For many, the word mindfulness conjures an image of incense and bead curtains, but some of the most successful businesspeople and athletes swear by it.
And mindfulness will improve your sales conversations. Here's why.
A sales conversation is one of the most high-stakes conversations you're likely to have. There's real money and real opportunity on the line.
How much have you practiced for those moments?
I find it fascinating to understand just how much practice goes into professional sports. Bill Walsh, former coach of the 49ers, famously ran drills until a wide receiver ran his routes with less than a 1-inch margin of error. It's that level of thoughtfulness and precision that led to the title of his book The Score Takes Care of Itself. In football, players put in something like 40 hours of practice for every game, and that's after they've already turned pro.
In business, many of us lack that level of intention. And yet our incomes, and our outcomes, are dependent on our performance. Now think about it in the context of sales conversations.
Sales conversations are rife with emotion because they have real consequences. Perhaps you want to work on a certain project, or with a particular client. Perhaps your pipeline has been slow and you need the business. Or perhaps you're talking to someone and the conversation isn't clicking, but it seems like there should be a compelling reason to work together.
All of these situations are made easier with more focus, awareness, and intention. Mindfulness is the way, and you can improve it through meditation.
In this article, I'll cover:
- Why mindfulness can help your sales conversations
- Concrete benefits of mindfulness in every critical conversation (not just sales)
- Mindfulness exercises you can do before your next sales meeting
- Meditation apps and tools I recommend
- How to develop a meditation habit for absolute beginners
Why Mindfulness Can Help Your Sales Conversations
I got into meditation in my mid-twenties after a years-long streak of bad life choices. Since then, I've kept an on-again, off-again meditation practice, with near-daily consistency for the past 2 years.
The scientific understanding of meditation continues to evolve, but the practice is the rarified ancient wisdom that's also scientifically-proven to have benefits. It'll even make you physically healthier.
For your sales conversations, the real key is the change in your emotional response. One study showed that the amygdala — the center of fear, anger, and other base emotions — had a decreased response intensity after only 8 weeks of meditation. Others have shown increases in focus, attention, and mood stability, even in novices.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness helps you observe your own thoughts. Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic? Are you confident, or fearful? How do you react to common situations, like being challenged or receiving bad news?
It's unlikely that you're on the far end of any spectrum, but the fastest path to effective communication is self-awareness. And as you develop increased mindfulness, you'll come to understand that you have no control over your thoughts — they just happen, like the sun rising, or the wind blowing.
Mindfulness in sales helps you focus your attention. There are two separate aspects to this. On the one hand, we're more distracted than ever. One study showed workers accomplished less than 3 hours of actual, productive work in a day. You may chalk that up to motivation, but generally people want to do a good job and feel the rewards from their work. On the other hand, we exist in high-distraction environments.
Mindfulness will help you become more aware of how you're allocating your attention, which will give you more drive to control your environment. The two together create a positive feedback loop that can continually increase your attention span and focus. This is especially important when you're in conversation with a prospect, which requires attention, strategic thinking, and quick reaction times to make the most of your meetings.
You'll listen more effectively. As you become more aware of your thoughts, you'll also understand what makes most of us ineffective listeners. Too often, we listen enough to find an entry point into a conversation, then seek approval from the other person by sharing something about ourselves. Or perhaps you're only there, in conversation, in order to get what you want. Neither is the path to effective listening. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you can truly be in the moment and listen to learn about and understand the other person.
Mindfulness will create heightened emotional awareness. Every shift of someone's body, movement of their eyes, and hand gesture could mean something. The intonation of their voice, the speed of their speech patterns, and the length of their focus. All of it may mean something. The same is true for you. The more mindful you are about changes within yourself, the more mindful you'll be about changes in others, and what those changes may mean.
Mindfulness Exercises Before Your Next Sales Meeting
This is the practical section of the article. I don't subscribe to easy or quick fixes, and mindfulness and meditation won't be easy or quick, either. But there are some small steps you can take to become more mindful without needing a years-long meditation practice beforehand.
Here are a few options to get you started:
- Create a meeting plan by researching your prospect, what they might be interested in, and ways you've helped people like them in the past; focus your plan on a single goal for the meeting
- Remove all distrations on your computer 5 minutes before your call, including all tabs other than your CRM if you plan to type out your notes; bonus points for closing all tabs and hand writing your notes, then tranferring them into your CRM later
- Do a one minute breathing exercise to help focus your attention on your breath, and divert it from whatever else you're thinking about
Recommended Meditation Apps and Tools
If you're interested in trying out a meditation practice, I highly recommend you start right away. It'll help you better understand yourself, have more impactful relationships in every aspect of your life, and increase your physical well-being. Other than exercise, it's the most important thing you can do to be a better person.
I dabbled in meditation for about 6 months before taking a class. Having formal instruction is the right way to go. The sooner you can do it, the faster you'll make progress. Meditation is shown to change your physical brain in as little as 8 weeks, including changes to areas of the brain that regulate learning, emotion, perspective, and the self. Having a guide is critical.
I highly recommend you take an in-person or online guided course to get started. I found this to be the biggest leap in my meditation experience. Make sure you're taking a class focused on mindfulness, though, with a tinge of modern flavor. Most Zen and Buddhist meditation is unguided, in my experience.
And remember this: there's nothing religious about meditation. I'm an atheist, and I can promise that there's no hint of religion in meditation. So if you have faith, or you don't, it doesn't matter. Meditation won't infringe on or challenge your beliefs.
Once you take a class — or perhaps in lieu of taking a class — there are tons of great apps out there to help you with a daily (or occasional) guided meditation. Many of them are free. Here are the apps I recommend:
- Waking Up: an app for all levels, with a focus on the nature of consciousness and a deteminism; this is what I currently use
- Calm: the best app for beginners, Calm is organized into series based on your desired outcomes like meditation for beginners, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing focus, and more; it's what I recommend to most beginners
- Headspace: another popular meditation app that'll do the job just fine
Starting Your Meditation Habit
If you'd like to start a meditation habit, it's okay to start small. My first meditation teacher told me that something is always better than nothing. A daily practice of 20 minutes is ideal, but if you only have 5 minutes, do that. If you walk your neighborhood every evening, try mindfulness while you walk.
Here are the typical meditations you're likely to start with:
- Sound awareness
- Breath awareness
- Intention meditation (i.e. to be a certain way)
- Counting meditations
- Visual awareness
My secret, hidden goal in everything I do is to help more people be better people. By that, I mean more giving, more caring, and more empathetic. Meditation will help you be better at sales, sure, but it'll also help you in every other aspect of your life, and improve your personal relationships. Seems worth it.
If you decide to give meditation a try, I'd love to hear how it goes.
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