The high of closing a deal on the first call. The thrill of getting a “ready to sign” email from a client. The panic of quarterly pipeline reviews. The low of missing your quota. Sales is one of the most rewarding yet stressful environments to operate in.
But here’s the thing: stress in sales (or life) is not optional. What’s optional is how you deal with that stress. Here’s what you should know about managing stress and mental health in sales.
#1 Know you’re not alone
Research by the Sales Health Alliance and UNCrushed shows that almost 3 in 5 salespeople (58%) struggle with their mental health. That’s 3 out of 5 people on your team! This number is up from 2 in every 5 people in 2019. That’s hardly two years ago.
Further, our research shows that frontline sales managers and individual contributors like account executives struggle the most with their mental health.
For an industry that prides itself on high performance, our data shows that nearly 60% of salespeople underperform due to challenges with mental health.
But you can make a change for yourself and your team today. Leaving the stigma behind is one of those key things to do.
Make it easy to say “I’ve signed up for therapy” or “I’m taking a mental health day off today.” Normalise having normal emotions by making mental wellness programs a part of the mandatory sales training.
#2 Create psychological safety in sales
A lack of psychological safety really hinders the ability of a person to say “I’m really struggling with this” and “I need help”.
When you shut down that first instinct that people have to ask for help, you automatically start putting that person in a position where they feel like they need to fight or flight and those stress hormones are running through their body. And this really affects their psychological safety.
The way in which sales is structured, including some management “best practices”, really impacts and takes away from psychological safety. For instance, there's this really weird misconception that the best way to motivate salespeople is for them to compete against each other. And it's totally misplaced.
Think about a basketball team like the LA Lakers. What if the coach says that Lebron James, Anthony Davis and Caldwell Pope have to score 25 points each or else get fired? If someone's behind their quota or target, they're not going to make the right pass and put the team ahead of themselves. They’re going to think of themselves and their survival.
In sales, this individualistic mindset of pitting people on the same team against each other is just fueling toxicity and lack of safety.
As sales leaders, we need to make sure that our people feel safe. They have job security… they feel comfortable asking for help. I think the way sales is fundamentally structured is not rooted in science. We need to address this gap as an industry, together.
#3 Find more meaning in your work
But first, why do we even have to find more meaning in our work? Can’t we just want to hit the phone, punch in the numbers, and come back home?
The truth is we face daily stressors at work much better when we're emotionally connected to our work. It allows us to become more engaged and become more resilient and reconnect with the deeper purpose rather than simply serving ourselves.
So, if you want to build more meaning and develop a more meaningful sales career on an ongoing basis, it’s really important to start disconnecting from the outcomes within sales, which is heavily focused on that extrinsic motivation. Instead, start fueling ways to become more intrinsically motivated.
And one of the best ways you can do that is to start revisiting your purpose and your personal why each day. Ask yourself why you are showing up in sales on an ongoing basis?
And the key thing here is that your purpose has to have three components, based off work by Dr. Michael Gervase, a high-performance psychologist who works with the top CEOs and athletes in high-stress situations.
Three key components of a strong purpose
- Your purpose needs to be future-oriented. You need to have a vision of who you're trying to become.
- It has to be meaningful and important to you on an ongoing basis.
- It needs to be bigger than yourself.
I know a lot of sales people, especially early on in my career, who were in it only for the money. They were working to serve themselves and as a result had a very weak purpose. A weak purpose is not going to protect you from those stressors that we face on an ongoing basis.
A better way to do that is to really start to adopt more of an altruistic mind set or servant mindset where you’re showing up each and every day to try and help and better the lives of the people around you. Trying to genuinely make an impact on improving their lives is a much deeper way to connect with your purpose.
#4 Develop empathy for your buyers
There's a lot of fake empathy going around in sales. A lot of sales leaders are preaching on LinkedIn or to their teams that you have to be empathetic. But no one has really done a great job of saying what empathy actually is.
Empathy really has two components
The ability to think about someone that you're speaking to, say a customer or buyer, and being able to think about the potential challenges that they're facing in their job. Salespeople are usually really good at this sort of thing. They can understand those challenges and uncover those pain points but it's manipulative. So, you could stay at the same level of empathy OR you could move to the next level, which a lot of people miss.
This concept was outlined by Scott Barry Kaufman in his book “Transcend”. Affective empathy is when you actually connect with the emotions and feel those emotions that the other person (your buyer) is going through. Unlocking this level of empathy will help you connect deeper with your buyer and serve them.
#5 You can improve IF you put in the work
It’s really exciting to see that humans are essentially one of the only mammals on the planet who can, pretty much up until we die, control the changing structures of our brain. We are capable of learning new skills and developing parts of the brain that are impacting us on an ongoing basis.
As salespeople, you can develop new skills to become more empathetic, authentic, trusting, and more emotionally secure because of the neuroplasticity in the human brain. This growth happens through learning, practice, and discipline but that's the tough part.
A lot of us within sales and society in general are conditioned to think that we can take a magic pill and become better.
What’s missing is the discipline and practice to really commit to the process. But once you commit to the process and practice it, the returns on resilience, sales performance, and mental health are incredible.
#6 Invest in a mental health program
Intense anger… fear… anxiety... loneliness… sometimes jealousy. When you start working in sales, you're thrown into this environment where you're facing extremely difficult emotions every single day and you probably have no training, ability or skill set to be able to navigate them.
One of the best things that sales teams and sales organizations can do is stop assuming that the people you're hiring, especially fresh graduates, know how to manage their stress levels and emotions because they don't.
If you're hiring people and putting them into these high-stress environments where they're totally unprepared from a mental health standpoint to navigate this stress, you really have to be starting that conversation and providing that training from day one.
What I always recommend is that mental health training should be part of every single sales onboarding process. Just like you set up programs for product training or help people negotiate or influence people.
Ultimately, it pays to remember that mental health in the sales department isn’t just a “nice thing to have.”
Our data showed a strong positive correlation between sales performance and mental health. As mental health improved, so did sales performance. So invest wisely.
To learn more about the link between mental health and peak sales performance, listen to me On The Flip Side podcast here.