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


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.

I’m a Character


I was honored this week to speak at The 140 Character Conference hosted by Jeff Pulver and Debra Eckerling. It’s an amazing gathering of “characters” that was equal parts inspiring, moving, authentic and thought-provoking. Below is a group photo of the incredible people who shared their stories.

It was my first attempt at discussing the concept of “Zen Selling” in public – and hopefully won’t be my last! I enjoyed the rush of getting on stage and talking to a room full of people. I received some great feedback and hope that what I said was helpful to the conference attendees.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a stream of the event or do I have video of my talk. So, for purposes of this blog, here is a transcript of what I said:


I want to talk to you about sales. I want to talk to you about Zen Buddhism. Those two things aren’t exactly known to go together. But, stay with me…

Picture a salesperson.

I’m sure we all can. What does that person look like? Sound like? Act like?

Is it a positive picture or a negative one? For most, probably negative. Is it a fast-talking, slick person – who may be well dressed – but one who is trying too hard to “Make the Sale”?

Now, picture a meditator.

Different image, right? I’m sure you’re all picturing someone sitting cross-legged in a room filled with candles. This person may be wearing a robe and may be chanting. They’re probably serene.

And, serene is probably the opposite of what most might expect of a seller! But, I’m here to say that these two seemingly opposite approaches can go together.

How many of you have a regular meditation or mindfulness practice? According to a National Health Survey, 8% of Americans engage in regular mediation practices – and this includes yoga. The science on the benefits of meditation is pretty clear. I won’t get into any of the details in the time we have today but a study released by Harvard in 2011 found that a regular mediation practice can literally rebuild grey matter in just 8 weeks. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It actually changes the shape of the brain!

And, companies like Aetna Health are taking notice and incorporating meditation practices into their organizations. The CEO was in a terrible skiing accident and was ‘prescribed’ mindfulness to help the healing process. He was so amazed at the results he experienced that he integrated mindfulness throughout his organization – both to customers and by encouraging employees to meditate on a regular basis. Likewise, Salesforce is leading the charge by installing mediation rooms on every floor of their SF HQ. Mark Benioff, the CEO, has even had Buddhist Monks live in his home and speak at Salesforce events. He even said that “I strongly believe that the business of a business is to improve the world.”

So, a regular meditation and mindfulness practice can benefit anyone and I believe that, in particular, this includes sales people. Why? Because sales – almost more than any other profession – needs to be focused on customers. You don’t get very far in sales if you don’t say what you’ll do and do what you say. It really is an honorable profession when done right. And, I’ve always tried to bring that mindfulness into my professional life. I’ve been in a sales or sales-related profession for twenty years and I’ve always tried to incorporate zen and mindfulness.  I meditate every day – half hour in the morning and a half hour at night.

But, wait you may be saying – isn’t Zen all about being in the moment and not striving for anything? Well, yes and no…like most things in Zen, it’s a contradiction – zen teachers LOVE their contradictions!

The Buddha himself – the historical Buddha who lived 2,500 years ago – was a very practical, pragmatic person. He taught a reality-based approach and didn’t have time for theory. He was also a realist. He taught many people – including a banker who founded a famous Buddhist monastery, the Jetvana Monastery. And, to him he shared 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

Now, that last one is big…but the first three are all economics based and could be right out of a Suze Orman seminar. And, this was the teaching of one of the world’s most renowned religious figures.

I want to change the way people look at sales – and the way sellers look at themselves. Sellers need to be generous – giving of themselves without expectation. And, when they do, they will find material success.

All people – including those of us in business and in sales need to bring more mindfulness into our lives. The best way to do this is through meditation. I would encourage everyone to find some time – even just 5 minutes a day – to be present, focus on your breath and slow down. Just put two feet on the floor, quiet your mind and be aware.

One of my first zen teachers told me that “you can’t do meditation wrong”. That’s encouraging. I hope that everyone here can benefit from it. Thank you.


Get Rid of Fear Itself


Do one thing everyday that scares you.

We’ve all heard this piece of advice, right? On the surface it’s meant to be a positive: challenge yourself, step out of your comfort zone, push your limits, don’t give in to your fears. These are all good things. In sales this can mean reaching out to that difficult prospect, standing up in front of a room full of decision makers or trying a new approach in your business.

Not being afraid can go a long way to growth and expanding the boundaries of your everyday life.

But, what if there was a way to go beyond that? Wouldn’t it be even better to simply have no fear at all?

Fear is an important emotion – it’s the thing that prevents us from doing insanely stupid things that would probably get us killed. Fear keeps us safe. But, zen teaches us that fear, just like any other thought or emotion, isn’t what’s really happening right now but rather a reaction to what is happening right now.

For example, if your knees start shaking and your begin sweating before speaking to a large crowd, the sensation you’re feeling is real – but it’s not the thing. All that is really happening is that you’re about to get up in front of a room full of people – the rest is just your reaction.

Zen practice – with an emphasis on meditation and mindfulness – helps you see past those initial feelings and emotions by being aware of them, helps you to respond to the present moment more fully and in control, rather than having your emotions – including your fears – control you.

Rather than do those things that scare you, try to be more aware of what scares you and how you react. While this won’t eliminate fear altogether (nor do we want it to!), it’ll take away the control that fear can have over your actions.

My Top Zen Sales Resources

For anyone interested in bringing more mindfulness into their professional career in sales, here are four resources that I’ve found helpful and hope that you will also.
Headspace. A simple app that is a great introduction to meditation. Founded by a former monk, Andy Puddiicombe, Headspace makes sitting approachable and friendly. Start with the free “Ten For Ten” (10 minutes a day for 10 days straight)…you’ll notice a difference. Once you’ve moved beyond this, there are great “packs” where you can focus your meditation on various topics like Creativity, Self-Esteem, Relationships and many more.

Insight Timer.zen I use this app every single day. Like Headspace, it has some guided meditations and tracks your progress – giving you stars for accomplishing milestones like consecutive days, total # of days, etc. I find it the most effective as a simple timer for silent, unguided sitting. You can also interact with a community of practitioners, see how many people are meditating right along with you and keep a journal of your practice

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I’ve talked about this book several times before because it may be the most important book in Western Buddhism. It’s a collection of Shunryu Suzuki’s collected Dharma Talks and is a wonderful way to get to know Zen Buddhism in a very approachable and friendly manner.

Don’t Be a Jerk. Written by Brad Warner, a Buddhist priest and punk rock bassist. This book takes a very unique approach to make zen philosophy palatable for an American pop-culture audience. It’s a modern reworking/translation of The Shobogenzo (The Treasurey of the True Dharma Eye), an eight-hundred year old Zen Buddhism book written by Eihei Dogen, a famous Japanese Monk. The original book (which I’ve not read in its entirety), can be dense and difficult and Brad Warner does a terrific job making this fun and engaging while still staying true to one of the most important religious philosophers of all time.

There are plenty of other great ways to access Zen but these are a few of my favorites. I’d love to hear about yours – please get in touch, send me a message, write me an email.