I’m either exactly the right person or completely the wrong person, to write an article about stress reduction for salespeople. Given my experiences over the past 20 years in the B2B sales industry, I’ll let you be the judge!
While a recent post focused on creative ways to de-stress and re-energize, this article takes a targeted approach to identifying and tackling five stressors in sales.
What I can say without fear of contradiction, is that being a sales professional can be one of the most stress-inducing, gut-wrenching, and soul-destroying career paths that anyone can pursue.
It can also be a lucrative, rewarding and diverse career path, but that’s a topic for another day!
Many of you reading this post will have a wide variety of stressors hitting you square between the eyes every day. It’s probably hard to roll out of bed in the morning and even harder to get a good night’s sleep.
This article is for YOU and more than anything, I hope one or two of the strategies I share, will help alleviate your stress levels or release the pressure valve just a little bit. So let’s dive in.
Sales Doesn’t Have to Be Terrifying: 5 Strategies to Kill Stress
1) Stressor: Sales targets, quotas, KPIs
Ah, sales quotas, don’t we just love them! Sometimes annual, often quarterly, monthly or even weekly.
Sometimes based on logic, fact, and market opportunity. More often based on fantasy, flawed logic, and pulled from the nether regions of a senior leader somewhere. Sales targets can come to define your success or failure as a sales professional, but what can you really do to reduce the stress of these all-important numbers?
Strategy: Get a seat at the table
Ideally, you need is a seat at the table when your sales target is being decided or at a minimum, some input into the process. Like so many things in sales, the more discovery, research, and evidence you can present in this discussion, the better in terms of influencing the final sales quota you receive.
Think outside the box when compiling this information. Look at analyst trend reports, prior year sales figures for your own business and your competition if available. Speak to current customers and prospects to gauge their sentiment for the year ahead. Read their annual reports, understand the industry trends. Don’t just leave your success to chance!
Always remember a sales quota doesn’t exist in isolation. The size of your target market, the mix of customers, prospects and white space, the industry vertical or product you’re selling, will all have an impact on your success. Make sure to factor these into your influence requests.
2) Stressor: Lack of control or autonomy
There are so many things outside our control as sales professionals. It can sometimes seem overwhelming. Examples of uncontrollable factors include the sales territory you’re assigned to, how much access you get to internal resources or the flow of new leads. A personal favorite of mine—why you actually won or lost a deal in the first place.
This last one, why we win or lose the key deals we pitch for, used to keep me up at night pacing the hallway. I’d agonize over buying decisions and replay each step of the sales cycle in my head. Eventually, I decided I’d had enough, so in 2011, I quit my lucrative B2B sales job and set up my own company.
Strategy: The truth will set you free
If you’ve done a good job through the sales cycle, you’ve earned the right to a proper debrief with your customer at the end of the process and some clarity on what actually happened. As it turned out, I was right, customers were happy to share their feedback (with a few important caveats) and what they had to say was often fascinating, sometimes shocking, but never dull.
Here’s a quick example of the sort of insights you can extract if you’re open to some first-hand, unfiltered customer feedback. First let’s explore some of the key reasons we lose big deals, through the eyes of our customers:
If you’ve been in the sales world for a while, nothing in that image will shock you. It may give you a few worthwhile reminders on what not to do though.
Now let’s take a look at why we win the big deals we pitch for, again from the perspective of our customers.
3) Stressor: Lack of job security
“You’re only as a good as your last quarter” is a sales truism that’s been doing the rounds for as long as I can remember.
This comment reflects the fact that no matter how successful a salesperson you are, job security in sales has always been measured in months and quarters. Not years or decades, as it is in most other professions.
Strategy: Invest in the brand called “You”
When I was in my early twenties, my dad taught me an extremely important lesson. It took me many years to fully understand it.
He explained that first and foremost, I should be loyal to myself and my career path before I was loyal to a brand, company or manager. He went on to explain that we’re all resources in the businesses in which we work. We’re valuable and dispensable in equal measure.
I gradually learned to understand the wisdom my dad imparted all those years ago and just how right he was.
It would be easy to succumb to the stress of building a sustainable career and providing for your family in the rapidly evolving B2B sales industry. But take it from me, all is not lost.
In my countless hours of customer discussions and interviews whilst researching my book Rebirth of the Salesman, I learned some interesting lessons about what customers value in the salespeople they engage with. These lessons have profoundly influenced the skills I now see as most important to achieving consistent sales success.
4) Stressor: The rapid pace of change in the industry
Like so many other industries, the world of B2B sales has shifted on its axis in recent years. This change has been sudden, as it was profound and it’s left many businesses and sales professionals stranded in no man’s land. The balance of power has shifted from sellers to buyers.
In a very short space of time we’ve moved from:
- buyer-beware (Caveat Emptor) to seller-beware (Caveat Venditor).
- Tangible products to Everything-as-a-Service.
- Complex and cumbersome to simple and agile.
- Product-led to outcome-led.
- Money now/value later to value now/money later.
Strategy: Become a disruptor. Don’t get disrupted
The old sales skills and behaviors which have served us well for many years are rapidly becoming obsolete as customer self-service, artificial intelligence, and as-a-service offerings increasingly become the norm. Instead of worrying about your imminent demise, focus on exchanging old behaviors for the new shinier must-have sales skills.
Here are a few places to start:
- Stop avoiding social media: Learn how to communicate, educate, and engage with your audience on social. Don’t allow it to replace emails, phone calls or face-to-face interactions.
- Curate and share relevant content: Become known for something, otherwise, you’ll be known for nothing.
- Offer value for free: Give away subsets of your value for free, in the hope that prospective customers will value it and in turn reciprocate with their interest and attention.
- Invest in your brand: Your personal/professional brand is your responsibility. Treat it accordingly.
5) Stressor: The need to compromise your ethics or ideals to succeed in sales
In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink conducts a fascinating exercise with members of the public. He asks them to think of the first word which comes into their minds when he says the term “sales” or “salesperson”.
He then took the responses he received and turned them into the word cloud you see below. The bigger the word, the more times this response was given by the group of survey respondents.
You have to look pretty hard at this word cloud to find any positive terms. Yet, as we all know, without sales every business would shut down. No bills would get paid and the whole economic system would quickly grind to a halt.
Strategy: Lead with people and purpose, not product and price
The writer C.S. Lewis famously said that “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” In the sales industry, the one thing which stays with you throughout your career is your reputation. The best strategy I’ve encountered to maintain your integrity is to be very clear on your values.
This way, when a:
- Manager asks you to push a customer to sign when they’re obviously not ready, you’ll have the courage of your conviction to say no.
- Senior leader in the business decides not to pay you on a deal, because they feel it closed too easily, you’ll have the strength of character to call them out.
- Customer asks you to buy them a gift in exchange for making a buying decision in your favor, you’ll hear the alarm bells and know exactly what to do.
Honorable Mentions of Other (Funny) Stress-Inducing Situation
That feeling that almost all of us experience at some point in our career, when we know without a shadow of a doubt, that we’re out of our depths!
Top tip: Everyone feels that way at least some of the time, don’t let it define you or hold you back.
Compliance, admin, internal politics
When you first move into sales, you think that selling some stuff is where most of the stress is. How innocent and naive!
Hardened sales pros know the real stress is the internal selling and horse-trading required inside the four walls of your own business.
Top tip: Build strong internal relationships. Over-communicate to key stakeholders. Forecast as accurately as you possibly can. Steer clear of office politics in favor of time with your customers.
The lure of the lifestyle
An old sales leader I knew, told me his favorite type of salesperson was married, divorced and re-married, keeping two households afloat and needing to make a very significant sum of money each year, just to keep their head above water.
That way he knew exactly how committed they were and that he’d always get his pound of flesh.
Top tip: Shocking as this may sound, a large number of salespeople get hooked on the drug of big paydays and commissions. Thus, allowing their lifestyles to keep pace or even surpass their earning potential. It may sound boring, but creating a buffer, not assuming that every month, quarter or year will be equally lucrative, is a great way to reduce stress and avoid ending up in a compromising financial position.
Also published on Medium.