20 November 2009

The Fear and Ethics of Selling

Bill Scheinman and I have a business, Stress Reduction at Work, offering workplace courses in stress reduction/mindfulness meditation. Meditation has been incredibly beneficial and helpful for me, is in fact pretty much the center of my life. So I'm finding a way to a wider array of people, and, especially while they're at work, helping them learn to lessen their own suffering by changing the relationship to their own minds. Since I've been working on this in earnest a few things have occurred to me. The first one wasn't exactly horrible but did have an edge. I thought: Oh dear, I'm selling meditation.

The next thing occurred to me when I was at a class, "How to Quickly Attract your Prospect's Attention," offered by the Small Business Administration. I was the only person in the room who hadn't brought a business card. It hadn't occurred to me to bring a business card to a class. But to the business-minded, a class - in fact, life - appears to be just a very large collection of networking opportunities! So when the woman sitting sitting behind me stood up and said, "Hello! My name is ---. I can help you...[blah blah blah]," I felt a wave of aversion in my gut. I thought: Wow. I really hate marketing people. Which is of course not entirely accurate. But there is a particular style - a style that seems completely disingenuous - that grates.

There are at least two ways of looking at marketing. The first is that one finds a way to ignite craving in someone for something that will eventually be bad for them, or that they don't really need. Then there is a style that amounts to badgering or verbal manipulation. Many people are afraid of this, especially afraid of the 'hard sell,' and even more nervous about personally appearing to sell anything or ask for money. Wage earners, artists, writers, meditators, actors, healers, most people it seems hate any kind of marketing. Everyone except salespeople (and fundraisers...and extroverts!)

But there is another kind of marketing. If you have a thing or a service that could be truly or even deeply useful and helpful to someone - you find a way to communicate that in the best way possible, a way that means something to them. For example, most Americans seem to think that you need to be calm in order to meditate, which of course means that those who could benefit the most are convinced they can't do it. How does one communicate the fact that (short of a few contraindicated mental disorders) it is possible for everyone to practice and benefit from meditation if they so desire? Enormous health benefits have been documented in clinical studies. What do people need to know? This is what I am continuing to work out.

A big part of the learning curve for me has involved a change of self view, and refining an informational style. My main motivation is to help people, and to widen the scope of people I can reach. Selling - with the purpose of helping people get to know themselves, calm down, and at the same time become more fully alive - is a way of communicating that I want to continue to develop. Something clear, responsive, ethical - something that connects.

More info

Stress Reduction at Work - Mindfulness Tools for Employee Wellness

(image still from opening sequence of t.v. series Mad Men, imaginaryforces.com)

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