Sales burnout hurts.
Your best person – or even whole team – was killing it for some time.
High-fives abound. Quotas surpassed. Morale high.
Then a silent, slow crash.
Nothing to cheer. Goals missed. Morale low.
Someone – or everyone – is burned out.
“There seems to be a heavy correlation between sales stress and burnout in general. As a sales rep, the pressure and sales stress you feel is almost non-stop,” says Tiffani Bova, Global Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. “In our UNCrushed survey, we found 74% of respondents agree/strongly agree that they feel they are on call 24/7 and have to respond to customers immediately or it will impact their relationship. In some ways, this is self-inflicted.”
Self-inflicted or not, sales stress leaves people burned out.
How to spot sales burnout
Sales professionals are more susceptible to burnout than other workers because the profession is wrought with rejection. It’s tough getting told “No!” – or worse – day in, day out.
Sometimes sales professionals will tell you outright they’re burned out (or less specifically, “tired of it,” “sick of it,” “can’t stand this anymore,” “overwhelmed by it all,” etc.)
More likely, they won’t say anything. Sales managers want to keep an eye out for early signs of burnout. Here are 14. Sales pros:
- Easily get grumpy with customers
- Struggle to motivate themselves
- Lose their attention to detail
- Become cynical, negative and unwilling to change
- Experience an increasing number of losses
- Can’t find sources for new leads
- Take off work more than ever
- Are chronically fatigued and struggle to remember
- Become angry with colleagues and bosses
- Become less creative
- Lose interest in challenging themselves
- Quit pursuing professional development
- Feel agitated with work tasks, and/or
- Don’t have fun selling
Causes of sales burnout
You’d think burnout is simply a result of being overworked and under-appreciated. But it runs deeper.
Six leading causes:
They weather a storm alone
When salespeople get a few successes under their wings, managers start to take steps back. It’s understandable: Salespeople have proven themselves and leaders don’t want to micromanage.
The problems arise when the steps get bigger or stride gets faster, and salespeople don’t have enough coaching or mentoring to weather the inevitable sales storm. Without continuous feedback, a sounding board and mentoring in good times and bad, sales pros will struggle.
They lack clarity
Sales may be an erratic art, but with no scientific structure it will wear away at people. If sales pros don’t have a clear playbook that helps them navigate the selling process, they often get off track or lose sight of the goal.
Without clarity and direction, they waste time and energy chasing the wrong objectives.
Sales professionals often schedule too many meetings, stay late, start early and check on things 24/7. The long hours and passion (or is it compulsion?) to respond immediately are often associated with burnout.
The problem with being overwhelmed is often more related to agreeing to take on too much and a reluctance to disconnect from work than it is about actually having too much to do.
They lose pace
Salespeople can also become overwhelmed by technology – too much or too little of it. Without useful sales tools – and sufficient training to use it – sales pros won’t be as productive or effective as they’d like to be.
On the other hand, if you bog them down with too many tools and requirements to manage them, they’ll be slaves to the system (and unable to do what they love to do: sell).
They don’t get the right amount or frequency of feedback
Salespeople need to know where they stand more than the average employee. They tend to measure themselves more critically and frequently.
So if they don’t get regular feedback from the boss and see almost daily performance indicators, they often become dissatisfied with the job.
They aren’t developing
Salespeople pros are typically hard-working, goal- and success-oriented employees. But they won’t thrive on the work alone.
Most crave professional development and if they don’t get it – through training, stretch goals, increased responsibility, etc. – they will get bored and burned out.
7 ways to recover
With so many causes and symptoms of sales burnout, you’ll likely want to try different and/or several approaches to help people recover from it.
These seven strategies are proven to be effective.
Regularly practice the 3 Rs
Encourage your sales pros to regularly practice the 3 Rs – Recognize, Reverse, Redo – to curb stress. Keys:
- Recognize. Watch for the signs (mentioned above) of burnout – short temper with customers and colleagues, loss of motivation, lack of interest, as examples.
- Reverse. Encourage sales pros to talk to you or trusted colleagues when they recognize they’re near a breaking point. Explore viable solutions, such as a shift in work expectations, duties and goals or time off.
- Redo. Reevaluate goals, priorities and expectations to make sure they’re spending the right amount of time on the things that matter.
Give them opportunities to learn something
Because salespeople are often focused on obtaining the right numbers, and not on development, you may have to do more than just encourage them to learn something new. You might have to push them out the door.
But it’s important. Ideally, development will be something that improves their selling abilities. But any kind of mental growth or skill development can help people break out of the rut. Invite them to industry conferences. Share helpful podcasts and online courses. Give them details on classes or groups for their hobbies or interests.
Give them time to disconnect
Like Bova said, salespeople sometimes don’t allow themselves to disconnect from customers, selling and servicing. Because mobile devices make salespeople always accessible, they remain accessible – at the detriment to personal, family and fun time.
So set the example: Don’t contact them outside of what your organization considers regular work hours. Don’t expect them to respond to you or customers in their personal time. Create a system or network that can handle the after-hour needs so they don’t feel compelled to stay connected all the time.
Schedule with practicality
The schedule we keep can determine our stress level: a chaotic schedule will most certainly cause more stress.
Share these two keys to better scheduling:
- Make a plan. Setting a schedule and sticking to it will make sales pros more productive and help them avoid getting overwhelmed and frustrated. Be realistic about the time it takes to do daily tasks. Schedule the must-dos based on top priorities, plus time for breaks and dealing with distractions and emergencies. Finally, commit to the schedule by keeping it handy (on an app or in a day planner), setting reminders and adhering to them.
- Save the focus for projects and tasks that hard and quickest to drain energy. Schedule the taxing work – it might be prospecting, presentation preparation or servicing – for a time of day you’re typically most alert and focused.
Check the pace
When salespeople admit they’re overwhelmed and tired of the work, it’s time to check the pace.
Help them pinpoint where they waste time and how they can get better at prioritizing. Some best bets:
- Get rid of excess baggage projects
- Avoid joining anything new or taking leadership roles in current organizations
- Pick one or two top priorities every week and focus mostly on doing the things that will help achieve them, and
- Drop the things that don’t contribute to any of the top priorities.
Some salespeople put expectations on steroids: The boss expects them to meet goals by the 30th of the month, but they quietly aim for the 20th. Or their quarterly goal is $100,000 in new sales and they have a quarter million on their mind.
Bosses might joke about overachievers. Colleagues might tease “brown nosers.” But focusing on excessive goals can unnecessarily stress sales pros.
Regularly check in with salespeople to make sure their personal goals are in line with what you expect and what’s realistic. If they can achieve higher goals without becoming overwhelmed, by all means, adjust and compensate accordingly.
Brighten the outside life
Sometimes the cure to work challenges is change to life outside work. Encourage sales pros to take the time to:
- Get involved with positive projects, people and activities. Join service groups to help others. Join hobby groups to spend more time doing things that set your mind free from work stresses. Enjoy time with friends and family who are positive.
- Get more outside time. Schedule walking meetings or appointments with clients in outdoor spaces. Spend more time outdoors and less time binge watching on the weekends.
3 strategies to prevent burnout
The better case scenario is avoiding sales burnout altogether. These strategies can help curb or avoid burnout:
Make mentoring a priority
Sales leaders spend just 20% of their time helping their teams, a CSO Insights survey found. We’ve already established sales pros need feedback and guidance to thrive.
If you can’t make the time to mentor more – and we get it, sales management is a stressful, demanding job – create a mentoring program for veteran salespeople to work with newer salespeople. They should gain from each other’s insight and encouragement.
Invest in the right tools
Salespeople need access to the most current information relevant to the selling situation they’re in at a moment’s notice. Yet, just 35% of sales pros say they have quick, mobile access to the right information, the CSO Insights study found.
You don’t have to run out and purchase a CRM system with the newest bells and whistles. You do want to maximize the system you have. Arrange quarterly training for salespeople with a vendor trainer who can help them get the most bang for your buck. Equally important: Update the buyer and seller tools at least monthly so the conversations are always relevant.
Pay attention to whole health
We always make these kinds of suggestions with the understanding that it’s difficult for managers to change employees’ personal habits, especially those that take place outside of work. And we also recognize that physical and mental health are not every salesperson’s priorities.
But we can’t ignore that these physical and mental practices are part of avoiding burnout. So …
- Mediate or practice another relaxation ritual in the morning/and or evening
- Eat more healthy fruits, vegetables and proteins, and less fast, convenient junk food
- Get six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a minimum of four days a week.