Service-Oriented Approach: To Sell Is to Serve

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "To Sell Is Human" by Daniel H. Pink. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can taking a service-oriented approach to selling help you close more sales? Why is moving others through persuasion more successful than manipulation?

In To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink explains that modern-day sales are no longer about manipulation tactics and elevator pitches. Today, a much more successful approach to sales is the service-oriented approach. This method focuses on what you can do for the customer, rather than what the customer can do for you.

Continue below to learn the rules of service-oriented selling and for some additional tips to help you succeed.

How to Take a Service-Oriented Approach to Sales

All types of selling in the modern world are about service. Being of service isn’t just being hospitable and friendly, it’s about identifying and fulfilling deeper needs in order to improve people’s lives. Beyond merely being an exchange of resources, it’s a transaction meant to inspire change in individuals and the collective. This article will show you how to practice a service-oriented approach to selling. This type of selling is about moving others through persuasion, not to manipulate your own self-serving outcome, but to be of service to someone else. There are two crucial rules to service-oriented selling.

Rule #1: Make It personal

Most professions involve human to human interaction, but too often we ignore the human component because we want to “be professional.” This keeps us too distant to practice attunement and impedes our ability to create a meaningful transaction. If you don’t genuinely care about what you’re selling, your ability to perform successfully will be impeded. The transaction becomes impersonal, mechanical, and yields less positive results. Additionally, you also miss important details when you have no personal investment or connection in a transaction.

For example, doctors miss key details when they consider patients to be just another number, as opposed to a whole human being with a life and dreams, and people who care about them. They do their jobs better when they emphasize a patient’s humanity. 

Making our professional worlds personal improves performance and increases the quality of the service being provided. If you want to facilitate meaningful transactions, remember that people are human, and make what you’re selling personal to you. This communicates that you care about meeting the buyer’s needs and that you’re not just acting in your own self-interest.

Rule #2: Make It purposeful 

Humans, contrary to popular belief, are not self-serving. Research shows that we all have an innate desire to serve others, so selling works best when we believe we are serving, not just our own personal interest, but a greater purpose. Therefore, the most effective way to impact behavior is to frame how it will benefit others. Engaging with purpose in one area of your life will soon become a mentality that positively impacts all areas. From a higher standpoint, being of service in this way will improve someone else’s life. Each life improved will positively impact the lives of countless others, and ultimately improve the world as a whole.

For example, in healthcare, messages should focus on the impact on the vulnerable target population.

Additional Tips

Consider these additional ideas for practicing service-oriented selling.

Tip #1: Upserve, don’t upsell

Upselling is persuading someone to exchange their resources for something they don’t necessarily need. The central theme here is, “What can you do for me?” Upserving is supporting someone to exchange their resources for something they didn’t know they needed. The central theme here is, “What can I do for you?”

Tip #2: If you run a company, consider eradicating sales commission

Commission breeds competition and competition breeds self-serving sales, instead of other-serving sales. Getting rid of commission inspires collaboration, reduces work drama by eliminating conflict overcompensation, and encourages sellers to be of service to their clients.

Tip #3: Act as if the buyer is doing you a favor, not the other way around

Tension arises when one party believes they are doing the other party a favor, but the other party doesn’t act like it. Often, the seller sees themselves as the one doing the favor, and it results in expectation (and disappointment). Acting like the buyer is doing you a favor facilitates attunement, by allowing you to take the perspective of the buyer (this is a throwback to the power balance theory in chapter 4). 

Tip #4: Act as if the buyer is a close family member (like your mother or your grandmother)

This serves the purpose of “make it personal,” as well as perspective-taking. If your buyer is “your mother,” you are much more likely to approach the interaction from service. 

Service-oriented selling takes you beyond empirical results. The core of it is artistry and idealism. Within it, there is an impetus both to make the world better and to improve it beyond what we thought was possible.

Service-Oriented Approach: To Sell Is to Serve

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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