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Professional Development

The Buddhist Eightfold Path of Mindful Sales Part 3: Right Intent

In a world inundated with popular hashtags, yoga studios on every corner (not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that), and wellness gurus of every kind, it can be easy to scoff at the idea of intention.

Intention is a mental state representing a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. How to incorporate it skillfully into our daily lives is something that the Buddha spoke about to his disciples quite often.

When discussing the Buddhist Eightfold Path, Right Intention, sometimes known as Right Thought, traditionally lands as the second aspect. However, in this series, I have listed it third after Right Speech and Right Understanding.

Together, Right Intention and Right Understanding are known in Buddhism as the path that cultivates wisdom, known in Pali as Panna.  

In Buddhism, “wisdom” is thought of differently than how we typically understand it in the United States.

The English word wisdom is generally related to knowledge gained through experience, but for Buddhists, according to Barbara O’Brien, a Zen Buddhism Expert, “wisdom relates to realizing or perceiving the true nature of reality; seeing things as they are, not as they appear. This wisdom is not bound by conceptual knowledge. It must be intimately experienced to be understood.”

To make this easy, think of intention as what we believe, which leads to how we act and what we say.  

If all of these are aligned, then we feel fulfilled, joyful, and satisfied.  If not, then we may feel shameful, insecure, and depressed.

In The Dhammapada, a Buddhist Book of Proverbs, the Buddha says:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.

If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”

As revenue professionals, how we act and what we say are as critical to our success as the product or solution we sell.  

As Todd Caponi writes in his book The Transparency Sale, “The second the buyer’s brain senses insincerity, ineptitude, or inconsistency, their brain’s ‘uh-oh’ alarm will sound off subconsciously.”

He goes on to quote the author and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio: “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”

With that in mind, setting the appropriate intention for interacting with our team, potential buyers, and customers as “feeling machines that think” is an integral part of what we do as revenue professionals.  

Being intentional can be a difficult task, especially if you are in a role where you are doing a lot of prospecting like an SDR, BDR, or even a full-cycle AE. Even the most thoughtful of sales reps can slip into a state of zombie-like comatose while cranking out cold call after cold call.

Three Kinds of Right Intention

The Buddha taught that there are three kinds of right intention which counter three types of wrong intention. These build the foundation of how we act and what we say. As we begin to cultivate these, we can operate from a place of kindness and wisdom.  

Release From Attachment

The first is known as the intention of renunciation, which counters the intention of desire.  

To renounce something typically means to give something up or to stop consuming. In Buddhism, renunciation doesn’t mean you have to give away all of your possessions and go live in solitude on a mountain (although some days leave me longing for this option). The source of suffering is not our possessions themselves but our attachment to those possessions, which lead to craving and desire.

One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from Buddhism is not to get attached to objects, ideas, people, or outcomes.  

Easier said than done.

In sales, we hear “no” more times than we hear “yes.”

If we’re not adequately equipped to navigate through rejection, then we will find ourselves struggling in our role.  

One reason that rejection hits us so hard when prospecting is that we attach ourselves to the outcome of securing a meeting. When a prospect turns us down, it may discourage us from making more calls, throwing us into a vicious cycle of rejection.

One way that I’ve exercised the concept of “letting go” related to my attachment to outcomes is setting aside five minutes before a block of cold calls to reset and anchor myself to the present with a simple breath meditation.

Express Goodwill

The second kind of right intention relates to goodwill, which counters the intention of ill will.

Otherwise known as metta in Buddhism, Goodwill is defined as a loving-kindness for all beings, without discrimination or selfish attachment.

This manifests in our professional lives by ensuring we are aligned with an organization and solution that doesn’t cause harm or manipulate others in any way.  

When we believe in our team and the value we can drive for our prospects and customers, we can approach conversations with joy, compassion, and kindness.

Even if we show up with goodwill for others, we may still end up having to deal with difficult people.  

I’ve found it helpful to practice Tonglen meditation, sometimes known as “sending and taking” meditation, before having difficult conversations.

Do No Harm

Finally, the third kind of right intention relates to harmlessness, which counters the intention of harmfulness.

Harmlessness is pretty straightforward.  

Don’t harm or intend to harm anyone.  To not harm also requires karuna or compassion. Karuna goes beyond simply not harming. It is an active sympathy and a willingness to bear the pain of others.

In sales, that may mean putting yourself in your buyer’s shoes to understand their deeper pains and challenges so that you can best drive value.  

For example, let’s say a prospect asks for specific payment terms that are not aligned with your company’s contract protocol. One option would be simply telling them no and ending the conversation.  

Another less ethical choice would be to say to them that you can accommodate, which could lead to internal headaches and ultimately time and resources wasted on both sides of the deal.

A third option would be removing your seller hat, empathizing, and seeking to understand the source of their request. You may discover that they have had a terrible experience with other vendors in the past and are afraid of repeating history.  

This could lead to a more productive conversation about implementation or customer success post-sales, which helps develop more trust and strengthen the potential partnership.

Often, by simply thinking about the situation from the other person’s perspective and being compassionate to their experience, we can earn credibility because of our willingness to understand better.

Before picking up the phone to cold call a prospect, sitting down with a buyer to negotiate pricing and terms, or joining an internal meeting to discuss changes in the process, allow yourself some time and space to set the right intention.  

Next, in this eight-part series: Right Action.