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“Servant Salespersonship”

by David Brock on January 1st, 2018

Some of the more cynical (or perhaps worn down) of you will misread the title, thinking, “Dave, we’re already slaves to our jobs, managers, companies.  What are you doing?”

I’m really thinking about applying the principles and concepts of “Servant Leadership” to sales and our relationships with customers.

Servant leadership concepts can be traced back millennia to philosophies in from Lao-Tzu, the Indian treatise, Arhashastra, the Bible, many of the Stoics, and others.

The modern incarnation of these principles were first popularized by Robert Greenleaf in “The Servant As A Leader,” published in 1970.  Lots has been written about these principles and the variants by folks like Ken Blanchard, Max Dupree, and others.

Servant leadership is often characterized as the “upside down pyramid.”

Underlying the concept of servant or transformational leadership are roughly 10 principles:

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing (In a business sense we may think of this more as coaching, mentoring, even problem solving).
  4. Awareness (Both of ourselves and others.)
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the growth of people
  10. Building community

I won’t go into these principles, they are reasonably self explanatory.  There are also a number of articles on the concepts so just Google “Principles of servant leadership.”

But these principles really reflect a different mindset and behaviors from those who execute them.  They are more “other” focused, more collaborative, more inclusive than many of the classic hierarchical, command/control styles.

We apply these principles, not only because the are people centric, but because they produce results.  There are lots of examples including organizations as different at the  US Army and Southwest Airlines.

While these are great principles for driving performance within an organization, I’m looking at them through a different set of lenses, what if we applied them to how we engage our customers?

What if we looked at the concepts applied as “Servant Salespersonship?”

People write about aspects of this all the time–we put labels like Customer centric, Buyer focused, and so forth to this concept.

But what if we examined the principles of servant leadership as applied to selling?

  1. Listening—kind of obvious in engaging customers and understanding their goals, dreams, challenges, problems.  Yet too often, we spend the time talking.  Or we listen selectively, waiting for cues to go into pitch mode.
  2. Empathy—increasingly we are understanding the importance of empathy; understanding things from their points of view, putting ourselves in their shoes, seeing things through their eyes.
  3. Healing—in a very real sense, selling is about healing, helping the customer solve problems, helping them learn how to improve.
  4. Awareness—there are a couple of perspectives here.  The first focuses on our awareness of the customer, their problems, challenges, and opportunities.  The second is broadening the customers’ awareness of their own situations, of new methods, ways to improve, and so forth.
  5. Persuasion—we talk a lot about this in selling, usually from the point of view of pitching.  I prefer to think of this as a way of helping the customer create and own a compelling need to change.
  6. Conceptualization—this is critical, it’s really about helping the customer create a vision of a new future and how they might get there.
  7. Foresight—encompasses the wisdom of past experiences, applying them to helping the customer achieve their goals.  We leverage not only the customer’s own experience, but the experiences of working with other customers in their attempts to solve similar problems.  We leverage these principles in our own process of engaging customers effectively.
  8. Stewardship—this term has fallen out of fashion, but really speaks to personal ownership, accountability, and responsibility.  We see from that stewardship helps center us in our role within our own companies, as well as in trying to be genuinely helpful to our customers.
  9. Commitment to the growth of people—this should be self explanatory.  It’s a drive for our own personal learning and growth, as well as working with our customers, teaching them, helping them learn, helping them address their problems/opportunities and to grow personally/organizationally.
  10. Building community—as sales people working in complex B2B sales, we know we need support from within our own company, our partners, and others.  We know our ability to grow our relationships within our enterprise accounts and territories is continually building trust and our relationships.

Think of how your ability to connect with your customers in impactful ways would change.  Think of how the value you create with your customers will be amplified.  All it takes is adapting a mindset and implementing the principles of Servant Salespersonship


  1. I have always appreciated the concept of servant leadership, and I really like your application of the concept to the sales function. As automation takes a bigger role in sales & marketing, differentiating yourself as a servant leader to internal and external customers will be important. These skills are ones that can’t be automated (at least not yet – who knows where AI is going, but that’s the subject for another blog post).

    • Thanks Stacy. I think the issue of automation and AI in terms of it’s application to leadership is very interesting. Too many focus on leveraging these tools so that managers and leaders don’t have to do the things they need to be doing, automating the function, instead. I think the more interesting application is in how they augment and amplify our ability to connect in meaningful ways with our customers and people.

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