Think Like a Buddhist, Sell Like a Rock Star

We’ll get to sales. First:

“Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying. Spring dried out. No water. The Hopi, or the Christian, maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain. The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought. You see what I mean. The system is designed to recognize what’s beyond human power to change, and then to change the human’s attitude to be content with the inevitable.”

Sacred Clowns’ by Tony Hillerman

Think Like a Buddhist

This viewpoint – what the Navajo call “hozho” – is similar to the Buddhist idea of seeking detachment. Attachment – particularly attachment to outcomes – is the source of pain and suffering.

Too far afield? Try these examples:

  • How many parents do you know whose intense desire to see their kids go to Harvard resulted in the kids’ rebellion?
  • How many people do you know whose obsession with not getting fired contributed to their getting fired?
  • How many times have you wanted to hit the ball so hard that you faulted / shanked / struck out?

Being over-eager, reaching too hard, wanting it too bad, can bring the exact opposite result. Call it karmic justice, bad form, or just life.

But that’s trivial. That’s not what I’m talking about.  That’s not the real meaning behind the Navajo / Buddhist allegories.

Sell Like a Rock Star

Recall some hard-won wisdom from the school of hard-knocks sales.

People like to buy, they just don’t like to be sold.  Get out of the way, stop trying to control the customer. Let the buying side of the relationship be the driver.

People buy what they need from those who understand what they want. Purchase decisions are driven not by connecting the dots between customer pains and sellers’ products, but by alignment of the seller to the buyer’s personna.

SPIN Selling. At the risk of over-simplifying Neil Rackham’s landmark sales work, the central idea of the Situation-Problem-Implications-Needs-Payoff acronym SPIN is to first listen, and only later to define solutions.

People Buy With their Hearts, and Justify it With their Minds. Justification is not a trivial matter, but buying decisions are heavily emotional. We resent being emotionally manipulated, while we appreciate being emotionally understood.

All these hard-won insights share (at least) one thing in common: They all take the customer as a given, and work to move the seller instead. They’re about getting in harmony with the drought – not about praying for rain.

The rock stars of sales are those have internalized these truths.

The Smarter the Salesman, the Bigger the Sin

It’s been my observation over the years that the smarter the seller, the bigger the violation of the “Buddhist” rule, i.e. the more they are attached to an outcome, the more they try to control the buyer – and they worse they sell.

There are probably a dozen reasons for this: high product complexity attracts “smart” people, for example, as do highly quantitative metrics. Think of what it takes to sell leveraged buyout deals, bespoke synethetic financial assets, high-end CRM systems, or corporate change management initiatives.

Smart people easily jump from “This is a complex product,” to “I’ve got to show I can master the complexity to get the sale.” And so they practice elegant rebuttals to arcane objections, forgetting that objections are just rationalizations for emotional disconnect.

Our brain is a pitifully weak weapon for changing another’s heart. Relying on it often produces the opposite result. First, embrace the drought.

To be a rock star, first give up attachment to being a rock star.