Taking Yoga Lessons into Technical Sales

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

I have long been a devotee of yoga. With business travel limited and most sales calls moving remote in recent years, I've relied on my practice to power my technical sales. How? I find yoga and meditation can help me keep my composure and work towards the desired result: The Sale.

The teachings of yoga and meditation can help improve your performance during stressful video calls. After all, some of the key ideas are:

  • Use controlled, deep breathing to stay relaxed and focused.
  • Remain in the present.
  • React to events in a detached, non-judgmental manner.
  • Practice and prepare to perform at your best.

All that translates in technical sales

As we know, technical sales require selling value and not pushing product features. Selling value starts with understanding customers’ needs. One of the best ways to uncover customer needs is through in-depth interviews. Unfortunately, inexperienced or poorly trained sales people often find these customer conversations extremely stressful. When people are in what they perceive to be stressful or dangerous situations, fight-or-flight instincts kick in.

I've seen it happen. I was with a process sales engineer when the customer made a relatively innocuous comment about a different idea for the process filtration and drying solution. The engineer lost his composure and began arguing with the customer. Needless to say, the meeting did not go well. With more discussions and e-mails, and without the sales engineer, I was able to re-establish the customer trust. This example highlights the need for staying relaxed and focused when conducting effective customer-needs assessment sessions.

Applying the four yoga principles

  1. Leverage the power of the breath

When under stress, we take shorter breaths. Yet, research has proven that taking longer, deeper, slower breaths has a calming effect. Knowing that, engineers should do some slow, deep breathing prior to any customer conversations.

  1. Be in the moment.

The best customer interviews can never be fully scripted. So, paying attention to what the customer is saying is vital. By being in the moment you will also be able to ask appropriate follow-up questions. A good way to start is by minimizing distractions. Turn off your phone. Minimize excess motion such as wiggling your leg or clicking a pen. Consciously maintain eye contact and watch the customer's mouth move. Before you respond, take a moment to absorb what they are saying. Then ask a follow-up question. Writing the purpose of your visit at the top of your pad can also help you stay in the moment.

  1. Avoid being judgmental

To ensure our survival, we have hyper-developed our ability to identify and flee from danger. This helped people avoid becoming a saber-toothed tiger’s meal. Still, it is counterproductive when we want to have a learning conversation with a customer. We tend to overreact to customer comments (our modern version of danger), take them personally, and potentially misinterpret them. If a customer makes a negative comment, recognize it for what it is. Instead of focusing on the implications of the customer’s comments, focus on understanding the customer and his or her goals and challenges. The customer’s expressed concern may not be the real issue. Instead of reacting, focus on asking some probing questions, listening sympathetically, and seeing it from the customer’s point of view.

  1. Practice and prepare to perform at your best.

Yoga and meditation are known as practices. As we do them repeatedly, we get better at them. Confidence gained through repeated practice can help you keep focused on your goals for the sales call and get the most out of it.

Some of the things to prepare prior to a technical sales customer conversation include:

  • A statement of the purpose of the conversation, including how the customer will benefit
  • A list of hypotheses you want to test
  • A conversation guide to keep things on track
  • A process to ensure that action items don’t get dropped

Namaste and signing the dotted line

These four principles of yoga and meditation–breath control, remaining in the moment, avoiding judgment, practice and preparation–can help you relax and perform at your best in customer conversations.

Let me know any other connections you see between yoga and technical sales. For me, combining the two together is a foundation  for productivity, efficiency, and growing personal and business health.

Addressing Climate Change One Sustainable Martini at a Time

Photo by Stanislav Ivanitskiy on Unsplash

I've found another example of innovation we can toast to — quite literally! With this new discovery, we can feel we're addressing climate change one sustainable martini at a time. Yes, while enjoying my vodka martini with sweet vermouth, I have been known to ponder sustainability and the planet's future. Who doesn't?

I came across a company in New York City that has created what it calls the “world’s most sustainable spirit” The Air Company makes its vodka out of carbon dioxide captured from the air. The 40% proof drink, appropriately called Air Vodka, removes a pound of CO2 from the atmosphere for each bottle of vodka made.

The company, which started manufacturing from a Brooklyn plant in 2019, produces about 5,000 cases of vodka a year. Gregory Constantine, an Australian entrepreneur, started the climate-friendly distillery with Stafford Sheehan. The duo claims that traditional vodka, which involves the fermentation of grains, releases about 15 pounds of CO2 for each bottle made. The Air Company's process changes that.

The innovative vodka process

The Air Company takes CO2, either sucked directly from the air or captured at source at industrial facilities and combines it with hydrogen created through electrolysis – the process where electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The technology used to merge these elements creates ethanol which, when combined with water, becomes a vodka.

The carbon conversion reactor is a tubular, fixed-bed flow system. The CO2 and H2 rise to the top of each tube, which are filled with a patented catalyst. This creates a chemical reaction that produces a reactor liquid. The reactor liquid is composed of ethanol (C2H5OH), methanol (CH3OH) and water (H2O). From there, it goes through a distillation process that separates the reactor liquid.  Ethanol, methanol and water all have different boiling points. Therefore, when heated to a specific temperature, they separate. First, the ethanol and methanol are separated from the water. Then, the process repeats to separate the methanol from the ethanol. The ethanol and water are combined in large steel totes and mixed by hand to produce “air vodka.”

Putting carbon emissions on ice

Continuing the innovation, Air Company is also using a similar process to make a hand sanitizer and to create a new fragrance called Air Eau de Parfum. Still, I'm most excited about addressing climate change by selecting a sustainable brand. It's time to make what they call an "airtini."

There is a lot to be said for being able to enjoy a drink and care about the climate at the same time. I am sure that there are other distilleries using other innovative techniques for sustainable liquor production. Investigate your local distillery and let me know your favorite. Hope to have a cocktail with you soon!

Sustainability for Agriculture Irrigation


Photo by Léon McGregor on Unsplash

Did you know agriculture irrigation accounts for 70% of the water used worldwide? That’a a lot. At the same time, most of the world relies on flood irrigation to water crops as a more efficient alternative has proved elusive. Any innovations have not been widely adopted due to expense. Yet, one Israeli soil physicist has provided a sustainable solution in a tiny plastic widget.

This modest innovation in drip irrigation could forever change agriculture, especially in resource-starved environments.

In places where rainfall is insufficient, irrigation is critical. Despite all the innovation that has made its way into agriculture irrigation in recent years, 85% is still done by releasing vast quantities of water across the surface of a field. Yes, that’s the same way it was managed thousands of years ago.

Flood irrigation has hung on because it is cash cheap. However, from a natural-resource perspective, it is staggeringly expensive. As much as 70% of the water goes to waste. Plus, overwatered crops can fail to reach their full potential. Additionally, excess fertilizer is carried away by the runoff to contaminate streams, wetlands, and lakes.

Microdrip irrigation was supposed to solve all that

Yet today, while there are hundreds of drip irrigation companies, the technology is applied to less than 5% of irrigated acres globally. That’s usually to big-ticket crops such as almonds, wine grapes, and tomatoes. Cost is the limiting factor. The whole setup amounts to at least $2,000 an acre, plus energy bills. For lower-value crops such as cotton or alfalfa, drip irrigation simply does not pay.

The good news is that there is a new alternative. This season an innovative experiment is being installed by the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) for various commodity crops. Israeli irrigation startup, N-Drip has developed a system promising drastic water savings without the prohibitive costs. We’re talking down from the $2,000 to $400/per acre.

In a standard drip system an emitter, about the size of a Tic Tac, is fastened inside every hole in those humble black plastic dripper lines. Water comes out in measured droplets as its movement is regulated through an exceedingly narrow, maze-like channel inside the emitter. The resistance produced is the reason so much pressure is required to move water from one end of a field to the other.

New innovation in agricultural irrigation

Now, along comes the new type of emitter with zero, yes…zero pressure drop. The many additional technical details are beyond the scope of this blog. But, Chuck Cullom of CRIT is convinced to give it a try. He told Bloomberg, he was originally “superskeptical…It sounded like a unicorn solution.” Yet, in 2020, CRIT Farms tried the system out on 40 acres of sorghum and “cut water use in half, while slightly improving the quality of the crops.”

The most crucial point is that an innovation, big or small, can have a major impact on society. Keep following this blog for more discoveries. And don’t hesitate your own innovative ideas with me too at [email protected].


Clarifying Process Liquids: New Approaches for Chemical and Pharmaceutical Applications

Image Source: IFN

How can the process engineer successfully automate the clarification processes to improve filtration while minimizing operator exposure? Over my career in solid-liquid separation, I've seen many examples of process engineers struggling with clarifying process liquids. In one resin facility, the slurry was in a formaldehyde process and the "masked" operators were opening up a manual plate filter to dig out the cake. In another case, during the manufacturing of zeolites, the client added another set of bag filters when the filtrates following a vacuum belt filter remained cloudy. To help address these kinds of issues, I recently contributed an article to International Filtration News on clarifying process liquids.

The article, which can be downloaded from the P&ID website, published April 5, 2022, concludes that when confronted with a clarification process, the one thing not to do, is to repeat the solution with more bag filters, more filter aids and more throwaway cartridges. It's better to take a different approach by conducting lab testing to analyze the cake structure, filter media, filtration pressure and cake thickness.

Approaching Process Liquid Clarification

A clarification system is employed after coarse-particle filtration or as a stand-alone system to remove or recover fine particles at low concentrations. The typical approach for fines removal/recovery has been bag filters, cartridge filters, manual plate filters and filter presses. A new approach is the use of automated, pressure-filtration, clarification technologies. The cake solids structure and the nature of the process determine which type of clarification system is appropriate for an application.

My article discusses two main types of automated clarification technologies, candle filters and circular pressure plate filters. I also go into detail about cake structure and lab testing, filter aids, and filter media.

The Candle Filter

A candle filter is a pressure vessel filled with tubular filters called filter candles (see Figure 1). A typical filter candle is comprised of a dip pipe to both flow the filtrate and pressurized gas, a perforated core with supporting tie rods, and a filter sock.

Figure 1

The Pressure Plate Filter

Like the candle filter, pressure plate filters (e.g. Figure 2) are comprised of filter plates contained within a pressure vessel. However, instead of vertical filter candles, the vessel contains circular-horizontal filter plates. These plates are conical-shaped slightly sloped, metal plates that support a coarse-mesh backing screen covered with filter cloth. An opening in the center of the plate allows the filtrate to travel between plates and out of the vessel. The filter cloth can be synthetic, as in the candle filter, or metallic as the cake discharge is by plate vibration or plate spinning.

Figure 2

Clarifying Process Liquids

This blog only summarizes the article. I hope you will read and download it from my articles page. When it comes to clarifying process liquids, there are many resources to do this work. You can explore materials from vendors, consultants, and published literature. With the data in hand, the process engineer can evaluate the different technologies available. It's going to take time to determine the most reliable and cost-effective option for a specific clarification process.

If I've learned anything over my 40 years in this industry, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I'd be happy to consult on your process liquid clarification conundrums. Let me know how I can help.

Systems Integration Design & Gated Process Development   

Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

Recently I have enjoyed a rich collaboration Circular Economy and Closing the Loop in Case Studies    with Professor Ugur Tuzun of the University of Cambridge on the important topic of process systems and the circular economy. Our latest article, “Systems Integration Design for Chemical and Biological Engineers: Gated Process Development with Digital Interlinks for Bulk Chemicals and Specialty Products Manufacture,” appears in the Journal of Chemical Engineering & Process Technology.

The article discusses key systems integration concepts with respect to materials and energy flows in successive production units, process automation, and supply chain life cycles. It further incorporates green process and clean technology considerations. I hope you’ll read the entire article. But, just in case, here’s an overview.

To achieve green processing targets, many are including environmental impact monitoring and control as well as pollution prevention and emissions abatement technologies. These all require increased levels of coordination, communication, and functional integration of all the unit operations in a plant. In the paper’s two industrial case studies, bulk chemical and specialty chemical manufacturing exemplify these applications. Each case study contains a list of main practical indicators followed by a list of instructions for step wise design application based on the process flow sheets of specific industry applications.

Examples of Environmentally Friendly Plant Installations

The case studies also demonstrate the “open-ended” nature of idea generation and creative solution development necessitated by the complex systems integration design challenges for large-scale process applications. These examples build upon the “gated process development model” and provide a useful experiential teaching and learning tool for chemical and biological engineers.

A generic framework for gated process development is presented connecting pilot plant, demonstration plant, and commercial plant activities. Furthermore, the framework also includes energy and material life cycles and environmental impacts directly in tandem with the development from pilot scale to large-scale production.

The most significant benefit of this approach lies in the ability to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly plant installations.

You can read the full article online to further explore this topic. While the article focuses on operating companies, interactive digital platforms enabling “gated process development” could also be used to facilitate interactive teaching and learning of the dynamic systems development and integration. Professor Tuzun and I would welcome the opportunity to assist you. Please reach out to us.