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The philosophy of servant selling

Bill Lee

Do you have a philosophy of selling? I’m not referring to a philosophy like the early Greek scholars made popular, but rather I’m referring to a system or an approach to selling that works for you.

You may have noticed that I frequently criticize salespeople whose initial approach to selling focuses primarily on price. One of the reasons I have adopted this stance on price-centered selling is because it is so harmful to a salesperson’s gross margin. Plus, I see it as a pretty lazy approach to sales.

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In my first sales job, I received nothing from my company but product training. I never heard a word about how to open conversations, how to prospect or how to earn the right to a prospect’s business. Today, I look back at those times as the dark days of selling for me because I knew that I was of little value to my customers and prospects.

There are salespeople today who have had a totally different experience in the sales profession than I had when I started out. The ones who have achieved the highest levels seem to be the ones who adopted the sales philosophy known as “servant selling.” The idea is to approach the profession of selling just like servants might approach their profession.

If you have a mentor who can model selling like a servant to you, I believe this concept will make a lot of sense, especially when so many of the products we sell are identical to the products our competitors are selling, and in many cases, our service is also difficult to differentiate.

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Servant selling is all about doing things for your customers and prospects that they perceive to be of value. Sometimes your value solves some of the problems the principles of the business are struggling with, and other times it benefits the business itself.

In the Nov./Dec. 2022 issue of LBM Journal, there was an enlightening article about the problems building supply dealers are facing with regard to excessive jobsite returns. If you haven’t read this article and if you don’t work in a LBM business, you may not be aware of how big a problem excessive returns are to owners and managers. One dealer reported that his company’s goal was to control credits not to exceed 2% of sales, but they are currently running 4.5% of sales.

You have to wonder how much the additional 2.5% of sales is costing this LBM dealer in dollars and cents. To put a plug in for servant selling, I also have to wonder what value the dealers in our industry would place on a solution. Bring even a partial solution to your customers and watch your value skyrocket.

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Servant salespeople spend a lot of time introducing customers and prospects to other LBM executives in businesses outside their trade area who are more accomplished in their ability to achieve their key corporate objectives. I believe you will find it relatively easy to persuade an owner to take a one-and-a-half-hour drive to visit a non-competing dealer’s location in a town a 100 miles away because the owner has everything to gain and nothing to lose. You spend no time on the trip selling; all of your time is spent exposing your prospect to money-making ideas.

As time passes, you will begin to feel more and more confident in your own ability to teach these business principles yourself.

Good Reads

There are many books full of ideas written for the benefit of decision makers in our industry. Invest in yourself by taking the time to read a few, and you’ll increase your value to every customer and prospect. One of my favorites is, “The Real Business 101: Lessons From the Trenches,” by Jim Sobeck.

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