An Encounter with a Worm

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While this is a blog about sales, the title of this post does not refer to an interaction with a ’wormy’ salesperson! I’m referring to an actual worm. In fact, this post doesn’t really have to do with sales at all – yet it has everything to do with sales.

This past weekend I took part in a sesshin, a zen meditation retreat that typically lasts 3-5 days. It’s an amazing opportunity to quiet your mind and confront reality in a way that we’re not able to do during our typical day-to-day lives. The daily schedule for a sesshin can vary but, in this case, was about 10 hours dedicated to zazen (zen meditation); in other words, sitting on a cushion and staring at a wall.

I’m thankful to my teacher and fellow travelers from Soji Zen Center for this amazing experience. Below is a picture of the group (that’s me on the far right) after a ceremony signifying one of our members achieving Senior Student status.

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During one of the break periods I was sitting on a bench overlooking a beautiful garden at the retreat center. The sesshin is also almost entirely silent so I was in a quiet, introspective state – no phone, no emails, no book…no distractions. All of a sudden I felt something drop onto my hand and looked down. It was a small worm that must have fallen from the ceiling and landed on the top of my hand. It was a dark color, blunt on the ends and no more than half an inch long.

Given my calm state I simply noticed the worm and began studying its movements. The worm didn’t seem particularly stressed out about this encounter either – but was proceeding to make his way across the back of my hand. Slowly and deliberately I stood up and made my way to a nearby door, opened it and walked out into the garden. I bent down and gently nudged the worm onto the grass. There, I watched him curl, then uncurl and move around in the dirt.

I sat there for another few minutes and just watched. Most notably I felt a deep sense of gratitude toward the worm and silently thanked him for the brief interaction.

Once the worm was gone it struck me that things come and go from our lives on the time – people, situations, experiences. And all too often we don’t take the time to appreciate these things for what they are and what they give us. I could have dismissively flicked the worm off of my hand and perhaps would have in my ‘normal’ headspace. But, this thing seemed important – felt important – and I couldn’t help but spend a few minutes to study this worm.

I’m sure there are other ‘worms’ that enter my daily life all the time – things I don’t pay attention to or dismiss too quickly. But, what if we could appreciate these things more often – whether it’s an annoyance at work, a pesky email from a vendor or even just a random moment like the one with the worm?

By cultivating a mindset that everything matters, our lives, our work – even our sales – can and will improve.

Getting Through The Tough Times

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“The advertising agency man and the media salesman live much of the time under a tight wire that stretches between hope and despair.”

– Fairfax Cone, 1969

If you’ve spent any amount of time in a sales career you’ve undoubtedly had a bad month, a bad quarter…maybe even a bad year. Those times can be hard – pressures mount and doubts can begin to creep in (“am I any good at this?”).

Most salespeople I know – myself very much included – tend to be be harder on themselves than anyone else could possibly be. So, it stands to reason that during a tough stretch self-doubt can be a regular passenger in your daily life and ‘that’ voice in your head can be particularly loud.

This voice, though, isn’t real and is just one more thought. Zen is constantly trying to remove deluded thoughts and get us intimately involved with just this moment and with what is actually happening. What is most definitely NOT happening is that voice telling you that you suck.

But, during a tough stretch is incredibly hard to recognize this and it feels natural to be down on yourself. It’s important to try to remember – and zazen (meditation) helps you do this – that that voice in your head is just your ego. And here’s the hard truth – even during good times your ego will never let you be happy. You might win President’s Club, you could be top biller for months on end and, guess what? It’ll never be enough…our egos will never let us be truly happy.

So, what do you do about it? Simple…just let it go. Let it go and just do the work. Every day.

Zen and Commerce

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Wealth is the ability to fully experience life. – Henry David Thoreau

The Buddha himself – the historical Buddha who lived 2,500 years ago – was a very practical and pragmatic person in addition to being a immensely spiritual. He didn’t have time for much theory or dogma and spent his days after finding enlightenment trying to show others how to accomplish the same – and to do so by focusing on the here and now. Zen, in particular, is entirely focused on reality – this moment and things as they truly are.

Based in reality, zen and buddhism recognize ‘real life’ and the need to earn a living.

One of The Buddha’s early students and chief lay disciple was Anathapindika, a wealthy banker. Anathapindika met Buddha just a year after his enlightenment and was a generous patron, donating Jetvana Monastery to be used for a place of learning.

As a banker, Anathapindika did business, traded gold and valuables and grew wealthy. But, he did this nobly. As part of his teachings The Buddha outlined to him the four keys to happiness for a lay practitioner:

– Enjoy sufficient wealth that is acquired by righteous means

– Spend wisely on family friends and good causes; and don’t hoard wealth

– Be free from debts

– Live a pure live without committing evil in thought, word and deed

As I’ve said in a few talks I’ve given, those first three could almost be pulled directly from a wealth or investing seminar. All are important.

Zen and Nationalism

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Like many, I struggle daily with making sense of the rash of changes in the world. Down seems up, up seems down and no one seems certain of their footing. It’s tough to remain optimistic when every day brings some new frightening development, blunder or outrageous action by the current administration in the U.S. Reasonable people are asking ‘how did we get here?’ and feel that this isn’t the country they thought it was.  Optimism seems at an all-time low and there are legitimate fears about what the leader of the free world will do at any given moment.

Once again, I point to Zen.

Zen teaches us to embrace change and zazen (zen meditation) is a powerfully useful tool to help with this. However, meditation by itself may not be enough; fortunately, as with many things in life, history can provide some lessons or offer some hope that we’ve been here before – and will come through it again.

Zen has an interesting – and somewhat unfortunate – history related to the rise of Emperor Hirohito in the 1920s and 30s. During this time, zen priests and leaders were strangely silent. Zen temples throughout Japan opted instead to ignore or even encourage the country’s fascist regime bent on a path of oppression and destruction.

One such example is the Myoshin-ji temple where members followed the invading Japanese army across Asia and “established branch headquarters and missions in conquered areas, even conducted fund-raising drives to purchase military aircraft” (from the New York Times, 2003). It wasn’t until September 27, 2011 – just a few short weeks after 9/11 – that the Myohsin-ji temple issued a formal apology for involvement in the militarism of Japan during World War II. Their statement event drew a comparison between their behavior and that of Islamic fundamentalists.

One of Zen’s most important voices – D.T. Suzuki – used his prestige as a scholar in Japan to assert that “Zen’s ascetic tendency teaches the Japanese solider that to go straight forward and crush the enemy is all that is necessary for him”.

A great book – Zen War Stories by Brian Daizen Victoria explores this history further. He said Suzuki and others helped by ”romanticizing” the tie between Zen and the warrior ethos of the legendary samurai and they stressed a connection between Buddhist compassion and the acceptance of death in a way that justified collective martyrdom and killing one’s enemies:  ”In Islam, as in the holy wars of Christianity, there is a promise of eternal life,” Mr. Victoria said in an interview. ”In Zen, there was the promise that there was no difference between life and death, so you really haven’t lost anything.”

What does all of this have to do with Zen Selling? Nothing and everything…

We all exist in the real world and must make our lives and our living in the situation as it exists. Some may be struggling with how to cope with the tumultuous news constantly coming out of Washington. We must all remain focused on what we can do right now to improve the lives of those around us – whether that means getting involved politically or simply listening more attentively.

There’s an app for that

I’m here in Austin for SXSW and am blown away by how many companies are focusing on mindfulness. Lots of startups with all types of meditation apps are exhibiting and the lines to their booths are long. 

I’ll write more later on some of the different companies but wanted to share some great swag from one of them…

Fix Yourself First

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Anyone that’s ever flown in an airplane has heard the emergency instructions –

“Be sure to secure your own mask before helping others.”

The picture on the safety instructions even show a small child and this can seem counterintuitive. What parent wouldn’t make sure their children are ok before tending to their own needs?!?

But, of course, logically this makes sense. If you don’t first focus on your own mask there’s a pretty good chance you’ll pass out (or worse) before ups can even help your child or others.

So it is with our own minds.

If our minds aren’t clear and our intentions pure, we are in no position to help those around us – especially those closest to us.

Five minutes per day – that’s all it takes to gain some perspective and quiet your mind. It may not seem like a lot but it’s enough.

 

 

What’s In YOUR Resolution?

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Here we are – 2017. While people have pointed out that it’s merely an arbitrary point in our annual trip around the sun, New Year’s Eve/Day and the turning of the calendar signifies a moment that brings reflection. It’s a good a time as any to take stock.

Zen’s focus on being in the moment means that we shouldn’t spend too much energy looking backward or forward…but, setting goals and making resolutions can be a positive way to welcome in the new year.

I would encourage everyone to find some mindfulness in their lives. A steady diet of meditation – even spending five minutes per day quietly focused on the breath – can make a huge impact. For every resolution to get back to the gym to improve the body, take some time to also strengthen the mind.

Personally I’ve made a few resolutions of my own. In addition to continuing my meditation practice and spending more time at my sangha (Buddhist community), this year I will:

  • Take a coding class. I’ver been in the digital/technology space for years and am proud to work for an agency that builds incredible digital products. And, while I am conversant in “tech-speak”, I can’t write a line of code. I plan to change that if for no other reason than to have a baseline understanding and improve my ability to engage with my colleagues. There’s no shortage of free, online options available – like iTunes University and Code Academy.
  • Develop my inner artist. At the end of the year I started reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Great book that is now celebrating 25 years in publication and is all about how to engage your natural creativity. One of the activities the author encourages is Morning Pages – writing out 3 pages each morning longhand. These can be about anything (or nothing) and is meant to tap into your inner artist. So far it’s been very helpful. Whether I ultimately apply this “artist” approach to writing a novel, making music or simply being more authentic and creative in my work, I look forward to focusing on it.

I suppose that putting these out there – something I’ve never done, btw – makes them concrete. So, here’s to growth and achievement for all of us in 2017.

Telling Dirty Jokes to Clients

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Years ago I worked with a salesperson that kept a file folder in his desk full of dirty jokes that he would use regularly on phone calls and in meetings. He had crude sense of humor, was bombastic, loud and obnoxious.

And, his clients loved him.

Sure, he rubbed some people the wrong way but those that “got” him loved working with him and he would win business since he was so memorable.

This is an important lesson – always be yourself, your true self – and good things will usually happen.

Since my last post I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of calls, messages, texts from people I’ve crossed paths with and plenty that I haven’t. I’m honored that people took the time to respond and share some of their own stories. The goal when starting this blog several months ago was to share some of my own experiences in the hope that it might help others on a similar path – whether that be a spiritual or a professional one.

That last post focused on the sudden death of my younger brother and a lesson that I took from that situation. Strangely, the post itself has now  reminded me of this other lesson.

When you put yourself out there – in an honest and authentic way – good things will happen. The views on the last post were 10x higher than usual and the response, as mentioned, was incredible. Previous posts were, admittedly, somewhat guarded – or, at least not as raw and open as the one about my brother. None took the risk and presented something as personal.

Moving forward, I will seek to be more open and less guarded in what I share. And, importantly, by putting more of your true self out into the world (and to your clients and prospects), I believe that all sales professionals will see positive results.

Be yourself.

You may or may not, however, want to tell dirty jokes.

The Toughest Sales Call Ever Made

In November of 2009 my younger brother, Sean, died suddenly. He was 26.

The day it happened remains the most surreal day of my life. It involved making hasty travel arrangements for myself and my parents to get to Florida immediately to handle everything. We were simultaneously dealing with the shock, the grief and all of the details that come with the sudden death of a family member, all while doing mundane tasks like booking flights, renting a car and checking into a hotel.

The next morning In my hotel room in Hollywood, FL my phone rang. It was an unknown number and, given the circumstances, I answered it. On the line was someone from an organ donor program. He needed to speak to a family member immediately and given my parents’ grief, these things fell to me. The representative explained that, given my brother’s young age, he was the perfect candidate for organ donation and, although he wasn’t a registered organ donor, the family could still opt to make that pledge. In particular, his cornea was particularly valuable and the decision to remove those needed to be made very quickly.

I recall thinking – and even commenting to him – that his job was an unenviable one. He needed to ‘prospect’ death records and make cold calls to grieving family members during what was likely the most difficult moment of their lives.

Yet, he did it. He expressed his condolences, recognized the difficulty of the situation and made a clear argument for why he was calling and the enormous, life-saving benefits of organ donation. He obviously believed strongly in what he was doing and represented a great organization.

There are lessons to be learned in everything – even tragedy (some might say especially in tragedy). Here are some things I’ve taken from this experience related to sales:

Do your research. He was obviously dialed in to sources (though I don’t know what they were) that allowed him to contact the right people at the right time.

Be fearless. Picking up the phone or contacting someone cold can often be nerve-wracking. But, if you believe in what you’re doing you must overcome any hesitation. And, you must do this again and again and again.

Earn trust. It is essential to establish a relationship and he did so through empathy.

Get to the ask. He understood the need to get to the point quickly and outlined the benefits of organ donation and the incredible amount of good it would do.

I think of this often. The next time you’re hesitant to pick up the phone or make a new connection think of that representative and the difficult work he does – as well as the work being done by Gift of Life and so many other great organizations.

Incidentally, the decision was made to donate my brother’s organs – and it is a small consolation to know that there are people out there alive today because of that difficult decision.

Selling with Generosity

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It’s a short week…so, a short post.

We’re all focused on thanks and it’s important to remember to be thankful, not just this week but all of the time. While doing so, we also need to be generous. Generosity matters in sales.

If you truly believe your product or service can benefit someone, then it’s not really selling…it’s helping.

I’ve believed in the above for as long as I’ve been selling. And it’s a philosophy that I carried into everything I did…even before Zen made it’s way into my approach.

How often do you leave a sales appointment knowing – really knowing – that you can help someone? Likewise, what happens when you’re frustrated that the client or prospect can’t see the obvious – that what you’re proposing will significantly help them and their business?

Cultivating this mindset – a generous spirit – is important in business just as it is in life.

The only way to effectively communicate your value to a prospect or customer is understanding their needs deeply…and knowing your product or service intimately. Our purpose as Zen Sellers is to connect these two. By doing so often, you can embody the ethos of a Zen Seller.

Happy Thanksgiving.