Companies such as Aetna, Google, General Mills, SAP, and many others are adding mindfulness training to their employee well-being programs. Research has shown mindfulness training leads to significant improvements in employee absenteeism rates, turnover rates, stress reduction, and overall wellbeing. Employees practicing mindfulness have also reported more creativity and improvement in skills involving cooperation such as teamwork.
Mindfulness for Sales Departments
If companies want to get the most bang from their buck when investing in a mindfulness program, they should consider mindfulness programs that measurably improve employee performance. The department that has the most measurable standards for employee performance is the company’s sales department. Sales departments and salespeople are being constantly measured for their performance. Mindfulness training leading to improved sales performance will be the most fiscally beneficial mindfulness programs a company can invest in. Surprisingly, few company sponsored mindfulness programs involve the company’s sales force. It’s unfortunate, but many business leaders still generalize salespeople to be ego-driven and shallow. They assume salespeople wouldn’t be interested employing soft skills such as mindfulness. I find salespeople, on the other hand, to be very resourceful. If they think a new skill could improve their performance, they’ll be more than willing to embrace it.
Can salespeople improve their performance by practicing mindfulness? Let’s take a look at what mindfulness is and how salespeople can apply it. Meditation and mindfulness expert John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” Let’s apply this definition to selling. For salespeople, the “present moment” is when they’re doing the actual selling. It’s the moment when they’re conversing with customers. The past is the rehearsed speech the salesperson learned during training. The future is the salesperson’s desired outcome. For salespeople, “purposely paying attention” would mean the salesperson chooses to put aside his or her expectations for a particular outcome. The salesperson also the chooses to put aside how he or she has prepared for things to go. Instead of thinking about the past and the future, the salesperson pays attention to his or her experience in the present. That present experience is the customer interaction, as it’s unfolding moment to moment. The salesperson’s attention will be nonjudgmental, meaning that salesperson won’t deem the interaction to be going well or not going well.
Salespeople applying mindfulness in this way will be doing the opposite of what traditional sales training espouses. Traditional sales training advises salespeople to stick with their prepared presentations. If customers take a conversation in a direction they haven’t prepared for, then salespeople are advised to steer it back to the original plan. Traditional sales training also says that salespeople should maintain control of customer interactions in order to create the desired outcome. Mindful salespeople, on the other hand, will put their preparation and desired outcome aside while talking to customers.
Mindfulness for Salesperson Performance
Is it possible for salesperson performance to improve by selling mindfully? My answer is a resounding Yes! Let’s start by a looking at some primary factors that determine performance in general. Perhaps the most important factor is “learning.” Any performance coach will tell you that the better you learn the better you perform. For example, many rehearsals are required before an actor can convincingly play a role. If the actor’s learning was interfered with, his performance would suffer. An example of this would be if the actor was distracted during rehearsals. Our capacity for learning relies on our capacity to observe. How well we learn relies upon how well we observe. In this example, the distracted actor’s learning is impeded because his ability to observe is compromised. He isn’t giving the rehearsals his full attention.
These principles also apply to salesperson performance. A salesperson’s performance relies on his or her ability to observe and learn. Salespeople learn what to say by listening to their customers and by observing their customer’s reactions. This is one way mindfulness improves sales performance. The mindful salesperson’s attention remains on his or her customer interaction as it unfolds moment by moment. More observant salespeople will be better at learning. They’ll learn things about their customer’s beliefs, values, objectives, challenges, perspectives, etc. Once observant salespeople learn these things, they can modify their presentations to make them more compelling. An observant salesperson is better equipped to select which selling points customers will be most receptive to hearing.
“In an old Zen story, a student comes to visit his
dying Zen master Yumen. The student asks:
“What is the teaching of your entire lifetime?”
Yumen replied: An appropriate response.”
If we paraphrased John Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness, we can basically say he’s describing the act of paying attention without distractions. It’s distracting to steer customer conversations toward a predetermined plan. When salespeople do this, they aren’t paying full attention to the interaction as it’s unfolding moment to moment. Part of their thinking is focused on their training that happened in the past. Likewise, salespeople are distracted when they judge a conversation to be going in their favor or not. The salesperson’s attention is diverted away from noticing the actual conversation as it’s unfolding. Distracted salespeople learn less so their performance suffers. Mindful salespeople are better observers, which makes them better learners, which makes them better performers. They’re better observers because they’re not distracted.
Customers Benefit from Mindful Salespeople
Customers also benefit from having mindful salespeople. The customers of mindful salespeople make higher quality buying decisions. The importance of customer decision quality is under appreciated. It’s an important factor that significantly contributes to a company’s long term success. A high quality buying decision is one that customers internalize into their own beliefs and values. For example, it’s one thing for a customer to purchase a product. It’s even better however, if that customer brags to his or her friends about how happy he or she is with the purchase. Mindful salespeople secure higher quality buying decisions by being more observant. Mindful salespeople are more observant because they put aside their distracting preconceived notions about what customers will like about their product. Free from that prejudice, these salespeople are better able to listen for the beliefs, values and priorities expressed by their customers. It sounds paradoxical, but it’s better for customers to buy for their own reasons rather than for reasons the salesperson suggested. This requires salespeople to put aside their preconceived plans. Salespeople should actually want the conversation to go differently than they planned. The buying decision will be of a higher quality because the salesperson allowed it to be integrated into their customer’s own beliefs and values. Mindful salespeople enjoy deeper customer relationships because they inspire buying decisions that are customer-derived. The customer’s decision to buy can become a part of who that customer is.
Higher quality buying decisions are more sustainable. The sustainability of customers’ buying decisions significantly contributes to a company’s long term success. Sustainable buying decisions are decisions that endure after the salesperson has left. Customers who make sustainable decisions are more motivated to take initiative on their own. Companies and salespeople must rely on customers taking their own initiative. They rely on customers actually picking up the product and using it. They depend on customers reordering the product on their own. They want customers to refer the product to others. They need customers to turn competitors away. They want customers to contact them again when they need to make another purchasing decision. These are all actions customers will be motivated to pursue independently when they make high quality buying decisions.
Salespeople who practice mindfulness are more versatile. In the real world, rarely does a selling interaction to go exactly as planned. Salespeople who pay attention without distracting judgments will respond better to the unexpected. In addition, their range of potential responses aren’t confined to predetermined lists. Utilizing a greater number of responses accelerates learning and improving. They’re exposed to a wider variety of experiences to learn from. The best responding salespeople are the most successful salespeople. When salespeople are mindful, they succeed beyond limits and expectations!