May 15

Why Servant Marketing Matters

Marketing Strategy


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 our customers’ needs, wants, hopes, and aspirations.

The problem with today’s customers


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

This is especially true for companies with a complex sale where B2B buyers face daunting decisions involving huge risks. 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 want 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 to share your thoughts on servant marketing.

You might also like

Guided by Buyers: 4 tactics to create a customer-centric sales and marketing strategy [MarketingSherpa how-to article]

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]

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. 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.

  2. @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!

  3. 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.

  4. Hello Brian–another great post, thank you. I do not know them personally, but it seems like the group at Buffer ( 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.

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