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Embracing the servant sales concept

Bill Lee

As I gaze at the bookshelves in my office, one thing is obvious: there is no end to the titles authors choose for the books they write. Among the sales books I have read, some have serious-sounding titles such as “The Sales Bible,” while others have cutesy titles that are sure to get a prospect’s attention, like “Timid Salespeople Have Skinny Kids,” written by one of the brothers of the late, great sales trainer, Zig Ziglar. The one, though, that I have hung onto like a child might hold onto a baby blanket and reread every year or two is “The Servant,” by James C. Hunter.

As the name implies, James Hunter is advocating that salespeople who behave more like servants than aggressive “go for the jugular” personality types will have higher odds of achieving success in the profession of sales.

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My image of servants are people who do something for someone who either can’t or don’t want to do it themselves, or whose talent in a given area gives them the free time to do things they consider to be more valuable.

The bottom line is that “servant salespeople” who have the talent, knowledge, and desire to perform services that benefit business owners, buyers, decision makers, etc. will often earn the privilege of writing the order in return for the services they have performed.

Although rarely, if ever, phrased this crudely, it is not unlike, “I will do this for you (the service) if you will do that for me (give me the order).” I don’t want in any way to infer that servant selling is a quid pro quo action. A servant salesperson has a servant mentality. Servant salespeople have simply learned a lot about business and enjoy using their knowledge as a sales tool. Decision-makers find them invaluable.

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Real Life Example: Let’s say I make my living selling widgets to dealers and distributors. I have a prospect who buys widgets, but not from me.

I believe the reason is because of a personal relationship the buyer has with one of my competitors. Widgets are commodities. They are a lot like rebar, wire mesh, or domestic nails: it’s difficult to differentiate one manufacturer’s widgets from another.

During a sales call with the owner (who is also the widget buyer), he began venting to me by saying, “Our salespeople don’t have a clue about how to sell; all they know how to do is talk sports, quote prices, and bring their prospects donuts on the jobsite. Here’s how the servant salesperson would handle it:

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Servant Salesperson: “I have attended dozens of sales training sessions. Would it be of value to you if I put together several outlines of short, one-hour sales training programs for you to look at, and if you approve, I’ll be happy to help you professionalize your salespeople’s sales presentations? There would be no charge; in fact, I would enjoy doing it for you.”

Owner: “What a nice offer that is! Yes, please do that and I’ll let you know what I think.”

Servant Salesperson: “Assuming you approve my outlines, could we look at your calendar and block a few dates when I am available? What dates work best for you?”

This widget salesperson is doing something concrete for the owner and widget buyer. If salesperson’s service (sales training) can benefit the owner by improving the professionalism—and productivity—of the sales force, he may have also given the owner a reason to take his widget line more seriously.

Knowledge is Power! What do you know that you could share with your prospects and in so doing earn a piece of their business? Watch for more articles on this sales technique in future editions of LBM Journal.


Bill Lee is a respected sales and business consultant in the LBM industry. For more information, contact Bill at

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