Two words that have often been misunderstood, mislabeled and underrated in the business

world are ‘sell’ and ‘serve’. While ‘to sell’ is deemed an action reserved for those who have not

gotten the privilege to undertake any worthwhile venture in life, ‘to serve’ is deemed to be

demeaning to people of a high caliber in life. The irony of these misconceptions is that in more

ways than one, they are related. I even daresay that these two words are synonymous, i.e. to

sell is to serve and to serve is to sell.

I was prompted to write on this issue because of some wrong notions I have recently been

coming across concerning the noble profession of salesmanship. These wrong ideas have

become so accepted that even some sales men and women have been made to believe in

them. These sales ‘un-professionals’ therefore go about their jobs with a warped mentality and

distorted view about what they are doing. The result is a further aberration of the image of

sales as a profession. This issue has to be addressed and the misconceptions erased. Readers

would therefore be kind enough to forgive me this week if I come across as waxing too


My research for this article took me to Norway (metaphorically speaking) to look for the root

word of ‘sell’. It would interest readers to know that the root word for sell is ‘SELJE’ which is a

Norwegian word meaning “to serve”. This revelation immediately indicates the intentions of

those who coined the word ‘sell’. They had a noble intention for sales as a profession much like

other dignified professions such as teaching, medical practice, etc. The literal meaning of the

word ‘SELJE’ speaks to the fact that, salespeople are to serve the needs, hopes, and dreams of

their clients and contribute meaningfully to the communities in which they find themselves. A

professional salesperson is supposed to serve his or her clients by providing products and

services that would enhance to a great extent the customer’s standard of living. Based on only

this premise it would not be far-fetched to state that by enhancing the living standard of

society, sales people are in effect serving the greater goods of all. This however holds true if,

and only if, the product-service offering is beneficial to mankind. Conversely, it can be said that

anyone who has anything good to sell but refuses to sell it, is doing a great disservice to


Before I go ahead I would like to make a distinction between ‘service’ as in “Work done by one

person or group that benefits another” e.g. medical service, fire service, banking service, etc.

and ‘service’ as in “An act of help or assistance.” What I am referring to is the latter.

Salespeople are supposed to see themselves as offering help to people and not just giving out

products or doing work for money.

Contemporary sales literature indicates that we are in an era of relationship selling. This refers

to the establishment of a cordial state of connectedness with buyers before even attempting to

sell whatever is on offer. Super Sales Stars are good at establishing good rapport with their

clients. However, the key to establishing a lasting sales relationship with a customer is

willingness to provide service. Salespeople who go out to fleece clients of every pesewa in their

pockets will in the long run come back empty-handed. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying

you should not go out and make money as a salesperson. My point is that if making money is

what you are all about it shows in your sales presentation and customers immediately become

wary of your motives. In most cases you might come back without the sale having been made.

A maxim I hold dear in sales is “Seek service first, and the sales will follow.” As far as I am

concerned, the sale is only a by-product of a good service rendered. An anonymous saying goes

thus: “A sale is not something you pursue; it is something that happens to you

while you are immersed in serving your customer.” most salespeople I have come

across in my career are not aware of this fact. To them to sell is to take money from a customer

in return for a product-service offering. This mindset used to work in the days of transactional

selling where customers were obliged to come back to the same company whether they were

impressed with the salesperson or not. The era of relationship selling calls for a different

mindset. The job of the salesperson in this era has to establish a relationship with the client by

offering to do a service. In short, service sells.

Another thing that this mentality does for the sales process is that it forces salespeople to seek

out ways in which their offering can be of genuine benefit to consumers. They are made to find

out what their product-service offering can do for consumers. Equipped with this knowledge,

professional salespeople step out in confidence knowing that they are out to help others (i.e.

provide a great service to people). Next time you come across a salesperson ask the one what

he or she is selling and the answers will give the one away. Those with a service mentality will

tell you they offer a service whereas without this mentality will tell you they sell a

product/service. Insurance salespeople should know that what they are offering is not just

‘insurance’ but security and peace of mind. Auto salespeople are in the business of offering

prestige, safety and reliability not mere cars or trucks. The pharmaceutical salesperson offers

health, longevity and peace of mind, not just drugs or medicine. With this mindset sales people

will discover a real joy is selling. Albert Schweitzer, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 says,

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the ones among

you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

The mindset of a salesperson is important in the sales process. It is therefore imperative that

salespeople go out to sell with a service mentality, which will translate into a great attitude.

Aside selling skills and adequate knowledge, attitude is the third most significant factor that

affects selling. Managers, trainers and consultants must make it a point to point out to

salespeople that the essence of selling is service. I believe this will result in a new breed of sales

personnel. Salespeople will begin to see themselves, not as the negative stereotype society has

made them out to be, but as dignified professionals belonging to a distinguished profession.

By: J. N. HALM
P. O. Box DS 2134
Dansoman Estates