What a 10-day Silent Meditation Retreat Taught Me About Sales

I’ve been studying Buddhist philosophy for years. In fact, I named my company “Dana” — the Sanskrit word for generosity — as a nod to how important Buddhism is to me. 

As part of my growing meditation practice, this summer I decided to take the leap and attend my first silent retreat. It was a rare opportunity to sit in silence for an extended period of time and to reflect with no distractions. My fellow retreat participants and I — all strangers — meditated for ten hours a day for ten days. We left our cell phones and laptops behind. I spoke maybe 50 words from arrival to the final day -- only breaking the silence to ask for a bar of soap and in consultations with our teachers.

It was an intense and amazing experience. I walked away with a deeper understanding of myself, my motivations and values. And in the countless moments that my mind wandered towards more practical topics, I thought about my business and ways that I share my belief that sales is a noble and valuable profession. It may seem strange to connect peaceful meditation with the high-octane world of sales, but as I sat one afternoon, the connections become clear. Here’s what I learned:

Taming Your Triggers

Sales, like practicing meditation, is all about not giving in to unhealthy, reflex responses. Let me explain. When you meditate, you gain self-awareness, and you can more easily pick up on situations or people that act as triggers and cause you stress or anger. Meditation gives you the space to make better decisions when you’re triggered. This process of seeing clearly and resisting our worst impulses is very much the same in sales. 

When a salesperson or entrepreneur walks into a meeting with a new client, he or she knows the best course of action is to ask questions and find out what the client needs. But then nerves set in, and we return to patterns that are most comfortable: in most cases, talking about ourselves or product. 

For other sales professionals, prospecting can trigger fear and anxiety, so they might avoid cold calls or attending networking events, instead of putting energy into unimportant tasks and less effective techniques. In both meditation and in sales, we first have to be aware of our feelings, and then we have to push through any negative impulses. In life and in the sales profession, we improve by becoming better versions of ourselves.

A Supportive Coach

At the retreat, we watched daily videos of a famous monk delivering beautiful talks that reminded us of why meditation is so important. He helped us slowly develop our skills so we could be successful at meditating. We also had teachers there with us who led one-on-one sessions. It was in those patient, open conversations that we were able to grow. It’s the same in sales. 

Every good salesperson has a great sales manager for a coach. Sales is all about behavior change, which isn’t easy. We’re constantly fighting against our own, and other peoples’ emotions. To develop, salespeople need to be guided by someone who can help us work through these emotions and focus on the activities that are most important. The best sales coaches get the best out of their team by being supportive and tapping into their deepest motivations.

It’s About Them

In meditation, we look to ground ourselves, to grow and to become more self-aware, but with the larger purpose of bettering the world around us. When we can identify and change our unhealthy responses to our triggers, we’re ultimately improving our relationships with friends and family and making the world a happier place. Sales is no different. 

The best salespeople are the ones who genuinely care about their customers. They work towards understanding them and their pain points and their goals. They support them and they deliver value to them. In Buddhism, it’s the concept of karma. When our intents and actions are positive, we’re opening ourselves up to positive experiences coming back to us. Likewise, when we approach sales with a focus on helping our clients, we are more likely to be successful.

I left the retreat even more energized about my life and core purpose, confident that pursuing work motivated by generosity will ultimately improve the companies I work with, and hopefully the world.