I’m a Character

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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.

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Get Rid of Fear Itself

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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.

Wanting It…Without Really Wanting It

Zen loves contradictions. Throughout Zen Buddhist writings, some of the best philosophers seem to revel in mind-twisting, illogical statements. These are meant to shake practitioners out of our default settings of logical thinking.

So, too, there is seemingly a contradiction between Zen and the pursuit of success in sales and modern business. And, while I’m no Dogen, here’s what I think…

It is possible to accomplish and achieve while being grounded in the here and now.

There is a great quote from Sunryu Suzuki who I’ve written about before that says,

“If you can walk slowly, without any idea of gain, then you are already a good Zen student.”

It exemplifies Suzuki Roshi’s easygoing and approachable style. It’s also hard to balance with a career that’s based on goals, objectives – not to mention one that is incredibly fast-paced.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers (or any of them, more likely) but I do my best to carry zen practice with me at all times. And, my approach to sales and my work has always been to focus on the moments and not dwell on the outcomes.

Of course I need to be goal-oriented (as any sales or business professional must) – but I believe that there is a way to do what needs to be done “without any idea of gain”. In other words, there’s no need to obsess about what you want to happen or what you hope will happen…do the work and the results will take care of themselves.

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The Importance of Tribes

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I’m honored to be speaking at the 140 Character Conference in Los Angles in a few weeks. I’ll be talking about “Zen Selling” and the idea that elements of zen practice can improve your professional life, specifically a life in sales and marketing. I’m sure I’ll have more to share after the event.

It got me thinking about the concept of ‘tribes’. Jeff Pulver has done an amazing job building tribes all over the world with his 140 Character Conferences. I’ve been to a few before and they’re a great gathering of diverse people who share a common interest in learning and connecting.

In Buddhism there is the concept of sangha. It refers to a community of practitioners and is from the “Three Treasures”:

Buddha (the teacher)

Dharma (the teachings)

Sangha (the community)

All three are equally important to one’s practice and to following the path of The Buddha. The people you surround yourself with should lift you up, support your journey and provide guidance just as much as the teacher and the learnings.

We all know how important it is to surround ourselves with the right people. And, you can find these people – hopefully at work, probably with your family and friends and even through groups like 140 Character and other organizations.

To paraphrase a credit card commercial, “Who’s in YOUR sangha?”

Plan Ahead In the Moment

 

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Zen people constantly talk about being in the moment. It’s kind of our thing. I’ve even talked about it before.

Being in the moment is really important – it’s all you actually have and is the key to happiness, enlightenment and all that good stuff. BUT, preparation and planning is a must if you want to be successful in sales.

So, how can you be in the moment when you’re thinking about how your meeting should go, anticipating objections and preparing your answers? It’s easier than you think…

The key is to constantly ask yourself, “Is This Useful?”. Is what you’re thinking about and focusing on productive? Or, are the thoughts running through your mind mere worry, anxiety, hope or fantasy?

All of us are guilty of daydreaming, thinking about the past or worrying about the future. And, in sales we’re often anticipating what a client or prospect might say and imagining how a meeting will go. When this is being done to prepare, it’s a very useful exercise. Just be mindful of your thoughts and feelings – if those turn to worry or fantasy, you should drop them and just focus on the present moment.

The present moment might need to involve thinking about the future and that’s ok.

Here’s a quick test to determine if you’re actually in the moment:

  • Ask yourself, “Is This Useful?”
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and any feelings or emotions they bring up. If the pit in your stomach is worry about how a meeting might go, change your approach. Do something productive (research, presentation development, etc.) that can make your upcoming meeting better
  • Be honest with yourself…are you being productive or just active? (Another way to put this is, “Are you doing what you should be doing and not just what you could be doing.”)
  • Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. All of those thoughts are just that – thoughts – and don’t have an impact on what’s really happening

Prepare, research and plan like a champ…but do so by being here now.

Change Happens

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“The settling of the country, the machine age, the coming of the automobile, telephone, movies, radio, the advances in fine arts and all the sciences, demanded that our capacity to accept and use new ideas be developed to a point never before seen on the pages of history”.

Those words were written in 1930 by advertising pioneer, Albert Lasker, describing they changes he’d seen in his world and how it affected his profession. If you’re in the advertising business, his life story, “The Man Who Sold America” is a great read about a true innovator who built himself up from nothing and revolutionized marketing.

The quote is ironic given the rate of change since Mr. Lasker’s time but resonates just as strongly today. We can only imagine what he and his contemporaries were thinking as the world changed around them – but I’m sure it’s no different than our own experience.  Now more than ever one must be constantly open to change as technology advances, norms shift and expectations only increase.

Fortunately, The Buddha was well aware of this 2,500 years ago. He put forth the idea of impermanence – that nothing ever lasts. His message was to not cling too tightly to anything in order to eliminate suffering. At its core, this makes sense – nothing lasts forever (even cold November Rain…sorry, couldn’t resist)!. Impermanence also applies to the things you think about yourself and the things you desire. That promotion, a new car, new jacket  or the latest smartphone will not make you happy since they won’t last.

I try everyday to accept things just as they are – knowing that things will change. In some ways it’s easy – I’m in a business that requires constant adaption and innovation. However, like anyone there are things I want to cling to.

Adopting this mindset – of accepting impermanence – can help you focus on what’s important – your biggest client won’t always be there, your company’s product offering will pivot, your boss or favorite colleague will leave.

How we handle change is what’s most important. And, it starts be recognizing the reality that things will always change.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do Before Your Next Sales Call

Breathe.

Sounds simple, right? Just breathe. Almost sounds silly…of course you’re going to breathe.

But, before you head into that pitch, presentation or meeting – really breathe – focus on it. Spend a few minutes in silence, paying attention to your breath. Center yourself and focus.

Meditation does not need to involve a cushion, incense, candles and chanting. Taking a few minutes before you get out of your car or before you dial the phone can make all the difference in the world. Here’s something that works for me:

  • Put both feet on the floor
  • Sit upright but not too rigid. The most important thing is to keep your back straight
  • Place your hands on your lap. Rest them on your thighs or fold them
  • Imagine a tiny string is pulling your head up to the ceiling. This posture – back straight and upright – should feel natural and not forced
  • Close your eyes or keep them half open with your gaze at a forty-five degree angle
  • Pay close attention to your breath. Feel your chest rise and fall with each breath. Stay focused on this as long as you can but don’t get frustrated if your mind starts to wander (it will)
  • Count the breaths if that helps you stay focused

Try this for five minutes. I don’t know if it will work for you but I’m often amazed at what a difference it makes. Hopefully you’ll start that sales call more focused, aware and in the moment.

Here’s my view during those few minutes of meditation before a meeting…

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What Salesforce’s CEO knows about Zen

I really, really, really wish I could go to Dreamforce this year. Dreamforce is Salesforce’s annual gathering of sales professionals, vendors and the sales & business community. There’s always great keynotes and top tier entertainment – plus, I’m a big fan of the company and their philosophy.

In particular, I love this quote from CEO, Mark Benioff: “I strongly believe that the business of a business is to improve the world.” Sounds something like a Bodhisattva, right?  Here’s a link to what I wrote about bodhisattvas in our midst, particularly in the business world.

A big reason I’d like to be in San Francisco for the event this year is the fact that they’ve invited 20 buddhist monks from Plum Village to attend and lead daily mindfulness sessions. I LOVE the fact that the biggest CRM system in the world – one that is a daily practice for so many sales professionals like me – recognizes the need for mindfulness in our lives and in our work.

Here’s a video about Salesforce’s commitment to mindfulness.

Salesforce isn’t just doing this all for show – they really embody this philosophy. They have “mindfulness zones” on every floor of their new HQ building (see article here) and Mark spoke about what prompted the creation of these zones in an article for Forbes early this year. He was inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, a revered Vietnames monk who, along with 30 other monks, stayed at Benioff’s house last year.

It’s encouraging that more and more business leaders recognize the value of meditation and mindfulness.

Next time you’re entering an Opportunity, adding an Account or assigning a Task in Salesforce, think of those monks, take a deep breath and get a little Zen.

Give Help, Get Help: How Generosity Drives Sales Success

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I’m constantly reminded of the importance – in business and throughout our entire lives – of keeping yourself open to all things. This includes stories, news, situations, circumstances and, of course, the people you meet. How many times have you serendipitously engaged with someone who provided some help and guidance just when you needed it?

This happened to me once again last week. I’ve been pursuing a major prospect – a Fortune 100 company – for six months and had connected with multiple people inside the organization. As often happens, getting feedback on their needs and challenges was proving difficult and while trying to further landscape the company to identify additional decision makers, I was coming up empty. To make matters worse, the people I’d initially met with were starting to go dark.

Cut to just last week when I learned that a colleague of mine in a different department is married to a senior executive at this very company. And, he had dotted-line oversight on one of the people I’d initially met with. It’s a small world and we’re all connected. Recently I’d helped this colleague of mine on a few projects and had built a nice relationship by cultivating a spirit of generosity…it’s the timeless approach of simply helping others whenever possible. So, she was happy to connect me with her spouse and I set up a time to meet.

Over coffee, in less than an hour, I was given all of the key pieces of information I’d need to craft solutions that could potentially help their business. And, critically, these are very different from the ideas I’d initially proposed. In one way this is “back to the drawing board” and will require a good deal of work to pivot and change my approach. On the other hand, this conversation saved me months of slogging and pushing what was, more than likely, an idea that would go nowhere.

The importance of having an inside coach at any organization cannot be overstated…and, the best way to find one is to be open, generous and willing to help others often. It also helps to be open to change (a big subject in buddhism that we’ll address at another time)!