While sales can be a stressful profession, it doesn’t have to be. Here are five ways to de-stress in the new year:
1. Get to the appointment early. Park your car and take time to focus on your breath to help quiet your mind, listen to a motivational recording, or engage in any other practice that will help center you before you meet with your prospect.
2. Get a clear picture of the time with the prospect: Imagine the sales call as you’d like it to go. Imagine asking your clients questions about their needs, and listening closely to their responses. Imaging being totally “present” in your time with your client, rather than lost in fears about the past, or anxieties about the future. Imagine explaining the features and benefits of your product as they relate to your clients’ needs. Imagine a partnership forming between you and your client, as you take a consultative role. Imagine the handshake at the end of your time together and a promise for business to come.
3. One calming practice is to use a smooth stone for “grounding.” Prior to the appointment, hold the stone, and imagine the qualities of strength and steadiness, like a mountain. If a sales rep finds anxieties arising on the sales call, simply reaching into a pocket and touching the stone can act as a tangible reminder to remain centered and steadfast, just like the mountain. (Stone meditations can be found in the book “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind,” as can walking meditations, as described below.)
4. Do a walking meditation around your client’s building before you go in. Walk slowly, bringing all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Whenever your mind wanders to fears about the past or worries about the future, gently bring your awareness back to the soles of your feet, even if it’s as often as every few seconds. This practice will help keep your awareness in the present moment.
5. Use affirmations, or positive statements repeated silently to yourself as if they are already happening. Repeating them often and putting them in positive terms are important. Examples are: “I remain calm and centered when I meet with my client.” “I am able to keep my mind focused on the present moment.”
De-stressing doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as remembering to pause and redirect your attention.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to present “Building Mindful Client Relations” at INBOUND19! For those of you who weren’t there, here’s a recap of the presentation:
Part 1: Develop Present Moment Awareness to Discover Customer Needs
Present Moment Awareness & STUFF
Present moment awareness is when your attention is in the “here and now,” rather than caught up in judgements, thoughts about the past, or thoughts about the future.
Present moment awareness takes practice to develop, since it’s the nature of the mind to be distracted by STUFF:
The cycling STUFF in the mind not only keeps you from the present moment, it can also create obstacles to the sale. Consider a sales rep who’s meeting with a customer and thinks, “I hope I can close this sale!” The rep is focusing on his STUFF, rather than focusing on the customer—and missing an opportunity to discover customer needs.
Learn to Interrupt Your STUFF
One way you can learn to focus beyond your STUFF is to interrupt it with a simple meditation exercise. Just as a spinning prize wheel is interrupted by a flapper, you can interrupt your STUFF with an “anchor,” which is an object upon which you rest your attention that’s neutral and doesn’t create more STUFF.
Examples of commonly used anchors:
A word or phrase, such as “be here now”
A sound or sounds
A tactile object, such as a smooth stone
You can practice this exercise before you meet with customers—or any other time that fits into your schedule. To start, find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes.
Choose an anchor and bring all your attention to it. As soon as your mind wanders, which may be as often as every second or two for beginners, bring your attention back to your anchor. Keep repeating this process: each time you notice your wandering mind, gently bring your attention back to your anchor. This practice of shifting attention to your anchor again and again will build your mind’s muscle, since you’re training your mind to focus—enabling you to focus on customers as if they’re your anchors.
Another way you can train your mind in present moment awareness is to weave “mindful moments” into your day. These are times when you bring your full attention to what you’re experiencing in the present, i.e., when you wash your hands, bring all your attention to the warmth or coolness of the water; when you eat meals, bring all your attention to the tastes and textures of the foods; or when you take a walk, bring all your attention to what you hear, whether it’s birds chirping, children playing, or the sound of leaves crunching under your feet.
Part 2: Listen Mindfully to Understand Customer Needs
What is Reflective Listening?
Reflective listening is a powerful tool, since it shows customers you hear what they’re saying and you understand them. To listen reflectively, simply repeat back to customers what they just said, using their words or paraphrasing in your own words.
Examples of Reflective Listening:
Customer: It’s important that our systems are monitored 24/7.
Sales Rep: So, it sounds like round-the-clock coverage is essential for you.
Customer: I don’t have time to think about this. I’m very busy!
Sales Rep: Understood! Sounds like you have a full plate with a lot going on.
Paraphrasing a customer objection is an especially good technique, since it takes the focus off the sales rep’s STUFF—for example, the rep could become frustrated when hearing an objection—and keeps the focus on the customer. Another benefit of paraphrasing an objection: it takes customers from a mindset of saying “no” to a mindset of saying “yes.” It’s likely they’ll agree with what you paraphrased, since you’re telling them what they just said.
Use a Variety of Listening Tools
Be sure to use paraphrasing with other listening skills, such as open ended questions, i.e., questions that start with “what” and “how”; minimal encouragers, i.e., listening sounds like “mm-hmms” that encourage speaking; and even silence, i.e., not responding immediately after customers speak—you may find they have more to say.
Conclusion: Learning New Habits
The good news with practicing all these skills is that the mind has neuroplasticity, or the ability to form new neural pathways and new ways of thinking. In terms of clearing your mind with a simple meditation exercise, start small with manageable amounts of time, even a few minutes a day. Setting up a regular practice place in your home or office can help—as can tying in practice with something you do regularly. Wake up in the morning. Brush teeth. Meditate. In terms of mindful listening, try practicing with family and friends. They’ll likely be pleased to receive this sort of attention from you. Remember, the ability to tap into present moment awareness is within every person—all it takes is intention and practice!
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.