It’s all about relationship

Intellectuals and engineers have a tough time understanding the importance of human relationships in one’s work. I can say this because I am an intellectual and engineer. To me, number and specifications are honest. Sales and marketing copy is not only unnecessary but dishonest. But, honest sales and marketing does exist. [Permission Marketing is one example]. Honest sales involves discovering a customer’s problems and matching them to solutions. Often, the customer doesn’t even know what their problem is or that a solution exists. That’s the sales person’s job.

Peter Thiel in Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future says:

The Field of Dreams conceit is especially popular in Silicon Valley, where engineers are biased toward building cool stuff rather than selling it. But customers will not come just because you build it. You have to make that happen, and it’s harder than it looks.

Sales is the opposite: an orchestrated campaign to change surface appearances without changing the underlying reality. This strikes engineers as trivial if not fundamentally dishonest. They know their own jobs are hard, so when they look at salespeople laughing on the phone with a customer or going to two-hour lunches, they suspect that no real work is being done. If anything, people overestimate the relative difficulty of science and engineering, because the challenges of those fields are obvious. What nerds miss is that it takes hard work to make sales look easy.

This year, I’ve had to talk with tons of people work whether asking institutions the opportunity to talk, coworkers joining us for a month, talks at meditation centers, interviewing potential residents for the Monastic Academy, or about our partnership program to create your own mindfulness in schools app. All of them involve a lot of email back and forth and talking to people. Talking to people for sales would of terrified me ten years ago as a computer science nerd.

All of this work is primarily about fostering a good human relationship.

The first question you have to answer non-verbally is, “do I trust you?”

The second question is, “are you someone I would want to be in relationship with? Do I enjoy talking with you?”

The final question is the hardest one, the closing question, “does it make sense to take the leap of faith that this new offering is worth the cost of time, money, and resources?”

I’m often very good at the first two. But the final one is quite difficult and never a guarantee. In fact, it’s going into the conversation knowing the closing rate is going to be less than 10%.

Two basic questions that can help a lot in talking with people are, “what’s your vision for yourself or your organization in the next year or few years?” and “what are the challenges you’re facing now?”

Once you know the answer to those two questions, you know whether your offering is compatible with them. Whether you should even continue with the conversation. And you know how to cater your message to fit them so that they can see that your offering will help them achieve their vision and remove their challenges.

And that’s why honest sales is an ego-less practice. How can you drop your self and really listen to the other person? Really see what they need? And then respond with a solution if you have one. And if you don’t? Then stepping away without forcing something that wouldn’t have been good anyway for them.


It’s inappropriate to try to “close” someone on joining a monastery. In that case, it’s more like dating. Is the potential resident and monastery compatible for a long term relationship is the real question.