their future customers.
The ultimate prize for the graduating manager trainees from Ambassador Sales Academy was being given exclusive territory otherwise known as churches, made of up of many customers called the brethren. When the territory became large enough the managers would appoint (anoint?) an assistant manager known as an Elder and a few goffers known as Deacons. You know the old barn yard thing throw a few scraps to the pigs and let them oink away.
What else can a good sales training organization do? They can teach the trainees a false perception and literally cause the trainees to spend the rest of their lives pushing a lousy product which they have been conditioned to think is the best product around. Happens everyday. This false perception even trickled into the minds of the customers. Most of the vain sales managers even claim Jesus to be their “elder brother”. Yeah, right!
You can judge a company by the success of their sales team. In the Armstrong company, and it’s subsidiaries, the sales agents and sales managers had new cars, nice homes, fine suits, lots of power & authority. As I have observed many times in my life there is a certain percentage of people who will fall at the feet of those with authority and this phenomenon was certainly happening in the COG organizations. The image they developed was such that the customers would not dare consider anything without first talking to their sales agent kind of like calling your stock broker before you buy stock.
The customers were so sold on the product that they would send huge amounts of money to the company, rather than buy the new car they needed, or the better house they needed, or the newer clothes they needed, or even to pay for a much needed “real” vacation free of stress where they could relax and unwind. In other words the customers were so drunk on product that they lost their ability to reason, to think prudently. In my opinion, very few scams have been as successful as this one was/is for such a long time. Operating under the guise of religion and with a well spun web so tangled that even the FBI could not break down the complex scheme. After all, the more money one makes, the more they tend to spin webs around it to protect it. The COGs were dealing in millions of dollars. No wonder some of the power hungry field reps tried to start their own COG organizations.
The COG organizations grew and the HO developed entire mind-sets to go by for the leaders in the field. They all sounded like identical twins with their sales pitches a good sign the program was working. Oh, I must add a footnote here that the name of God was used as a name-drop to let the brethren customers know who Armstrong was hobnobbing with. The name Jesus was not used very often because it came too close to identifying with the competition the Protestants and Catholics.
How does your leadership reward itself for a job well down?
Take expensive vacations all over the world and call it business, taking it as a tax deduction? The IRS requires that such trips must include “official meetings” to qualify for a break. Some of these traveling salesman claim to have opened a new church by finding some poor soul in a foreign land (vacation land) and talking them into being the host for future meetings. So now we have a new church an individual far away waiting for more instructions from the top. The vacationing VIPs probably left a few scraps behind to keep the tithe farm going.
How creative can one get with the company name COG? Worldwide COG, Philadelphia COG, United COG, The Narrow Gate COG, Petra Group COG, Come And Get It COG, Lose Your Butt COG, etc. Seems like they will run out of names sooner or later. Some of them have the ignorance enough to claim their church name is directly authorized by God.
As a sales person I see where I could have had a dream life in the COG companies. An experienced salesman can empty your wallet and make you feel good about it. And if you come back for more well, well what a cream pie for the salesman.
As it is with many large organizations, some of the well trained employees who get the independent feeling, finally leave the company to set out on their own in direct competition with the company they left. This is still happening today as we continue to see more and more little shops open up with the original parent company name somewhere in the logo as “Church Of God”. The problems I see with these COG companies are:
- (1) The customers get ripped off worse than any scam I have ever seen before.
- (2) The product being offered is without any value and is a copy-cat product taken from another company Orthodox Jews, Inc.
- (3) The exclusive Salvation product being offered is not exclusive at all but rather a widely distributed product among other organizations.
- (4) The higher up leaders don’t even use their own product for some strange reason.
- (5) The propaganda literature used by the company is rife with ulterior motives, none of which have anything to do with concerns for customer satisfaction.
- (6) There is a danger of being trapped again by a spin-off claiming better treatment or new revelations.
As a salesman I see a bleak future for the company. They are too self-centered, money hungry, power driven, and they are being led by a dark horse named Mr Satanpower. This dark horse leader has an extensive history of ruthless control tactics with millions of lost souls left in his wake.
The casualties are speaking up even louder now. Many of them are in counseling of one kind or another and the various psychologist, psychiatrists, and others seem to think the COG group is very definitely a cultic-type organization which over time literally destroys an individuals self esteem and identity.
The brethren customers better run with their money while the gate is still open. Enjoy the rest of your life before it’s too late the COG leaders certainly do.