Those in sales are used to measuring results to see how they’re doing. One-hundred percent of quota. A million dollar sale. Another million to go for that trip to Aruba. Certainly, in diet and exercise programs, numbers are used to measure progress. Lost two pounds. Bench-pressed seventy pounds. Body/mass index of twenty-four.
But in mindfulness and meditation practice you don’t have these metrics to measure your results. I suppose you could use the length of time you’re meditating, but you’d likely be more successful meditating for one minute with a high quality of awareness than for twenty minutes lost in thought, so length of time doesn’t tell the whole story.
To help reduce the frustration that can come by not having metrics to show how you’re progressing in meditation, consider cultivating the intention to simply notice. If you have difficulty meditating and it’s challenging for you, notice that. If you have a wonderful experience, notice that (and realize that everything is temporary and that doesn’t mean you’ll have a wonderful experience next time). If you were lost in thought for your entire meditation time, notice that. If you forgot to notice, see if you can notice that.
Here’s how you can bring the practice of noticing to your sales calls. Let’s say you’re meeting with a client for the first time. Maybe you’ll notice the pictures on the desk, or the higher education degrees hanging on the wall. Maybe you’ll notice that you’re making a judgement about the client’s ability to purchase — and then notice that you can release that judgement, since it’s getting in the way of your path to the sale.
When you simply notice that you’re aware, you’re on the path to mindfulness. The path can have many twists and turns along the way, but the best way to stay on it is to continue to notice, one moment at a time.
Have you heard the old story about a traveller riding a wild horse? He’s clinging to the horse as they gallop past a man who shouts, “HEY! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” The traveller replies, “DON’T ASK ME, ASK THE HORSE!” The horse represents an untrained mind, running wild and creating havoc. But here’s the good news: training the horse (your mind) can bring profound benefits.
To understand these benefits, let’s look at your internal mind-talk. Did you know that most folks have ongoing conversations in the back of their minds? (If you just thought, “Yes, I know” or even “Nope, not me!,” that’s the internal conversation I’m talking about.) I call this mind-talk “STUFF” — an acronym for Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations and Feelings.
We all have STUFF in our minds. Although STUFF helps us navigate our way in life, it can also create obstacles, especially in sales situations. Maybe you’ve told yourself the story “she only buys from my competitor” or “Friday afternoons are never productive.” Or maybe you’ve been overcome with frustration after hearing NO for the 10th time.
Now, imagine looking at your STUFF squarely in its face and seeing it clearly. Let’s say you notice a negative thought about your ability to close a sale. Here’s where you can direct that wild horse. Can you replace the negative thought with a positive one? This is the work of training the mind.
Your STUFF can also distract you. Imagine talking with a prospect, but your attention keeps being pulled to your cycling thoughts: I hope my parking meter doesn’t expire! How should I answer his objection? I really want to close this sale! Now, imagine fully focusing on customers and discovering their needs. This, too, is the work of training the mind.
Training your mind helps you become mindful and see your STUFF clearly. This clear-seeing enables you to release negative thoughts, choose positive thoughts that serve you, focus on discovering customer needs and grow your business!
Most sales professionals hope to know at the end of their presentation whether the customer wants to move forward. Yet, the timing doesn’t always work out that way due to reasons beyond the rep’s control, i.e., although they’d prefer to be the last vendor presenting, there might be presentations following theirs—or although they’d like to be the one to present to the board for final approval, they don’t always get the opportunity to do so.
In that waiting period between presentation and customer response, the sales representative can still reach out to the customer with a thank you note, with additional supporting material, or with anything else that makes sense. Yet, there still may be a short period of time where they’ll simply need to wait for an answer. Some sales professionals find that their minds fill with worried thoughts during this waiting period. They may think: What if they don’t accept my proposal? I need this sale to make my quota this month. If I don’t get this sale, my job is on the line. All these thoughts will do is cause stress; they won’t change the outcome of the sale. Sales professionals can only control their own actions and put their best foot forward. After they’ve explored the customer’s needs, wants and challenges—and offered their best solution—the next move is the customer’s.
Instead of stressing while waiting for an answer—remember, worrying won’t change the outcome— try strategizing instead. Consider that your customer will have a finite number of responses. Let’s take a look at four likely categories of responses.
1. The customer will say let’s move forward.
2. The customer will have an objection.
3. The customer will decide not to make a decision now, as they’re not ready.
4. The customer will tell you they’re going with someone else.
What would you do in each case?
Number one is easy: Process the sale.
Number two: Can you address the objection?
Number three: Can you explore the reasons for not being ready? If the customer is truly not ready, make sure you cycle back at a later date.
Number four: Did you miss something in the discovery process? Is there still time to go back? If not, are there other opportunities either now or in the future? Are there other departments or individuals within the organization that may have a need for your product or service?
Once you have your strategies in place, it’s time to sit back, let go of your stress, and contact a new prospect during this waiting period. Keep your energy moving, and keep your sales pipeline full.
Listening closely to your prospects and customers can be challenging, especially since the mind can process words at a rate of approximately 500 words per minute, but people talk at a rate of approximately 150 words per minute. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of listening to a customer and realizing your attention has been pulled away by distracting thoughts. You can use mindful listening skills to help you focus on customers, encourage them to talk, and identify their needs and challenges.
One effective mindful listening skill is the technique of paraphrasing what your customers say. I learned about this important skill while in college, working on a telephone crisis intervention hotline. During my training for the job, the supervisor’s instruction to “repeat what the callers say back to them” was confusing. I said, “You want me to repeat what the callers say back to them? Wouldn’t that be awkward?” The supervisor looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. “You think it would be awkward to repeat what the callers say back to them?” I nodded emphatically. “Yes, I do! (pause) Oooh. Now I get it.”
When you repeat your customer’s messages back, it creates understanding and shows the customer you’re listening. It also leaves room for a customer to say, “I didn’t exactly mean that, what I really meant was this.” You can either paraphrase the customer’s words throughout your conversation, or when your customer is finished answering your questions, by saying, “Just so I can make sure I understand . . .,” and then summarize what you just heard.
People love to have someone take an interest in what they say. The more you listen, the more you can learn, and the more you learn, the greater the probability of uncovering a need your product or service can fulfill. You can even practice mindful listening skills with family and friends—they’ll likely appreciate your attention to them!
Top baseball players don’t get a hit every time they’re up to bat. If they get 3 hits out of 10 at-bats, they’re doing great.
Same with top salespeople. They don’t close 100% of their sales. They get a certain number of “no’s.”
Hearing the word “no” is part of the selling process. If customers said “yes” all the time, companies wouldn’t need salespeople; they’d only need order-takers.
But some salespeople can feel rejected and become despondent when hearing “no” all day.
Research out of The University of Michigan suggests that the brain processes rejection the same way it processes physical injury. No wonder people can become despondent!
As a career sales professional and a mindfulness instructor, I’d like to put a different spin on the idea of rejection in sales.
One of the concepts I teach in mindfulness is to become aware of the stories you tell yourself. When a prospect says no, do you tell yourself a story that you were rejected?
Consider instead that the prospect simply is not in a place to engage with you at this time.
Maybe you caught the prospect on a bad day.
Maybe the prospect buys from her brother-in-law.
If you’re a sales professional, encountering prospects who are not ready to engage is part of your job.
I recommend meeting each prospect or customer with the expectation of moving the sale forward. However, if you meet resistance, know that it’s part of your job. See if you can understand it, so you can figure out your next step.
Note that I said if you meet resistance, not if you meet rejection. Resistance is about the customer’s state of mind.
And that’s what sales is all about. Focusing on your customer’s state of mind: understanding your customers, discovering their needs, and seeing if you can serve them.
Mindfulness can help you clear your mind—and increase your sales.
Have you ever been fully engaged with the present moment? Perhaps you’ve experienced present moment awareness when taking a morning jog, or playing fetch with your dog, or watching the ebb and flow of ocean waves. Bringing this quality of awareness to your sales efforts can help you understand your clients and their buying processes—and increase your sales.
Yet, developing present moment awareness can be challenging. People are often pulled away from the present with thoughts that cycle through their minds. Regrets about the past. Worries about the future. Planning. Reminiscing. Ruminating. It’s widely reported that the human mind thinks 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day!
I call this mental content “STUFF,” which is an acronym for Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations, and Feelings. People don’t always realize this STUFF is present. It works in the background of the mind like a silent partner, informing and influencing behavior. Although STUFF helps people navigate through life, it can also cloud their thinking.
How STUFF Can Sabotage Sales Success
Imagine a sales call where you’re distracted by thoughts. Maybe you’re worried about meeting your sales quota or landing the account. If your attention is momentarily pulled away, it might be at the moment your client says, “If your software could save us time, that would make a big difference to management.” You could miss this important buying signal if you weren’t fully focused on the present.
Or, imagine being on a call where you have negative preconceived notions, such as I’m probably wasting my time since they don’t have the budget, or I doubt I’ll close this sale. These thoughts won’t serve you. If you’re not conscious of them, they may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, since people will unconsciously match their behavior to their beliefs to create consistency between thought and action.
Even positive preconceived notions can cloud your thinking. For instance, if you’re certain of closing the sale, you could miss important steps in the selling process. Let’s say a client has asked you to stop by their office and it sounds like they’re ready to buy. If you think this sale is a sure thing, you might skip asking important qualifying questions—such as finding out who else is involved in the purchasing decision.
How Mindfulness Helps the Selling Process
Alternatively, imagine approaching the call with present moment awareness. This quality of awareness can help you notice distracting thoughts and refocus your attention. It can also help you notice any preconceived notions, so you can recognize stories you may be telling yourself that aren’t necessarily true. As the old saying goes, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Becoming aware of your STUFF can be a reminder to focus on the present, with a clear, open mind, ready to explore your client’s needs and concerns.
Present moment awareness will also help you notice cues to your client’s thinking. You may become more aware of your client’s body language, such as posture changes, that can signal likes or dislikes. You may become more aware of your client’s audio cues, such as shifts in voice inflection, that can help guide your responses. You may become more aware of subtle, underlying issues as you listen closely to your client’s words.
Simple Ways to Become More Mindful
Clearing the STUFF in your mind will help you develop present moment awareness—also called mindfulness. One effective way to practice being mindful is through the practice of meditation. Meditation is a mental training that is akin to taking your mind out of drive and resting it in neutral, if only for a moment. This training allows you to become aware of your STUFF, so you can respond to situations consciously, rather than react unconsciously.
In meditation, you continually interrupt your STUFF by focusing on a neutral object (called an anchor) that doesn’t stimulate your mind. Examples of commonly used anchors are: your breath; your body’s sensations; a word repeated silently, such as peace; sounds, such as ocean waves; or an object to hold, such as a smooth stone. Every time your mind wanders, gently refocus on your anchor.
Beginning meditators may be surprised at the amount of STUFF they notice. The intent of meditation isn’t to suppress thoughts and feelings. Consider anything that draws attention from your anchor to be like a cloud passing, or like a boat floating by as you watch from the riverbank. Allow it to pass without judgment, and gently refocus on your anchor. The repetitive action of refocusing builds your mind’s muscle and your power of awareness—and trains you to focus on the here and now.
Mindful Prepping for your Sales Meeting
Consider taking time to meditate before your sales call. For example, once your car is parked, sit comfortably and gently lower your eyelids. (Note: don’t attempt meditation while driving!) Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Try to release any physical tension, and keep your body relaxed but your mind alert.
Rest your attention on your breathing, without changing anything—just notice. You may notice the pace of your breathing, or the coolness of the air as you inhale and its warmth as you exhale, or the rising and falling of your chest. You could even silently say “rising, falling” with each breath to help you focus. Each time your attention wanders, often each second or two for beginners, gently refocus on your breath. Continue with this practice for a few minutes or more. You may want to set a timer, since it’s not uncommon for beginning meditators to fall asleep when their bodies and minds relax.
Now, imagine going into your client’s office. As you begin your meeting, become aware of the quality of your attention. Notice if you’re able to focus on your client, or if your thoughts are elsewhere. Any time you notice your thoughts wandering away from your client, gently bring them back. Consider your client to be your anchor. Keep your attention on your client’s words, actions, and body language.
A Clear Path to Sales Success
Bringing present moment awareness to your meeting can help you uncover needs, understand objections, and recognize buying signals. Having a clear, open mind will serve both you and your client, as it helps build understanding and can lead to long-term relationships. Instead of focusing on closing the sale, consider focusing on the present moment for a clear path to sales success.