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