A career in sales can be very fulfilling, but it’s certainly not for everyone. With demanding targets, long hours, and many more pressures to contend with, sales professionals tend to experience something called sales burnout.
Though a lot of salespeople thrive under pressure, anyone can experience burnout at work. It’s important to understand and curb burnout as much as possible to hold onto the best people on your team and help them reach their potential.
In today’s post, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into what burnout is, how it arises in a sales context, and the steps you can take to prevent it.
What Is Sales Burnout?
Burnout is a particular form of work-related stress found in all professions, but it can be particularly common in certain types of high-pressure jobs. It’s a state of mental and physical exhaustion that usually involves a reduced sense of accomplishment or a feeling of alienation from a person’s work.
Burnout can be affected by a variety of factors in someone’s professional and personal life. However, when talking about “burnout”, people are usually referring to symptoms brought on by periods of prolonged workplace stress.
While someone experiencing normal flashes of stress will often react by behaving in a more reactive and energized manner, burnout is characterized by lethargy, disengagement with work, and a loss of motivation.
How to Spot Sales Team Burnout
In the high-pressure world of sales, it can be easy for burnout to affect a team for a long time before someone notices it. The first step in preventing burnout in your team is becoming more familiar with the signs of burnout and staying vigilant in your work as a manager.
Some of the common signs of sales team burnout to look out for include:
1. Your Team’s Results Are Declining
Sales is a heavily measurable department, and the reams of data you have access to can be a great indicator of how your team members feel at work. If you’re noticing that reps who usually knock their targets out of the park are just scraping by or are falling short of their targets, this could be a sign that they’re experiencing burnout.
To address this effectively, managers should look for an immediate cause that could be affecting a rep’s performance. Perhaps there’s been a drop in usual activity, with the rep sending out fewer emails, scheduling fewer calls, and making fewer connections on LinkedIn. If these preliminary activities all look normal, then your rep could be having some trouble with moving leads into the next stage of your pipeline.
When you have a clear idea of what’s at the root of the performance drop, you’ll be able to speak to your rep directly and get a clearer idea of how they’re feeling at work and the steps you can take to solve any issues.
2. Your Team is Less Engaged With Personal Development
To thrive in their fast-paced environment, many salespeople have a tendency to stay laser-focused on moving leads and closing deals.
Though personal development may not be as front-of-mind as their commission structure, it’s important that your sales team is able to train for new tech, develop new sales techniques, and stay in line with the changing standards of your industry.
If your salespeople are showing a lack of engagement with their personal development, then this could be another symptom of burnout that’s especially common among salespeople.
Personal development should be a major motivator that helps put workplace stressors in perspective. If your sales team’s personal development prospects aren’t doing this, then it’s essential to find out why by talking to your reps and getting their perspective.
When you find out what’s hurting engagement with your team’s personal development, you’ll be a step closer to making a plan of action to address it.
3. They Lack Motivation
People usually get into sales on the strength of their drive to succeed. If your team is starting to feel a little low on this kind of drive, then you could be dealing with sales burnout.
How you address a lack of motivation in your sales team will depend on how widespread the issue is.
If you’re noticing that just one rep seems to be lacking in energy or their breaks are getting a little longer than usual, there may be something that has nothing to do with the job sapping their motivation. In these situations, you may need to address the issue by encouraging an individual to take some time off or helping them create a plan to get them back on track.
If the lack of motivation is affecting multiple people, then you’ll need to take a more general approach, like scheduling a meeting with your whole sales team to discuss their working conditions, the targets they’re expected to meet, and what you can do to make things better for them.
4. Their Attitude is Taking a Dive
Though it can be hard to spot when a sales team is always under a high level of pressure, a generally negative attitude that seems to be getting worse can be another common marker for sales burnout.
Working in sales comes with inevitable frustrations, and everyone will have to vent that pressure once in a while. However, when a rep’s attitude becomes consistently negative, this can be a sign of results being lost to excessive stress and the risk of this negative outlook spreading from one member of the team to the rest.
If there’s one particular person who stands out as a source of negativity, you can usually approach this in the same way as other signs of sales burnout: one-to-one open communication that allows them to talk through their grievances and how you might be able to fix them.
If the source of negativity is a little harder to identify, then investigating it through an anonymous survey could bring in some valuable insights. With the guarantee of anonymity, people are more willing to talk about how they feel about their working environment and the kinds of things they want to change.
The negativity you’re feeling in your team could be a lot more widespread than you first thought, and the feedback could reveal some surprisingly easy solutions.
What Causes the Burnout of a Sales Team?
Taking a reactive approach to the most glaring symptoms of sales burnout will let you squash the issue in the short term. However, in order to combat burnout in the long term, you need to be aware of the root causes and how these can be avoided through more effective management.
Here are some of the most common causes of burnout in a sales team to bear in mind.
1. High Workloads
The first and most obvious cause of burnout to be aware of is overly demanding workloads.
In any professional niche, people who perform well will be given more responsibility as a milestone in their career development path. Though your top performers may thrive when they’re given higher targets to hit or more complex duties to perform, it’s important to make sure that these people aren’t being left to pick up the slack from other members of the team.
In situations where one team member is shouldering significantly more work than others, this will not only create a situation that’s unsustainable in the long term but will also lead to resentment from those team members who are doing more than their fair share. To help find a solution that is right for your team, check out our list of the best workload management tools for teams.
Aside from these situations, it’s important to avoid overloading the whole team’s capacity as a manager. This can happen if your team isn’t provided with a good way to manage their time or set a reasonable capacity for work or if they’re working in a company culture where they feel like they can’t say “no” to unreasonable targets.
Whatever the specific cause, keeping an eye out for high workloads and ensuring they don’t become unsustainable is essential for preventing burnout in your sales team.
2. A Lack of Support
Another common cause of sales burnout is the team falling into a situation where they feel like they’re not getting enough support from their managers.
Like reps, sales managers are under a lot of pressure to deliver on targets and show a clear improvement in their department’s performance. Though this can make it hard to give their team the attention they need, letting sales reps become alienated from their line managers can have catastrophic results.
Many companies start out with policies around having regular one-to-ones and team huddles, which can tend to fall by the wayside as the pressures of growth start to mount up. Try to review the amount of time your team has available to talk to you about issues they might be experiencing, and form a plan to make management more accessible to all sales staff.
Aside from this, it’s also essential to foster a culture of trust and communication where your sales staff feel comfortable approaching management and discussing how they’re doing at work.
When there’s mutual trust between reps and management, staff will feel comfortable bringing up issues and helping you take control of them before they get out of hand. If they hold back because they’re not expecting your support, then these problems can fester and swell, forcing you to scramble to address them further down the line.
3. A Lack of Recognition
Being recognized for your efforts can make all the difference to how easy or hard it is to cope with a high-pressure workspace. Your salespeople might be congratulated and recognized when they’ve hit their longer-term targets, but if this is where the recognition stops, your staff can easily start to feel burned out.
Take some time to think about how much you’re acknowledging your sales team’s contribution to your success and what you can do to increase this and ensure that everyone on the team is feeling seen.
Naturally, you’ll want to sing a sales rep’s praises when they close a high-value deal or convert a challenging lead, but what about the slower periods where the team still has to overcome serious obstacles even if the measurable results aren’t anything amazing?
It may not be what you’re used to, but sweating the small stuff and letting your team know that their efforts are being appreciated can have a major, positive difference in how reps feel at work.
How to Prevent Sales Team Burnout
Employee burnout is an unfortunately common phenomenon among sales teams, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it.
Here are four effective ways to prevent burnout in your sales team.
1. Automate Sales Processes
The modern B2B sales industry is brimming with tools and platforms with powerful automation features that can empower you to eliminate a lot of repetitive, time-consuming tasks from your sales team’s workloads.
Freeing up time in this way will not only reduce your team’s stress levels and prevent burnout but will also give them more time to focus on what they’re best at closing deals.
There are various ways that you can approach automating your sales processes, depending on the unique needs of your team.
If reps are drowning in reporting admin, you may want to look into a project management tool like Nifty. If there are inefficiencies in the lead generation or early nurturing phase, there are sales software solutions like Outbase, which allow you to outsource email templates to expert prospecting writers.
Consider the needs of your sales team before you look for ways to automate their work, and you’ll achieve more targeted, efficient improvements than you would by simply throwing tech at the problem.
2. Set Realistic Targets for Individuals
When salespeople are given goals that feel impossible, they can quickly find themselves in a position where they feel like giving up trying. As a manager, it’s essential to make sure that every team member is given goals that are carefully considered and realistic based on their abilities and capacity.
When you come to review individual goals in the next quarter, be sure to bear these pointers in mind:
1. Communicate team goals:
Though we’re talking about setting effective goals for individuals here, starting from a “bigger picture” perspective is essential to make sure you’re not setting unrealistic expectations that could lead to burnout.
Thinking about the goals of the wider sales team will give you and your team a stronger contextual understanding of how individual goals feed into those of the company and make it easier to focus your efforts.
2. Encourage pushback:
The goals you set for an individual sales rep might seem perfectly achievable based on the performance metrics you have on hand. However, if they just barely made their targets last quarter, your new goals could be playing with fire and putting people at risk of burnout.
3. Check in often:
If you’re dealing with a new team, a company pivoting towards a new audience segment, or another big change, knowing what a realistic goal looks like can become even more challenging. Be sure to check in with sales reps often to track their progress towards their individual goals, and use your findings to inform your process for setting goals in the future.
Create An Open Dialogue to Improve Collaboration and Efficiencies
With the individual commission structures and sense of competition that comes with the territory, it can be tempting for individual sales reps to think of themselves as solo players.
Though some healthy competition can be good for a sales team, when reps feel like they’re part of a rat race within the company, it can create feelings of isolation which will compound the other pressures of their job.
Sales team managers should try to encourage open dialogue and collaboration, whether that’s through group targets, focused meetings, or simply giving the team more time to chat freely.
By doing this, you’ll help your reps feel like collaborators in a larger project and give them a greater sense of purpose which they can lean on to manage sales burnout.
Prioritize the Wellbeing of Your Sales Team
Salespeople often find it hard to unplug. With the demanding quotas that define sales as a profession, many sales reps can fall into the trap of seeing vacations as a liability.
Though a career in sales is certainly demanding, it’s been proven time and time again that taking time off is essential to maintaining productivity. If your team is living with a culture that pushes work-life balance to the sidelines, you may need to take some proactive measures to fix this.
If you’re noticing the symptoms of burnout in your team, make a point of showing everyone that you’ll be supportive of them taking vacation time and that you’re making their well-being a priority.
Your team will perform at their best when they’re well-rested and feeling healthy, but the permission to take those all-important breaks needs to be explicit. Give your team the green light to unplug, and they’ll fight burnout in a way that’s best for them.
Burnout can be hard to recognize in a high-pressure environment like a sales team, but by familiarizing yourself with the common symptoms and causes, you’ll be much better equipped to react to sales burnout and prevent it in the future.
We hope this guide helps you become more in tune with your team’s well-being, combat unnecessary stressors, and form a happier, more productive sales team.