Servant-Hearted Selling

Boss: Did you get any orders today? 

Salesman: Yes, I got two! 

Boss: Congratulations! What were they?

Salesman: “Get out!” and “Stay out!”

Unfortunately, the sales profession has a poor reputation. In Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics survey, car salespeople rank second to last (just above lobbyists). But it’s not just car salespeople that have a problem—salespeople overall have the reputation of being dishonest and pushy. 

It is interesting to consider that one hundred years ago, sales may have been more of a respected profession. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson gave the keynote address at the first World Salesmanship Congress, where around three thousand salespeople had gathered. He began by saying: 

“It is with a great deal of gratification that I find myself facing such an interesting and important company such as this. . . . I have come here to express my interest in the objects of this great association, and to congratulate you on the opportunities which are immediately ahead of you in handling the business of this country.”

Regardless of the overall perception of salespeople, you, as an individual salesperson, can break the “sleazy salesman” and “pushy salesman” stereotypes that are so common. 

You don’t have to be the salesperson who plays tug-of-war with his prospects, trying to drag them over to his side. You don’t have to be the salesperson who ignores his prospects’ needs and brushes off their objections. You don’t have to be the salesperson that prospects try to avoid. 

Sales: human to human

In today’s world, salespeople are needed less than before. Through the Internet, both consumers and business buyers have access to loads of information about products and companies. Instead of relying on the salesperson for information, today’s consumers can do their own research and comparison. They can even fact-check the salesperson’s claims with what other customers are saying in online reviews. 

But a website and other collateral like catalogs don’t offer a direct personal touch. You can’t build a relationship with a website or catalog—they aren’t human. 

Only a fellow human being can offer service and guidance with a personal touch. As Frank Crane wrote in his book The Ten Commandments of Salesmanship, “Be human. The reason you are hired to sell goods is that you are a human being. Otherwise, your employer would have sent a catalog.”

As fellow human beings, your prospects deserve respect. They deserve to be treated with the Golden Rule: treat them the way you would want a salesperson to treat you. We shouldn’t be simply walking, and talking websites, but warm human beings showing interest, care, and concern about our customers.

Our ticket to successful sales is to serve our prospects’ interests above our own. As Arthur Sheldon said, “Business is the science of human service. He profits most who serves his fellows best.”

Preparing the soil

In his book UnReceptive, salesman Tom Stanfill says that customers’ willingness to listen to salespeople like himself is decreasing. Prospects tend to be emotionally closed to what you, as a salesperson, have to say. They know you have an agenda, so their resistance tends to go up. 

Stanfill points out that salespeople tend to focus mostly on their message instead of trying to gauge and improve the customer’s level of openness. He writes, “A customer’s willingness to listen is more important than your ability to communicate.”

Our prospect’s receptivity to us—their level of openness and willingness to listen—is like the soil in your garden. You can plant the highest quality seeds, but if the soil is hard or lacks nutrients, your harvest will suffer because of poor soil. In sales, your message won’t sink in if the customer, like the poor soil, isn’t open and receptive. 

Becoming more passionate, serving up longer lists of benefits, and marshaling all the logical reasons to buy our product won’t convince someone who does not want to be convinced. The more we talk, the more they will smell our “commission breath.”

Stanfill writes, “Trying to persuade someone who is unwilling to talk will almost always backfire. Emotions, not truth, prevail, no matter how determined, smart, talented, or skillful you are.”

No more tug-of-war

Once you get this mental picture in your mind, you won’t soon forget it. Have you ever gotten into a game of tug-of-war with a prospective customer? 

In a sales conversation, we give a tug on the rope to get our prospective customers to come over to our side. But what happens? Just like in an actual game, they resist the pressure and pull on their side just as hard. 

In UnReceptive, Stanfill reminds us that customers always have more than one option to choose from. They can buy our product now, or they can decide to delay a decision. They can decide to continue with the status quo, or they can buy a competitor’s product. 

Acknowledging this reality is an important part of “dropping the rope.” Instead of trying to pressure the customer into our solution, we are free to help the customer explore which options will be in their best interest. 

When we can show the customer that we realize another option might fit their need better than the solution we offer, they will see us as genuinely caring and helpful. Our care builds trust. Customers can then turn to us for guidance because they know we will be as fair and objective as possible in exploring their options. 

Stanfill writes, “To be clear, I’m not recommending you sell the competitive solution. What I am saying is by helping the customer explore the competitive solution, you are more likely to win.”

Dropping our end of the rope in the sales tug-of-war gives us the opportunity to come alongside the customer and be a partner rather than being held at arm’s length. 

Servant-hearted selling 

Have you ever found yourself thinking, I need this sale. I HAVE to get it.

In selling, we have to work extra hard not to be self-centered in our interactions with prospects. Yes, we want to hit our numbers and keep new business rolling in. But that’s only one side of the transaction. On the other side is the customer with their unique situation and concerns. 

In a sales conversation, our natural tendency is to provide information to answer the question of why the customer should buy from us. But the customer has to answer another question: Should they buy from us? They have the job of comparing options to determine what will work best for them, not for us. 

How can we serve through selling?

  • A servant seller puts the customer and the customer’s agenda first. 
  • A servant seller works hard to maintain the objectivity required to help the customer determine whether or not the purchase is in the customer’s best interest. 
  • A servant seller tries both to meet the customer’s stated need and bring up other issues that they may be overlooking or ignorant of.
  • A servant seller truly listens with the intent to understand. 
  • A servant seller attempts to influence rather than control. 
  • A servant seller would rather lose the sale than have the customer make a decision that is not in the customer’s best interest. 

A servant seller does not:

  • Hold back the cheaper offering in hopes the customer will pay for the premium.
  • Try to sell something he can tell the customer doesn’t need.
  • Try to pressure the customer to make a quick decision.
  • Conceal information that may not be in his favor.
  • Fake an interest in the customer.
  • Try to manipulate the customer’s emotions.

Taking the trip

Do we want our prospective customers to be receptive to our point of view? Of course! Then it makes sense that first, we need to show that we are receptive to theirs. Stanfill calls this “taking the trip.” This means leaving your position at the North Pole, so to speak, and visiting their position at the South Pole. 
When a customer throws up a roadblock or objection, that’s the time to take the trip. What’s the real reason behind their objection? 

When the customer believes something untrue about your company or product, that’s the time to take the trip. What is causing them to think the way they do?

Customers feel frustrated when a salesperson dives into a presentation without understanding their situation or what they are looking for. The salesperson is wasting both his time and the customer’s time when that happens. Taking the time upfront to learn all you can about the customer’s situation, their problems, and their goals helps you finetune your presentation. 


Christians who work in sales have the opportunity to blow apart the stereotype of salesmen as pushy people whose agenda is short and simple: 1) Get this sale, 2) Get my commission. 

Let’s work to be servant-hearted sellers that our prospects like, trust, and can turn to for truly helpful solutions and advice about our areas of expertise. 

“No salesman ever succeeded without inspiring confidence, and there is absolutely no way of creating it except by honesty and always telling the truth.” – James Samuel Knox

About the Author: Marvin Martin is head of sales and marketing at Rosewood. He provided the inspiration for this article and collaborated with the Rosewood Messaging Team to produce it. Contact Marvin at