Sales can be fun and exciting, but the nature of the industry can lead to severe burnout. It’s important to implement safeguards so the stress doesn’t eat away at you.
Burnout is a real phenomenon in the workplace and the World Health Organization recently reaffirmed it as an “occupational phenomenon”. The ICD-10 code (medical diagnosis code for billing purposes) for Burnout is Z73.0. It’s a diagnosis that relates to physical and emotional exhaustion.
While anyone is susceptible to burnout, salespeople are particularly predisposed to the risk of burnout. Sales positions tend to be fast paced, high pressure and performance driven. Whether the sales cycle is long (a marathon) or short (a sprint), either can trigger burnout!
Stress and burnout are dangerous when you’re in sales. Not only does burnout put commissions at risk, but it can also put your job at risk. Selling is relationship driven and so there are more opportunities for burnout inducing activities like late nights, social events, managing client orders, follow-ups, resolving problems, writing proposals, presenting, attending conferences, travel, meetings. The sales cycle is a roller coaster that can be difficult to hop on and off of.
Anything that creates space, time for mindfulness, and time for recovery are pillars to maintaining high levels of performance for sustained periods of time. Here is my favorite guidance to help top-performing salespeople avoid burnout and maintain high levels of performance quarter after quarter, year after year.
Talk about sh-t! Burnout is real but it’s highly stigmatized. Discussing burnout or fatigue is risky. It can be perceived as weakness or you not having the stamina or work ethic to get things done. We need to de-stigmatize it by breathing life into the topic. We need to move away from the idea that saying “I’m busy” or “I’m swamped” means we’re working hard and productive. Talking about the topic, having an outlet, and getting feedback from others about how they manage their day is highly valuable to managing stress.
Whether it’s a best friend at work, a friend outside work, a spouse, therapist, coach or mentor, having an outlet is a healthy way to keep perspective and get feedback.
Find your routine. Whether it’s a morning routine, a bedtime routine, or other rituals that you incorporate into your day, having a routine that injects some control and predictability into your day is a good thing – it ensures you have time to get to the “must do’s” in your day. Books have been written about the sacredness of morning routines. I agree, but you don’t have to become a morning person to create routines that help you stay organized, on top of email, reduce the number of decisions you need to make, and create time and space to do more of the things you want to do for yourself and your customers. One of the books that discusses this well is “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod.
Have an abundance mindset. Nothing drains your battery faster than a bad attitude. We behave as we believe. Nothing takes momentum or the spark of momentum faster than a poor attitude. “I can’t”, “that doesn’t work”, and “I’m too busy” are always true. A seller must constantly put themselves out there, ask for business and face rejection. After selling something, the sales professional must still manage and guard the relationship to ensure good execution. Nothing accelerates burnout faster than scarcity, the belief that there’s not enough business out there, that you’re not _______enough as a salesperson or you’re somehow not worthy of success. Once this attitude sets in, you’re done.
Vary your activities (all of them). Variety is the spice of life…and prevents burnout. Be creative in how you mix things up. Add variety in the way you build relationships and spend time with clients. Mix up the types and locations of meetings (during work hours vs. after, one on one vs. group meetings). Take time to decompress and rest. If the majority of your work is spent meeting with clients, space out your meetings enough to get breathing room.
Meditation. Meditation is a silent killer of stress and anxiety. Meditation melts away the “junk” in our system – the emotions and psychological weight that gets caught between our head, heart and gut. Meditation, while it takes time, patience and repetition to effectively build the skill, has the power to supercharge all of your other routines. Meditation ushers in calm mindfulness, better disposition, and more clarity. Mediation builds resilience against stress and scarcity.
Find your line, then push back. Avoiding burnout requires self-awareness. Some salespeople are wired hot, push hard, burn the candle at both ends, play hard, etc. Think about how a race car driver needs to know his or her car. They can redline the engine in short bursts to make a pass or create space, but they have to take the pedal off the metal before they kill the engine! A high performing salesperson knows their redline and how long they can push it before pulling back and resting or rebalancing. Even if you’re addicted to the “rush” of chasing the deal or closing the sale, you can’t sprint or redline for long or you’re going to crash. Keep in mind that you can build up your tolerance working harder for longer periods of time by working harder for longer periods of time. The practice of doing so builds up your resilience and tolerance. Rejection is painful. Losing a sale stinks – it hurts your numbers, your ego, and your bank account but over time, you learn to take each loss less personally. The more wins you achieve, the better and more efficient you become at winning.
Make it fun. You figure this out your own way. The best way to avoid exhaustion is to have fun. Be creative with this and don’t take yourself too seriously. You can have fun in conventional and non-conventional ways. Self-deprecation and humor go a long way…and on and on. When you’re having fun, it feels less like work and less energy is required to do the lifting that your work requires. From a psychological perspective, buying tends to be more fun than selling something. Think about that as you think about your prospects and clients. What ways can you make it more fun for them to buy from you? What can you do to make your day more enjoyable? Can you make your clients/prospects part of that fun? That would be a win, win, win.
Focus on the Short Game and Long Game simultaneously. The short game is your day to day, hour to hour, call to call stuff you do in your daily sales grind. It’s in the short game that we get stepped on, rejected, ignored, disrespected, loved, or hated. As the salesperson working to please clients, keep clients, and impress their boss, the short game is intense and impacts burnout the most. Every day you go into the office or hit the phones, you’re in the short game. Beyond the day to day is the “long game”. The long game is less transactional and more strategic. There tends to be less urgency and lower stakes in the long game and brings important balance to the fast pace and emotional toll a salesperson faces in their short game.
You call, follow up, overcome objections, and close deals in the short game. You think, rest, take time for yourself, cultivate new relationships, build trust, add value and become a thought leader while playing the long game. Both are vitally important to your long term success in sales. A good long game builds immunity against burnout. With a good long game in place, you still might feel fatigued or face a little burnout, but you’ll recover much faster. Your short game produces results, your long game leverages and expands those results.
Eli Howayeck (MBA, Kellogg School of Management), Founder and CEO of Crafted Career Concepts, is passionate about helping motivated people achieve their career, educational, or personal goals and helping businesses, large and small, overcome a variety of challenges facing their business.