"He profits most who serves best."
Arthur Sheldon, speaking in 1910 at the first convention of the National Association of Rotary Clubs of America in Chicago, discussed a shift taking place in the world of business:
“The distinguishing mark of the 19th century was competition. Dog-eat-dogism. The doctrine of trade was caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.
“In the 20th century, mankind as a whole is approaching its maturity in intelligence.
“The light of wisdom is beginning to shine and the distinguishing mark of the commercialism of the 20th century is to be cooperation. For only the science of right conduct towards others pays. Business is the science of human service. He profits most who serves his fellows best.”
In Portland, Oregon, a year later, Sheldon was invited to speak again. Unable to attend, he sent a message to be read to the convention. Two sentences became a motto not only for the Rotary, but for the selling world itself, “Business is the science of service”, and “he profits most who serves best.”
It's now 110 years later. Everything Sheldon says has been multiplied. I, myself, have always felt this way.
The problem is, systemically, selling organizations became centered around the self.
Much of that mindset still remains. We, as human beings, spent however many millions of years focused on the self; produce or starve. That philosophy often oozes back onto the sales floors of organizations around the world. From startups to tech “unicorns”, there is considerable pressure to produce. The day-to-day focus shifts to the numbers and to scale-at-all-costs, versus the ethics of those natural laws - produce for others, benefit all, and ultimately that service comes back to you.
Recently, I had a bit of a “viral” post on LinkedIn. As of this writing, it’s been viewed by just under 200,000 people, with almost 1,800 reactions and 113 comments. It was a simple post. Frankly, I’m surprised by the engagement and reaction - as though serving your prospects, customers and your peers best is a revelation.
It's not a trick or a gimmic to embrace what you don't do. It's the truth. As another of my favorite sales philosophers from the early 20th century, Arthur Dunn, said, "If the truth won't sell it, don't sell it."
If the stakeholder wants X and others do that better, humbly admitting that, then offering to be a resource to connect them to X is the path to a relationship and lasting trust, even if they never buy from you.
Stop, for a moment. Think about your work today. There's a question to ask yourself. If you lead teams, it's a question worth posing to those you lead.
Who are you serving?
Part of my theorizing around "The Great Resignation" back in April that is accelerating today is this idea that when our profession is focused on simply serving ourselves, our options are limitless. The moment we believe we can be served better somewhere else, we unplug from one circumstance and plug into another. Our connect to today's environment is weak. The physical and emotional costs to change are practically non-existent.
Here in late 2021, there is very little physical cost to change our circumstances, given the remote nature of our work. Our commute does not change. Maybe we are given a new laptop to set up, and have to adjust our insurance coverage, but that's about the extent of it.
There is also very little emotional cost to change, given the idea that human connections do not form in the same capacity over videos and Zoom as they would actually being in the trenches together. It's considerably easier to part ways with individuals you have never actually been in the same room with.
And, systemically, due to the obsession sales organizations typically place on numbers versus customer outcomes, there is very little emotional connection has been built between our work and it's service to the customer.
The most successful organizations are those who best serve the world with its solutions.
The most successful employers are those who best serve their employees.
The most successful sales professionals are those who best serve their customers - whether through their own solutions, or through being a resource to help those customers realize their optimal outcome.
The optimal outcome for your customer, if they (the customer) is doing it right, is in service to their own customers.
Selling is a purpose-driven profession. When you wake up in the morning and consider what you will be getting into that day, you are ultimately serving your customers' customers.
Embrace transparency. And not just because it feels good to be honest - because your prospect requires it to be able to make a decision. I mean, why do you eat? Is it to cure your hunger? Or because your body requires it to function?
And, due to the proliferation of feedback and reviews on everything we do, buy and experience, we now have to do it anyway!
"True salesmanship is the science of service. Grasp that though firmly and never let go."
- Arthur Sheldon from his 1911 book, The Art of Selling