From Selling to Serving
Mar 19, 2012

5 minute read


Each week I meet with a group of Los Angeles business owners and entrepreneurs - men and women from very different fields who share a common vision of being self-supporting through self-employment. Among the group are doctors, accountants, attorneys, real estate agents, writers, architects, artists, actors, PR agents, personal trainers, professional speakers, headhunters, musicians, construction contractors, literary agents, photographers, landscapers, and more. The topic for this week's meeting was: "What are you doing to keep your business going in these crazy-making economic times?"

Several people said they have upped the number of cold calls they're making; others talked about creative ways they're using social networking to market themselves. Some are revamping their web sites and blogs; a few are exploring new business ideas, as they worry that their current businesses might not survive.

When it was my turn to speak, I said, "I've stopped making sales calls. I make service calls instead."

The group looked at me, their faces registering everything from confusion to curiosity to disbelief to disdain. So I explained what I had learned from Chuck Chamberlain.

Chuck was a successful businessman in commercial real estate development (specifically, grocery stores) in Los Angeles. Some years ago, he gave a series of lectures entitled "A New Pair of Glasses" (published in a book by the same title). Recently, I listened to those lectures, now available on CDs.

Chuck explained how he became successful ... and very wealthy. He said he did not make sales calls - he made service calls. He was in the business of helping others be successful in their businesses. When Chuck called on a potential customer, he viewed it as no different from helping a neighbor with a project, visiting a friend in the hospital, or reaching out to help someone struggling with a serious personal problem - it was an opportunity to be of service.

"How can I help you?" Chuck would ask. "How's your business doing? What's working? What isn't working? Tell me about your challenges and problems." He would listen with no agenda. He would listen with an open mind and an open heart - with a genuine desire to help the other guy build his business.

If Chuck could help the other guy, he would. If he didn't have the right service to offer, he would do his best to think if he knew anyone who could; then he'd refer the prospective customer to that other person.

In his lecture, Chuck related how, on two or three occasions, he had a different motivation in calling on prospective customers … he was broke, and desperate to make a sale. "Whenever I went on a call feeling like 'I NEED this sale; I HAVE to make some money today; I HAVE to close this deal' - I came away empty-handed. I never once made a sale that way."

In other words, when Chuck called on people in order to GET something from them, he failed. When he called on people in order to SERVE them, he always got the sale. That was his "secret" to success.

People are smart and intuitive. They can pick up on your energy and they know when you're trying to get something from them. When people resist sales pitches, it's because they know the real agenda is all about YOU.

And … people also know when your intent is to help, to be of service, to contribute, to assist them in achieving their goals. When you approach them with that intent, they welcome you. They trust you ... and they give you their business.

I knew exactly what Chuck was talking about. For many years, fear was the co-owner of my business. I ran scared, worried about where my next check was coming from. I did tons of PR, built several web sites, chased down leads, and curried favor with important people I thought could help me. I was always strategizing and scheming about how to become rich and famous. When I did get a big chunk of money or land on a national TV show, It made me happy – but not for long. The euphoria wore off quickly and I had to start chasing again – almost like an addiction. What’s more, in the chase for fame and fortune I generated enormous stress, frustration, unhappiness and anxiety for myself ... as well as resentment toward those who had what I was chasing. This was a no-win game, for sure.

I always said that my work was about service and contribution – and my mission statement said so, too. But it was only partially true. I did want to help others – but I often wanted recognition and money even more. My motives were mixed at best. I ran my business from a place of fear and scarcity ... the same place millions of business people are operating from today.

Chuck Chamberlain's "new pair of glasses" reminded me of something I used to know, but had forgotten. The goal of business is to provide products and services that others need and want. The goal of business is to serve and contribute to others' well-being. Money is the happy by-product. Money is one of the ways (but not the only way) we measure how well we're doing. But in our culture today, it's easy to lose sight of the true goal of business and get seduced into pursuing only money. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. Fear makes us chase after what we think will keep us safe. Fear makes us turn money into our god.

When I finally stopped looking for what I could get and started looking for what I could give, everything changed. The recession didn’t go away, but my stress and anxiety did. Money started to flow in, often from unexpected places. I heeded Chuck's example and followed his lead; it made me feel good about my work and optimistic about the future. Chuck taught me to build my business on a foundation of service and contribution. When I do my work well, the result is not just freedom from want ... but also freedom from fear.

After sharing Chuck's ideas with my business group this week, I began wondering ... What would business be like if everyone made service calls instead of sales calls? What would happen if business people adopted an attitude of "How can I serve?" instead of "What can I get?" What would Wall Street be like? What would Main Street be like? What would the world be like?


This article is printed here with permission from the author. BJ Gallagher is a best-selling business book author, speaker, and consultant. Her new book (with Franz Metcalf) is BEING BUDDHA AT WORK: 108 Ancient Truths on Change, Stress, Money, and Success  

15 Past Reflections