What Does Servant Selling Look Like?

3 min read
August 11, 2015


My Encounter with a Pushy Salesperson

I was once arm-wrestled into attending a cosmetic party hosted by a close friend of mine, “Carra." The products were being demoed by a sales representative, “Jill,” who’d been doing fairly well as an independent consultant for this company.

Jill was on a mission: she wanted to close the maximum amount of sales at the party itself and sign up my friend Carra to be a consultant for the company (landing herself a nice bonus).

I’m familiar with how these multi-level sales gigs work, so I empathize with Jill as she tried to fill her sales quotas. She totally lost my empathy, however, when she started grilling Carra for turning down her offer to be a consultant.

Jill barely knew Carra, but that didn’t stop her from being relentless.

“I can’t stand to see you wasting your potential. You’re not recognizing what a great opportunity this is - you'll be your own boss and make a lot more money. I think you’re making a big mistake by saying no.”

But Carra did say no in every polite way she could think of. Consulting simply wasn't for her. But that didn’t deter Jill from employing every manipulative sales tactic in her arsenal.

Once we finally got Jill out the door, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. “Wow, she was a really good salesperson,” said Carra.  

I was about to agree, but then I hesitated. It’s true that Jill was persistent and even aggressive, but does that mean she was a good salesperson?

Today’s Good Salespeople: Servant Sellers

Before the internet changed the way we shop, salespeople could get away with pressure tactics - like the ones Jill used - because they were the ones with the power. They had all information about a product or service, and the consumers had none.

In the 21st Century, this model is flipped around. Consumers have an unlimited amount of information at their fingertips. They aren’t dependent on salespeople anymore, which means the customers now have the power.

So if consumers can look up product specs, reviews, and comparisons instantly through a basic Google search, then what is the role of the salesperson?

Consumers today don’t need fast talking and limited-time deals as much as they need someone to understand their problem, give them useful advice, and help them navigate the sea of information out there.

And that is exactly what servant selling looks like.

Servant sellers are completely different than the slick-haired, back-slapping salespeople of the past. Instead, they serve as advisors, guides, and troubleshooters.

This type of selling fits perfectly with the goals of inbound marketing. A solid inbound strategy emphasizes building trust with prospects and answering their questions through great content. Servant sellers use the same principles to guide prospects further down the sales funnel.

There are three key behaviors that make servant sellers unique: a consumer focus, listening, and availability.

1. They focus on the consumer.

Servant sellers put the needs of their customers before their own. In our post “What Is the Difference Between Marketing and Sales?” we said that the primary role of the sales team was selling-helping (“selping”) the consumer.

Selping happens when the salesperson is committed to engaging the prospect through personalized content, gaining a strong understanding of the prospect’s goals and obstacles, and serving as an ongoing resource.

2. They listen more than they talk.

Servant sellers are extremely good listeners. They try to get inside the mind of their customer by asking helpful questions that get to the root of the problem.

By genuinely connecting with a prospect and understanding her pain points, a servant seller is better able to meet those needs.

3. They are always available, never pushy

Whether they’re selling online or in person, a servant-seller doesn’t try to force or bully a prospect into a decision. Instead, they create opportunities for meaningful dialogue with their prospects.

Servant Selling: Essential for Today's Marketplace

Jill would have had a lot more credibility with Carra if she’d exhibited these three behaviors. Instead, she was too caught up in her own agenda to tap into Carra’s needs, desires, and concerns.

Servant selling is what people both expect and demand. Aggressive salespeople used to be the most effective sellers out there, but in today's consumer-centric marketplace, the salesperson who helps the most wins.

If you have a horror story about a pushy salesperson, I'd love to hear about it. Feel free to share in the comments section.

Image by GotCredit via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.