Anyone who has worked in sales knows that it can be rewarding, but very challenging at times. It’s full of ups and downs, similar to a roller coaster—especially in smaller organizations or startups where everyone is wearing a lot of hats and every opportunity matters. In this article, we’ll discuss how sales leaders and CEOs can prevent, recognize, and manage burnout to foster a high-performing sales team.
Did you know?
57% of participants in a study by Thrive Global indicated they felt their workload is larger than their bandwidth to complete it.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout in sales happens when team members feel emotionally, mentally, or even physically stressed—stress can even have psychosomatic symptoms such as feeling ill or not sleeping well. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified burnout as a condition in the International Classification of diseases and is described as chronic stress in the workplace that isn’t managed successfully.
It’s particularly dangerous in sales because even the best reps experience burnout. Leaders of sales management groups need to be able to recognize it to help prevent turnover in their teams and keep everyone motivated.
Common Reasons for Sales Burnout
There is no shortage of reasons for burnout for salespeople, especially in smaller teams where it often seems like there is more to do than there is time to get things done. Some of the most common causes of burnout include:
- Lack of time: Particularly for new sales teams, there aren’t systems in place to streamline the sales process.
- Not using tools and resources: When you try to do everything manually, sales become cumbersome and people end up working 12 or more hour days, which causes burnout and destroys work/life balance.
- Team members wearing too many hats: The most efficient sales teams have specified roles, such as sales development reps, account executives, and account managers. If you try to do it all at once, you’re likely to burn out relatively quickly.
- Stress: Let’s face it: There’s some degree of healthy stress in any career. However, the stress sales teams face when they are scrambling to generate revenue can be overwhelming.
- Lack of coaching or mentorship: In small teams, CEOs often hire talented people and expect them to get right to work with little guidance. If your team members don’t feel supported and don’t receive ongoing training and coaching, they are likely to burn out.
For example, on my first day as the first sales hire at a new startup, I was tasked with researching customer relationship management software, setting one up, finding sales development reps to hire, and trying to set up some sales meetings with my current contacts. Sure, the fast pace was exciting, but before I knew it, I was working at least 10 to 13 hours a day, resulting in high stress levels and an unhealthy work life balance—gateway signs of burnout.
How to Recognize Sales Burnout
It’s not hard to recognize burnout in your team members, as long as you are paying attention. Some of the most common signs of burnout include:
- Team members coming in late: You might notice someone who used to show up at the office at 8:00 a.m. is suddenly consistently late and coming in at 9:30 a.m., or maybe taking a lot of time off.
- Low performance: If you notice a top high-performing rep is suddenly only closing half of the amount of deals or revenue than they used to, they are probably starting to experience burnout.
- Lack of engagement with the rest of the team: Whether you have an in-person team in an office or a remote organization, team members who are suddenly quieter and aren’t engaging with their colleagues in person or on your messaging platform (such as Slack) may be starting to deal with burnout.
- No clearly defined measures of success: When a rep doesn’t know if they are performing well or not because they don’t have clear expectations, that’s a sure recipe for frustration and eventual burnout.
- Negative attitude: Team members experiencing burnout are more likely to voice negative opinions in team meetings and with prospects and customers—which can be damaging to your bottom line and your sales culture.
While it is important to watch for signs of burnout in your teams, managers can be just as much at risk as the teams they lead. Therefore, it is a good idea to schedule time for self-reflection and evaluate your own performance as often as you evaluate the performance of others.
If you are new to sales management, would like to learn more about how to identify top performers during the initial hiring process, or get the most out of your existing team, download our comprehensive e-book on the subject.
What to Do About Sales Burnout
Sales burnout is common, but if you catch the signs quickly enough, sales leaders can intervene to help their team members turn things around. Below are some the strategies you can employ to manage burnout.
Define Key Measures of Success & Expectations
Since one of the main reasons salespeople experience burnout is a lack of expectations, make them clear in your new hire onboarding process. Goals should be SMART, meaning they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. That way, everyone knows what is expected of them and by when.
For more on this topic, check out our comprehensive article on how to create meaningful, engaging sales plans.
Create Intentional Boundaries
Many small businesses claim to offer work/life balance and unlimited time off, but in small teams, this doesn’t always come to fruition. For example, when I worked at a startup, we had all the perks many startups boast about, like free Amazon books, unlimited paid time off (PTO), and even a vacation stipend. However, in reality, it was nearly impossible to take advantage of many of those perks because I was so busy trying to close as many deals as possible while wearing a lot of hats.
It’s easy to get into a “whatever it takes to get it done” mentality with small teams, but a surefire way to encourage burnout and turnover is to not have boundaries around time spent on work. There are always going to be times when everyone has to pitch in some extra hours, but if you expect your sales team to work 10 to 15 hours a day consistently, it’s almost guaranteed they will burn out.
Did you know?
According to one study, 60% of participants said they felt they would be looked upon negatively if they took time off to manage the stress of burnout.
Invest in Professional Development Opportunities
One of the reasons salespeople get burned out is because they are so busy trying to close deals and generate revenue that they never grow professionally and learn new skills. Invest in sending your team members to conferences, have internal professional development days, create a mentorship program, and provide ample ways for your team to collaborate and discuss challenges and opportunities.
You don’t have to have a huge budget for ongoing training. For example, HubSpot Academy offers a wide range of free courses and certifications for sales teams. They have quick online programs and comprehensive certifications that help your team grow and keep them motivated.
Be an Effective Leader
The best sales leaders lead by example. That means defining a clear mission and vision that you live out daily. Excellent sales managers realize their salespeople are humans who need to be nurtured (just like new leads and prospects do), so they don’t live by the “whatever it takes” mentality—they focus on providing support and resources that foster engagement and growth.
When offering rewards or gifts to team members to motivate and recognize them, you don’t need to do all the shopping yourself. Use a resource such as AnyPromo, which makes it easy to order swag needed to thank your staff for pitching in, day in and day out.
Looking for more ways to motivate your sales team? Read our article about 13 ways to motivate your team and help them thrive.
Take Advantage of Resources Designed to Streamline Processes
Many new sales teams aren’t aware of all the tools and software at their disposal to help automate processes and make their lives easier. Here are just a few of the tools you can start using to streamline your sales process and make everyone’s life easier.
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software: For example, Pipedrive helps sales teams keep track of every opportunity in an easy-to-use visual pipeline so nothing falls through the cracks, offers email templates so you don’t have to write every message from scratch, and is an excellent mobile app for reps on the go.
- Workflow automation tools: Workflow automation software helps reduce manual processes. For example, Zapier helps streamline your workflow by offering the ability to trigger actions between the varying software tools your team uses that don’t have a direct integration.
- Task management and collaboration tools: Whether you have a small or growing team, you need tools that help you collaborate so everyone stays on the same page and work isn’t duplicated. For example, Asana is a great task and collaboration tool that helps team members communicate and keep track of group and individual tasks.
Sales burnout is a serious issue that takes place in every sales organization. The key to managing it is being able to recognize when it’s happening and take action to foster a positive sales culture. Smart businesses set clear expectations and boundaries and nurture team members so they are able to perform their best, achieve individual and team goals, and prevent turnover.