Years ago, when I was developing university student leaders, AT&T executive Robert Greenleaf’s provocative 1970 essay The Servant as Leader provided foundational principles for success. What if, he theorized, that instead of taking a command-and-control approach to leadership—ordering employees what to do, micromanaging their actions and the like– we led differently. What if leaders instead focused on making their employees successful, and measured success by these questions:
“Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
I found an extension of this notion to servant selling. After consideration, isn’t servant selling an oxymoron? How can I turn a selling situation into a win for the buyer? I love the simplicity of asking this single question as a filter for my actions:
“If the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve?”
Note that the question does not ask if YOUR life will improve. If you are practicing servant selling, you will be focused on the benefit to the other person, the buyer.
Lest you think this is too touchy-feely and impractical for the competitive world of business, I would argue:
1. we create a lot of our competition when that mindset collects in our head-trash basket and
2. we discount the reality that we humans are wired to want to make a difference.
Let’s rediscover what Wharton professor Adam Grant learned. In a 2008 study of call center employees at a major university, Grant studied the impact of purpose—servant selling–on employees’ effectiveness at fund-raising. He divided the callers into three groups and their work conditions were identical except for what happened in the five minutes before their shift on two consecutive nights. The first group, the personal benefit group, read stories of former call center employees sharing the practical benefits they gained from the work—improved sales skills (click here for a related discussion). The focus was clearly on how selling benefits the caller. The second, the purpose group, read stories from alumni who benefited from the scholarship money raised by that call center. Their focus was on the beneficiary of the gift. The third, the control group, read stories on other unrelated topics.
The result? Grant found the personal benefit and control groups raised the same number of pledges and the same dollar amount: the input they were given was neutral to self-serving. The purpose group, however, secured both twice as many pledges and twice as much money as the other two! Their focus was neither on “sales targets” or benefits to themselves, but on the beneficiaries of their calling activity.
The stories the purpose group heard made their phone calls both personal and purposeful. They understood the personal impact of gifts on individual lives and the positive contribution they were engaging both themselves and the donor through those donations.
One of my clients related the story of working for a wealthy client and the enormous pressure he felt to do the best possible job for him and his family. Upon completion of that job, he received the highest compliment that could ever be given—from the wife:
“I knew you always had our best interest in mind every step of the way.”
What are you thinking about during client meetings or critical “sales” transactions?
What might you do this week that would prompt your client/s to say, “I knew you always had my best interest in mind?”