Sales and sales management lessons from the Ashram

by | May 21, 2018 | Professional Development

Yoga in the sunset

As the warmer weather is arriving now, I am reminded of the time I went to the Bahamas on my first yoga retreat with my buddy Cindy. Every day we practiced yoga for four hours, meditated for two (also a new experience for me), and when we weren’t engaged in finding yoga bliss, snuck into the hotel next door to swim in the pool and have some drinky-poos. I came home smoothed out, inspired, feeling more intensely connected to people who are important to me and proud of myself that I finally did a yoga headstand. What does my yoga experience have to do with sales, sales management or team building? Well, quite a bit. Here are some of the lessons I learned, or relearned. There is only one thing to focus on in this moment Omkar, our wise and powerful yoga teacher, was always telling us to slow down — slow down our breathing, slow down our thoughts, hold the pose longer and focus on just ONE thing. He told us that in the slowness comes power and control. In the slowness comes concentration, and with concentration comes an ease and a flow. In our daily work as reps and managers, we need to remember that sales calls are not races, and coaching conversations are not tasks to speed through. It can be hard to slow down our anxious thoughts when customers express their disappointment with us. And that’s when we disconnect. All the chatter in our heads turns up a few notches and there we are, out of control and less-than-powerful. As I learned during my yoga trip, a deep breath and the next curious question we want to ask are all we need to focus on. Joy is not a frivolous endeavour. Direct your mind and your heart to it. Omkar reminded us again and again to open ourselves up to the joy of doing our yoga practice. When we do things with joy, the practice is easy, there is no struggle, the work is a pleasure, and we feel successful. Joy is intentional. It is not an accident, nor a by-product of success. What a concept: to actually choose to do work with joy in our minds and hearts, no matter what the outcome is. During one yoga session, I was in an awkward backbend, hurting. Compared to the fit 25-year-old next to me, my pose was pathetic, and there was Omkar beseeching us to “Do it with joy . . . do your practice with sweetness . . . go deeper and deeper and deeper into the joy.” So I did. I actually felt myself sink deeper into joy, and he was right. The struggle went away and I could hold the pose. What if we decide that in our upcoming negotiation with a customer, we will bring joy and preparation and not much else? What if our tension and anxiety melted away and was replaced by joy? How would that practice improve our experiences with customers? Prepare, participate, and be light In between poses, Omkar had us mentally prepare for the next one. “Think about the shoulder stand. Imagine yourself doing it easily, with joy, and make yourself light. The lighter you are, the easier it will be. Up you go . . .” My first few shoulder stands were a struggle. My arms ached from holding me up; my hands gripped my back. Then I let go of my death grip and changed it to a softer hold; I breathed slowly; I straightened my neck and my legs and concentrated on feeling light. I let go of the need to look good. I found the place inside of me where I trust myself to do things a little differently even though I’m out of my comfort zone. Voila! How can we achieve lightness at work? Certainly drawing on our past positive experiences helps. Visualizing success helps. Watching and learning from others helps. Practicing helps. And great help comes from having faith that this experience, the one we are experiencing right now, won’t kill us, so we can let go of the fear and the need to look good. Treat business as a spiritual practice We can focus on a lot of different aspects of yoga. We can focus on the poses themselves. We can focus on our breathing. We can focus on the struggle of the experience, or on the joy, or on competing with the guy next to us. Or, we can up the ante. We can focus on how to learn, and do our best. We can focus on connecting our mind, body, and spirit and taking the experience to a different level. The same choices exist in business. I notice that when team members focus on connecting with each other and protecting each others’ backs, they report having more meaningful and positive work experiences. When rep firm managers look for the strengths in their reps rather than what is going wrong, reps trust their managers more, are energized and more productive. When reps show up to serve their customers rather than to serve their products, they have happier customers, a deeper understanding and empathy for their customer’s point of view, and they sell more. Be in the company of wise people One of our morning lessons in the Bahamas was about minding the company we keep. In a nutshell, the message was that we can surround ourselves with positive, talented, smart, caring, focused people, or we can choose not to. Given that we are often influenced by others, who do we want to associate with? The person who always has excuses? The drama queen? The “Yes . . . but it can’t be done” guy? The black-and-white thinker? Or the person who manages with joy? The colleague who helps us succeed? The insightful strategist? The person who doesn’t give up easily? The customer who knows how to be a partner? We need to stay away from people who try to belittle our ambitions and instead cultivate people who make us feel we can become great. Holier-than-thou is irritating After an evening of beautiful communal chanting (yes, even nice Jewish girls can happily belt out ‘Hare Krishna’) and trying to still my mind during meditation (I’m hopeless . . . this is definitely a work-in-progress), there was an evening lecture by a visiting swami. This guy took my excellent frame of mind and stomped on it. He talked at us, chanted at us, treated his wife with arrogance and indifference, and generally gave us the impression he was here to impress us. The same thing happens in sales calls all over the world. Reps don’t read their audience, and instead try to impress customers with their endless product knowledge, fail to include the customer in the conversation, and talk at them. Sales managers take over sales calls in order to feed their egos. Please . . . create conversations, not pitches.