What does ‘Selling By The River’ even mean?

It’s been a month since I started this blog and I hope you’ve enjoyed my observations on the intersection of zen practice, buddhism and a life in sales and business. It’s something I’ve focused on throughout my career and a balance I’m still trying to achieve today.

To give this them a little context, I thought some background might be helpful here at the four-week mark.

In his amazing book, “Appreciate Your Life: The Essence of Zen Practice” by Taizan Maezumi Roshi, the revered Zen Master states that  “The bodhisattva’s job is selling water by the river.”  Bodhisattva, in Buddhism, is a sanskrit word for anyone who is moved by great compassion to save all sentient beings and help them attain Buddhahood. Bodhisattvas are those that have found “The Way” and commit themselves to saving others, no matter how difficult that task.

Maezumi goes on to say that “Having abundant water as your life, who needs to buy water?  Just be yourself as The Way itself. This is the best way to be a bodhisattva, living this seemingly small individual life in relationship to all surroundings as the mutual exchange of energy, as a whole, as one life.”

That’s deep.

First, for perspective, the concept of the bodhisattva isn’t exactly comparable to the need to make this month’s number, to hit a quota or to grow an account – not even close! However, the idea of constantly striving to help others, being your true self and to embody this concept of being one with everything, believe it or not, actually does.

In many ways the description of a Bodhisattva is just like that of a great seller, manager, great CEO or a great leader. We can all strive to be like the one who puts others above him or herself and who works constantly to make those around them better.

What can you do today to make someone better?


Be Aggressive…B-E Aggressive

Or, Get Things Done.

There is a misperception about buddhism – and zen in particular – that it’s a very passive, navel-gazing religion (some say it’s not a religion at all but really a philosophy – but that’s a whole different subject for a different time). Because zen is interested in accepting things as they are, people often mistake that to mean simply “deal with it”. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Zen practitioners are absolutely focused on what is really happening at this moment…but, that doesn’t mean that they don’t also take an active role in doing what must be done.

Often in our lives – and certainly in our day-to-day business world – we’re faced with challenges; an irate client, a missed deadline or an order that shipped incorrectly. Whatever is happening, zen teaches us to acknowledge the reality of the situation objectively and do what needs to be done to fix it. The key is that we should not let our feelings or emotions about what happened dictate how we respond – that’s the zen part. Recognize what’s happening, view your reactions objectively and respond appropriately.

When I was managing sales teams I would often say, “Don’t come to me with a problem (or complaint) without at least one potential solution”. I think this is good advice for anyone – to not only dwell on the negative but think about how you might make it better. What you come up with doesn’t have to be the best solution or the only solution but it needs to be something actionable.

Always thinking this way, and encouraging your colleagues to do so as well, will keep you on the path of zen sales.




What IS this?


What IS this?

Or, why being innately curious can make you a sales star.

One of the best ways to be a good salesperson – or a good businessperson…or even just a good person – is to be innately curious. This is a crucially important trait to develop within yourself and one that will serve you well in all aspects of your life. At its core it’s simple – just be genuinely interested in people and things – and carry that sense of curiosity with you wherever you go.

Throughout my sales career, particularly early on, I was fortunate to work for companies that emphasized the C.N.A. (Client Needs Analysis). This, I believe, is the most vital part of the sales process – more important than the presentation or even the close. It’s here where business is won or lost and here where world-class salespeople rise above the rest.

A good CNA involves well-researched and well-thought-out questions that are provocative, purposeful and force your customer or prospect to think. The goal is to uncover truths about their challenges, pain-points and the needs of their business. Ultimately it all comes down to taking a deep interest in someone.

Buddhists spend a great deal of time being curious – constantly asking what is this?, what is happening right now?, what is this moment? and Zen practitioners, in particular, seek to always be present with their life – to see life just as it is and to always be inquiring.

In this way, a Zen approach to sales will lead to fulfillment and success – not just by improving your focus during the CNA and throughout the sales process, but by instilling a constant, built-in curiosity to all that’s around you. This includes your customer and their needs – allowing you to actively listen, to creatively solve their problems and to be a trusted resource to your customers.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Or, just Do The Work.

Buddhists will often use the phrase “Chop Wood, Carry Water” – which means that all you need to do is focus on what is happening right now. To be in the moment. This includes every single mundane task. Monks would focus on just what they were doing – often chopping wood for the fire and carrying water for the monastery. In no uncertain terms, this is Zen. Just that.

So it is with our work and the day of a salesperson. Just be with what you’re doing and give your full self, even those mundane tasks – updating a client database, inputting an order, drafting an email, tracking activity in a CRM system. Try to give your focus to just that thing.

While this is easy to say, it is incredibly hard to do…particularly in a world where attention spans are short and decreasing, where multitasking is encouraged and even celebrated and where we’re expected to do so much more in less time.

One technique that has helped me to just “Chop Wood, Carry Water” is taking a half-hour to an hour each day and shutting off email. Literally turning it off. It’s a bit like going through withdrawal at first but, trust me, you will survive it. Do this once per day and focus on your most important task during that time. This might be a proposal you need to get written, a deck you need to build or a call you need to make.

Whatever the task, don’t let anything distract you…and there’s little that’s more distracting than the ping of a new email. Our pavlovian response to that notification is well documented – check out this link or just Google “multitasking makes you stupid”. Ideally, shut down your texts and IM as well – go into Airplane Mode.

Once you do, try not to think about it. It’ll be hard but will get easier (trust me!). After a while, you’ll do a better job of focus and your work will be better. See, you’re practically a Zen monk already!