5 Ways to Overcome Burnout in Sales Teams

If you’ve worked in sales for more than a day you’ve no doubt heard the line, “coffee is for closers.” People usually say it in jest to mimic a far-too-tough sales manager. Or, it could be used as a rally cry (again, hopefully in some sort of joking manner). Though you may know the line, you may not know that it’s from a very famous play, turned movie, by David Mamet called Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s, you guessed it, about salespeople.  

Throughout the story, the characters curse an obscene amount and agents are encouraged to lie, cheat, and steal (literally). Basically, do anything to make a sale. The whole play is, more or less, an exaggeration of sales culture. Though it is an exaggeration, it is rooted in truth. Commissions, bonuses, awards, they’re all based on sales. So, it’s a naturally competitive environment

It makes sense. The job of a salesperson, after all, is to sell. However, there is a price to be paid for ever-higher numbers and sales goals. Salespeople are the first to pay in the form of burnout. 

Burnout is the emotional and physical condition that happens when an employee becomes cynical or disengaged from being consistently overworked. 

Burnout can result in a number of unwanted things like decreased production from employees, higher turnover, and lower morale. So, if your goal is to get more out of your team, pushing them to their limits may not be the best approach. Burnout has a huge impact on your company’s bottom line: a survey of 342 SaaS companies done by DePaul University found that there was a 28% turnover in sales teams and the average cost to replace a sales rep was $114,957. 

In this article, we’re going to cover four ways you can help prevent, and overcome, burnout in your sales team. 

1) Celebrate wins as a team

The longer you’ve been in sales the more you know that not every month is going to be a home run. It could be because of a lack of quality leads or product changes. Or, you could simply hit a cold streak and lose a bit of your confidence. When these months happen it can be tough. As a salesperson, you’re usually only as good as your last at-bat (sorry for all the sports references). 

With that in mind, it’s important that when your team members do have a good month that you’re ready and willing to celebrate. Not only does celebration have the short-term benefit of releasing dopamine, but it also has a long-term benefit of increasing confidence. According to one study, 75% of those surveyed said that getting a compliment increased their confidence in their work. That increased confidence may not only help reduce burnout but could also help improve their work performance, too.

Another way you can approach this is by making a number of smaller milestones to lead up to bigger ones. Perhaps you could have a board of who did the most calls that day or brought in the most leads. Since those are, in theory, easier to achieve than a sale, it can make the task seem less daunting. The more manageable you can make a task, the more stress you can take out of it. 

2) Make sure your team have enough time to de-stress

Stealing away and disconnecting when you’re a salesperson is difficult. There are quotas to meet, and each day you’re on vacation is a day that you’re not selling. Time-off can start to feel like a liability. Though sales is a numbers game to some degree, if you’re starting to become disengaged, or your work performance is slowing due to stress, then being at work may not be doing you much good. 

Studies have shown that taking time off can actually help boost productivity. When we’re well-rested and in a good place mentally, we do our best work. It makes sense. Every other aspect of life requires breaks so, work should be no different. There are even some companies that require employees to take time off

Though that may not be practical for everyone, it should be common practice to be supportive of any breaks team members may need throughout the year. It also would be helpful for you to practice what you preach. If your team notices you never take time off, it could feel like a silent signal that they shouldn’t either. 

As long as you’re sure to stagger time-off there shouldn’t be any issues with keeping up with your workload as a team. Remember, a healthy team will perform much better than an unhealthy one. So, any small hit you take having someone out will be worth it in the long-run. 

3) Keep your sales team members connected

The life of a salesperson can be a lonely one. There are often team goals, but your individual goals are the ones that impact you more. Regional salespeople might work remotely, or spend a lot of time on the road. The set-up makes it natural to have a bit of a lone-wolf mentality. Though you do need to focus on individual goals to be successful, working alone does take its toll eventually. 

We’re not meant to be isolated. There are plenty of studies that show how we excel when we interact and work with others. In fact, Google found that when employees were encouraged to collaborate more, profitability increased. For salespeople, those opportunities may not be as common, but you can find them if you look. It may mean simply offering some advice, or seeking counsel from a team member or boss. Do your best to create opportunities for team members to connect. 

You should also consider team activities outside of work. Having a social relationship with members of your team can help ease feelings of loneliness. Also, relationships can help create positive social pressure. Basically, when your team is connected on more than a superficial-level they’ll be more motivated to do a better job. 

4) Set aside time to check-in on your team

Sometimes what someone really needs is simply to talk and get some guidance and perspective. In performance-based roles, it can be tougher to seek out advice or admit that you’re struggling. You don’t want anyone to think less of you or think you’re doing a bad job, so it’s understandably uncomfortable. 

Though they may be uncomfortable, those types of conversations need to happen. Making sure you have a set-aside time to chat with your team can help. Regular one-on-ones give team members time and space to talk about any struggles they’re having. You can even build it into the agenda. Also, when you keep those meetings consistent it could help reduce any anxiety around it. Basically, you’re normalizing the interaction, so it takes out the stress. 

When a team member does come to you, offer concrete advice. Generalities and inspirational quotes may feel good in the moment, but aren’t effective to make a real change. Also, schedule follow-up conversations in advance. That way you can have normal check-ins to see progress and also make sure they’re staying on the right path. 

5) Stay vigilant in recognizing burnout symptoms with individuals in your team

Even if you’re cautious, burnout can happen. Long hours are sometimes unavoidable. Stress and life’s problems don’t wait until it’s most convenient. You need to stay vigilant about recognizing burnout early, or before it happens at all. 

Though there isn’t any one way to approach coping with burnout there are some basic first steps you can take. Celebrate the wins in your team. It’ll let them know they have value and aren’t only as good as their last at-bat. Make sure you’re promoting balance. There’s more to life than work, and time-off should be encouraged, not looked down on. 

Though sales can seem like an individual endeavor, you’re part of a team. Encourage time together as a team. When everyone is responsible for one another, they’ll do better work. Last, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone struggling. It’s natural to have ups-and-downs. Let anyone struggling know you’re on their side. After that, make a plan to get back to success and follow-up to make sure they stay the course. 

There’s no exact science to what causes burnout, just like there isn’t an exact way to prevent it. As long as you’re being considerate and open with your team you’ll be on the right path. Take care of the individuals and you’ll create success for the whole.

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Sarah Chambers

Sarah is the Editor-in-chief at Chatra. She's a customer support and success leader who's passionate about improving customer service in B2B organizations.