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.