by Frank Cowell | Updated Dec 11, 2023

A service-driven mindset has to permeate your entire organization. Every single member of your team must understand their role in bringing your concept—your mental model—to life. It’s not just the job of one department.

During my stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, I vividly remember a time during combat training when they sat us down and said, “Look around at one another. Some of you are black, some of you are white, some of you are brown, and so on. But from this point forward, you’re no longer any of those colors. From now on, you’re all just shades of green.” It was their first step in making sure we knew we were a brotherhood.

Building on that concept, they added, “It doesn’t matter what your job is, you are absolutely critical to the mission.”

In other words, if you’re lugging around the .50 caliber, which is a heavy and unwieldy piece of equipment, your purpose is to get it to its destination in one piece and in proper working order, so the next person can operate the equipment properly. That makes you critical to the mission. If your job is bulk fuel, you’re more than just the military’s version of a gas station attendant. You are helping to keep vehicles fueled so they can get where they need to go. That makes you critical to the mission.

In the same way, everyone in your organization, no matter their specific task, should understand their importance to the mission. To do that, however, the mission must be crystal clear, and the executives must embody it.


Having a selfless spirit means putting others before you. Every member of your team should be committed to serving your target audience, not merely responding to them. Serving is proactive, while responding is reactive.

This mindset of service isn’t focused solely on customers. Instead, your focus should be your target audience. That means you are actively looking for ways to engage and serve those who are seeking out what you have to offer,
those who are actively engaging with your marketing or sales team, those who are currently customers, and even those who have been your customers for many years.

When you embrace this selfless spirit, then your marketing and sales departments become an intrinsic part of your customer service, but they are treating potential customers as if they are already customers. Think of it this way:

You’re providing customer service to people who don’t yet realize they’re your customers.

That’s the level of service you should be providing to your entire target audience.

What does this look like for each segment of your organization? It looks like everyone working together in a common mission. What if marketing’s job wasn’t to create marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) for the sales team, but to simply serve the target audience, almost as if they were in a nonprofit organization? If that were the case, how would they define the mission of their department differently? What kind of content would they produce? Chances are, they would adopt a radically different approach.

I’m not suggesting companies shouldn’t look at return on investment (ROI), or that marketing teams aren’t accountable for generating MQLs. I’m simply suggesting that a change in mindset will produce more effective and meaningful marketing. With a mindset of service, your team will produce content of greater relevance for your target audience.

HubSpot is a great example of this. To participate in their training, you don’t actually have to be a HubSpot customer. You can learn about various marketing, sales, and service methodologies, get certified, and become an even greater value to your employer without purchasing HubSpot’s software. This was a flash of brilliance on the part of the company’s leadership team, and it shows how
a mindset of service permeates the organization.

Your sales team should also embrace this mindset and start looking at their pipelines accordingly. If the percentage of prospects who move from one stage to the next aren’t what you’re hoping for, instead of trying to figure out which salespeople to blame, try to understand why prospects don’t naturally move forward on their own.

Are you failing to service them in a way that’s so valuable that the next step is natural and logical? In fact, it should be so natural and logical that moving forward to the next step becomes their idea.

Don’t blame individual salespeople. Instead, look at the whole team’s approach as part of your overall system. Have you failed to build service into every aspect of your organization? A prospect should already be treated like a customer long before they ever move from the first stage to the second. If you service them well, thinking specifically about what they need rather than your sales pipeline, they will naturally move to the next part of the sales funnel.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t measure your conversion rate or close rate. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t look at the cost of customer acquisition. In fact, as you’ll see later in the book, conversion rates and cost of customer acquisition are important to define. What I’m suggesting is that your disappointing results are, first and foremost, the consequence of a missing mindset. That’s the first place to look. Shift from selling to servicing, from closing deals to elevating relationships, and you will start making progress.


One of my associates, Dan Tyre, Sales Director for HubSpot and co-author of the book Inbound Organization, shared his own perspective with me on a service-oriented mindset. Here is what he had to say:

Everything changed when customer buying habits moved online. As customers became more educated, they began relying less on salespeople for information, but at the same time, they began expecting a more personalized approach and a higher level of service. The companies that leaned into an inbound philosophy gained a huge competitive advantage, as they were discovered more often by new buyers looking for help. The companies that greeted prospects with helpful information earned trust and made it easier for prospects to buy.

Do you remember the good old days? I’m referring, of course, to 2006. In the good old days of 2006, people had reasonable expectations, less noise, and more time to consider a purchasing decision.

Today, the competition, the number of channels that companies have to navigate in order to connect with people, and the world of instant gratification are forcing companies to improve their game. If you’re still running your business without understanding how to meet the increased demand of the market, it’s only going to get more difficult.

Frank’s approach is designed to help companies scale. He achieves this in a few key ways:

1) A customer service mindset. Know your customer, know what they want, how they want it, and deliver the right information at the right level at the right time without regard to remuneration. Treat people like human beings—helping them without spam or a pushy attitude.

2) “The riches are in the niches.” If you try to help everyone, you won’t be able to help anyone. Would you hire a foot doctor to replace your spleen? No, you want a gastroenterologist to treat your spleen.

3) Move at the customer’s pace. This is hard to do. As my friend and colleague, Dan Vivian, HubSpot’s Channel Account Manager, put it, ‘It’s better for customers to move on their timeline. You can do a bit of incentivizing after they make the decision, but trying to subvert their clear timeline is a high risk. Instead, understand the influences and requirements, build a diagram of all the activities, and make sure everyone understands value first.’

4) Top-down commitment. My co-author Todd Hockenberry is famous for saying, ‘To do inbound, you must be outbound,’ which is all about creating a culture of helping, a culture code, an inbound operating system, and empowering employees to do their best work.

5) Inbound is a process. Rather than approaching inbound as a marketing tactic, view it as a mindset and strategy.

HubSpot is a perfect example of this. They know exactly whom they’re trying to help, and they hyper-target prospects to make sure everyone who becomes a customer has a good experience. The company leans heavily into the customer service mindset starting from the moment a prospect emerges, whether by phone, chat, email, website, or paid advertising.

The company leads with free help and education, and they have a tailored approach to providing content that relates to individual prospects. Salespeople have to understand what clients like and don’t like, which is why HubSpot salespeople take a progressive approach and act more like consultants.

HubSpot provides free software so customers can try before they buy, along with free training, tutorials, consultations, group training, and problem-solving. It’s a philosophy that has produced fast growth over the last ten years.


If you approach the sales process with a service mindset, then your first step with any prospect is to determine whether or not they are a good fit for your company’s offerings. The prospect should be able to convince you that they’re a good fit.

If you don’t approach sales with that lens, you end up putting far too many people into your sales pipeline by making them look like they are a good fit. In sales, we call this “happy ears.” In other words, we hear what we want to hear.

Instead, you need to accept that you have a very defined target audience that finds value in what you have to offer. Most of the people you meet will not be a good fit and don’t belong in your sales pipeline. When you first engage people, your job is to help them find the right next step, rather than trying to push them along the funnel.

Most salespeople act as if taking the next step with their brand is the only option, but in reality, there are many options on the table. This is why so many sales pipelines are inflated or, at least, filled with opportunities that aren’t real. Your job is to get a prospect pointed in the right direction. That direction might be toward your company, or it might not be. You should only point people in your direction if it’s right for that individual. Otherwise, help them find a
better way to go.

If you adopt that mindset, not only will you build your brand by putting goodwill into the marketplace, but your sales pipelines will be far more accurate. Then you will be able to spend more time on the people who are a good fit for your offerings.

If someone is a good fit, helping them take the next step in your pipeline isn’t merely a sales effort—it’s a service effort. You know taking that next step will help them achieve their own goals. Many salespeople wind up frustrated because
they spend so much time with bad leads—so-called “tire kickers”—in their pipeline. They never should have moved those leads into their pipeline in the first place.


Since companies don’t view customer service as part of brand building, they fail to see the role it can play in generating new opportunities and revenue. Instead, they approach it as merely a necessary expense. Success is measured by metrics like call length, which encourages team members to move through customer calls as fast as possible. To save money, many companies now outsource their call centers to places that make communication even more difficult.

This is the same kind of thinking that causes companies to understaff the service department, creating long hold times, or install complex Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems that require callers to press multiple buttons as they navigate through automated menus. In practice, customer service departments are little more than customer reaction departments, and most customers find their interactions unpleasant.

Fortunately, some companies are doing it right.

Take DigitalMarketer, for example. They have created a private Facebook community for existing customers to discuss problems and share tips and solutions with each other. Employees participate in these discussions with customers. They also produce free webinars on a variety of relevant topics. Even the CEO, Ryan Deiss, regularly participates in online conversations, giving advice, responding to questions, and connecting with customers. It’s not uncommon to see him posting in discussion threads late into the night.

As a result, DigitalMarketer has created raving fans who champion the company and even correct their detractors. I know because I am one of their fans, and my company is one of their certified partners.

IKEA offers planning tools to help customers design their office and home spaces. As they explain on their website, “Plan your dream kitchen, your perfect office or your wardrobe storage system before making a commitment. Play with colors, styles, sizes and configurations to plan your way to perfection with our easy to use tools...Try as many designs as you want and get a detailed product list
with price.”

These planning tools could be a source of revenue for the company, but they’ve decided to offer them as a free resource to their customers and potential customers. IKEA also provides free tips and advice in-store. They even have a consultation service that will help a customer complete their home or office design.


Your marketing, sales, and customer service teams are each going to have their own processes, but all three teams should meet regularly to unify around one mission. When this fails to happen, these teams can develop adversarial relationships—a situation that is not uncommon in the corporate world.

During these meetings, your teams can discuss ways to service your target audience, regardless of what stage they’re in. Your customer service department will have valuable insight and stories to share with both marketing and sales, stories that can be transformed into public-facing material or training materials for the sales team.

Likewise, your sales team will have stories to share with marketing and customer service that can provide insight about what’s happening in the marketplace. After all, your salespeople are the ones hearing directly from customers about the frustrations they experience buying from companies like yours.

Marketing can also provide valuable input about the information customers are looking for, such as popular search terms, buying patterns, and market shifts. Working together, these three teams will become stronger, more relevant, and develop a differentiated approach to your target audience. Your executive team should be involved in this as well, making sure everyone is working together toward shared goals.

All of these stories become sources of extremely valuable content, a critical component to your digital ecosystem. We’ll explore this in greater detail later in the book.

This is a chapter from the best-selling book
Building Your Digital Utopia by Frank Cowell.

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Topics:Digital Utopia Methodology