Brian Carroll

Why Servant Marketing Matters

As I talk to marketing and sales leaders, I hear this reoccurring theme: “I want to do something that really matters; I want to feel what I’m doing is really making a real difference.”

I feel the same way, but I’ve painfully learned that it’s futile to make changes outside before we make changes inside. This requires a different kind of thinking to drive a different way of marketing.

In our rush to obtain leads, drive opportunities and close sales to move the sales needle, it’s too easy to forget that we need to address the needs, wants, hopes and aspirations of our customers.

The problem with today’s customers

Today’s customers are weary of pitches, hype, buzzwords, corporate speak and manipulative messages, and as a result, they ignore them.

This is especially true for companies that have a complex sale where B2B buyers face daunting decisions that involve huge risks, and sellers struggle to articulate their value propositions and differentiate themselves from competitors.

Customers aren’t saying, “We need solutions.” Instead, they’re saying, “We need to solve a problem.”

So what would happen if we focused on helping them do just that?

Serve first and market second

With this in mind, I’ve been reflecting on servant leadership for the past year. Robert Greenleaf’s work on servant leadership states this: “Serve first and lead second.”servant-marketing

I believe this idea can also be applied to sales and marketing. Let’s call it servant marketing, which can be defined as “serve first and market second.”

Servant marketing works like this: How we sell and market informs customers of how we’re going to serve them. It’s not what we say; it’s what we actually do that matters.

I’d like your input to help me define this better. I think servant marketing is built on the following ideas:

  • Empathize with your customers and walk in their shoes to understand their problems
  • Think like your customers when they set out to solve a problem and understand each step they take to solve that problem
  • Learn how you can help make your customers lives better
  • Provide your customers what they want
  • Help customers identify and solve problems
  • Give customers content and expertise that helps them gain clarity
  • Empower employees who touch your customers with the resources, training and tools to really help them

Our customers are more sophisticated than ever and have access to more information and more options. There’s no room for game-playing or guessing. We have to know what they want and give that to them. If we can give them what they want, we can create a competitive advantage that will reap higher margins and profits.

I realize this may seem altruistic, but it’s not. It has an economic benefit. One company that I’m hoping to interview for a future blog post practices servant marketing and generates 200% more revenue per customer than their competitors.

I’m looking for more companies that practice servant marketing.

Do you know of any? Let me know in the comments section below. Please feel free share your thoughts on servant marketing.

Image Attribution: Adam Verspaget

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B2B Marketing: Embracing customer centricity [More from the blogs]

Customer-centric Marketing: Using metaphors in your B2B strategy [More from the blogs]

Marketing Research Chart: Question your assumptions for true customer-centric marketing [MarketingSherpa Research Chart of the Week]

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Marketing Strategy



  1. August 18th, 2014 at 07:27 | #1

    Hello Brian–another great post, thank you. I do not know them personally, but it seems like the group at Buffer (www.bufferapp.com) are focused on servant marketing. To steal from Jay Baer’s book, they seem to epotimize a “Youtility” company. I will keep thinking of others…this is what my team is focused on becoming.

  2. August 18th, 2014 at 20:01 | #2

    Hi Brian,
    Great content, as usual! The customer is at the core of every part of your definition. Every aspect of servant marketing points to help the customer achieve something, or as you put it, solve a problem. The main thing here is that we, as marketers, need to know what each unique customer wants and needs in order to solve their particular problem. This is where CRM and marketing automation come in. We’ve found that the integration of these tools allow marketers and sales people to work together to understand each prospect’s pain points so that they can better address them throughout the buyer’s journey. Essentially, knowing what a potential customer needs before they ask for it allows marketers and sales people to serve better.

  3. August 19th, 2014 at 13:51 | #3

    @Matthew Theis Thank you for reading Matthew! That’s a great suggestion on Buffer. Disclaimer: I’m a Buffer customer. From my experience, they’re practicing a level of servant marketing with their product design, people leadership philosophy, educational content etc. If you have more suggestions let me know!

  4. August 19th, 2014 at 13:57 | #4

    @Tatiana Ceresa Thank you for reading for your suggestion! Overall, I agree marketing automation and CRM can support this process and help us get more customer wisdom. Also, I think we need to begin with customer empathy. To build that empathy, I recommend that people need to talk to customers first and focus on better understanding how we can best serve them. For more on this read http://b2bleadblog.com/2014/08/customer-first-empathy.html

  5. August 26th, 2014 at 12:38 | #5

    Terrific post, Brian! Seems I have been following some level of this strategy for many years now, not knowing that we should call it something. For my two cents, nothing generates more additional references then a customer for whom you have managed to get close enough to truly empathize. I work in a very small market in Anchorage, Alaska, but every sales rule still applies here. I believe this idea of servant marketing, or whatever other name people use to describe it, is a key to customer retention and is a root to cross selling nirvana.

  1. August 27th, 2014 at 16:48 | #1