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Sales - 10 min READ

How to prevent your salespeople from burning out

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Author photo: Grace Sweeney

Grace Sweeney


Sales is a special form of masochism.

All those cold calls, unanswered emails, and a constant stream of “nos” do a real number on the human psyche. Even your thickest-skinned veterans aren’t immune.

Over time, the rejection and the pressure to perform can lead to burnout, a common condition that spreads like wildfire if left unchecked.

According to LinkedIn, sales rep turnover is about 34% per year.

And sure, you should expect some turnover. People seek new challenges and higher wages. They move or get promoted. Losing sales reps like your organization is bleeding out, well, that’s a problem.

As a sales manager, part of preventing turnover is making the right hires. The other part is creating a culture that emphasizes training, teamwork, and support.

But, how do you turn a rotating cast of trainees into a sales team that sticks around for the long haul?

The answer is, it’s complicated. Below, we’ve put together a list of things you can do to protect your reps from burning out.

What is sales burnout?

The sales industry (wrongly) takes pride in how long and hard employees work.

Add in the myriad productivity tools and communication channels, and it’s no surprise the word “burnout” seems to come up more and more these days.

Burnout is more than a buzzword. It’s a reaction to chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, low productivity, and eventually, churn.

So why does this matter for a sales leader? Aside from looking out for your team’s wellbeing, sales burnout threatens the bottom line.

As a point of reference, the average cost of replacing a sales rep tops the six-figure mark. With training, onboarding, and ongoing recruitment efforts, failing to address burnout is unsustainable.

Cost of replacing reps: a good reason to avoid burning your team out

Those behaviors, frustrating as they are, point to a larger problem. In a 2017 Kronos survey, HR managers said employee burnout causes 50% of annual turnover. Ninety-five percent of those respondents also stated burnout is sabotaging their workforce.

Burnout can come from several factors. Compensation and workload are obvious examples. But toxic coworkers, boredom, and few growth opportunities can also plant the seed for disengagement.

While burnout sources vary from rep to rep, there are some signs a manager should look out for:

  • Irritability with colleagues and customers
  • Lack of motivation
  • Results are on the downswing
  • Tasks go unfinished
  • Creative spark has disappeared

Sales leaders need to tap into their ability to read a room, so they can intervene when a top performer starts slipping.

More importantly, addressing burnout means focusing on prevention and retention. Everyone wants to make more money and work fewer hours. But, the real way to keep employees from burning out is by laying the groundwork for success.

Below, we’ve included a look at some ways to help your team find success, stay engaged and prevent sales team burnout.

Define responsibilities and KPIs.

We’ll ask you a question that might sound kind of silly: do your reps know what they should be doing at work

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, only 60% of workers say they “strongly agree” that they know what is expected of them at work.

From the get-go, roles and duties must be communicated clearly. Still, regular communication and a defined set of goals ensure that employees don’t lose sight of the big picture.

Here are a few ways to keep reps on the right track:

1. Offer regular feedback.

Some managers might hate giving feedback, but their employees sure love receiving it.

Why feedback matters: employees want to get better. According to this Officevibe report, 83% of employees appreciate feedback, whether it’s positive or negative.

Managers who take advantage of this opportunity stand to get better results.

Though not every employee is receptive to feedback, managers found that about 50% of employees acted on feedback.

Part of this is making sure that you outline business goals, along with how those goals are measured. Employees who don’t understand what their employers want tend to burn out fast.

Image for post Hire the best.

Hire the best.

Learn how to hire a rockstar sales team with this sales recruiting handbook.

2. Define success outside of quotas.

Digital transformation is redefining roles in every industry. It’s less “the robots are taking our jobs” and more “how can data help us improve?” And access to data allows managers to identify problems faster and correct course before things go south.

Quotas are supposed to drive performance. The idea is that reps need some pressure to stay motivated. That might have worked before the days of the CRM, where sales strategy meant emulating the top performer and hoping for the best.

Is your sales team falling short of sales goals? Sure, sales reps that don’t sell are a problem. But, it’s time to prevent burnout by way of big-picture analysis.

Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are sales metrics that align with a specific business objective. Quotas are one KPI, but there’s a lot more you should be tracking.

Other KPIs teams should measure:

  • Opportunities at each stage
  • Calls and meetings scheduled
  • Significant events—new contacts, a potential deal
  • Demos scheduled
  • Proposals sent
  • Emails sent

The right CRM can help you track these KPIs and reveal why reps win clients or lose sales. When you track every communication between a rep and their prospects, you’ll learn a lot.

In Copper, you can customize reports based on your goals. So, you might look at conversions, won opportunities, or revenue by client.

From there, you might use the report to define the following:

  • How response time affects the likelihood of a sale
  • Average time to close
  • Loss rates by sales phase
  • Conversions
  • How many follow-ups are needed to close a deal

Use these insights to inform your sales strategy. You might learn that your team trips up with late-stage leads. Or, prospects aren’t opening emails. From there, you can make tweaks, measure, repeat.

Applying a data-driven approach means that as a manager, you can give all your reps this road map for success. That’s less time spent on the trial and error that can lead to burnout in the long run.

Most CRMs come with a dashboard functionality that allows reps to measure performance. You should build custom reports that match your organization’s goals, so reps can easily know where they stand.

3. Add new projects that cater to employee interests.

Part of getting to know your sales reps is understanding their long-term goals. One of the fastest roads toward sales team burnout is feeling like there is nothing new to learn.

As a manager, it’s your job to give reps more responsibilities based on individual strengths and interests.

Professional development matters.

Money isn’t the only motivator.

Safety, belonging, and purpose are just as important to workers. When reps feel that their job is just a paycheck, they don’t feel valued and may disengage.

Managers should offer continual feedback to engage employees. This means holding one-on-one check-in meetings every week.

If your sales team has stopped improving, they may feel there’s no opportunity to level up their skills.

CSO Insights found sales leaders spend only about 20% of their time helping reps close deals—meaning, most don’t view mentorship as a priority.

A few ideas for improving your internal mentorship program:

  • Provide best practices—make a point of teaching sales strategy, as well as how to manage time and workload
  • Be available to answer questions
  • Set up a mentorship program teaming seasoned pros with new hires

Be a hands-on coach.

The role of the boss is changing. A successful sales manager is more coach than controlling overlord.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers feel stress on the job and half of those workers say they’d like help managing that stress.

While the manager isn’t there to fill the role of mental health expert, they can help manage stress by helping reps develop a sales approach that works with their unique skill set.

When you make a new hire, approach training with the following steps:

  1. During the onboarding process, perform an assessment: where are the weak points? Strengths?
  2. Measure sales rep activity. Which areas still need work? Which tactics are working well?
  3. Review results. Provide feedback and make suggestions.

Often, companies only track results without looking at the why behind closed deals and losses. When you focus on quotas only, you’ll never about the why—for example, why you lose more prospects when reps don’t leave a voicemail.

Your CRM can help you here by allowing a quick audit of outreach efforts. From there, you can adjust your strategy before reps develop bad habits.

Celebrate wins.

Deloitte researchers found that those organizations that prioritize a culture of recognition experience better performance and see less turnover. In fact, a third of respondents said a lack of recognition was a source of burnout.

The findings aren’t surprising. Employees feel seen and valued when their efforts are recognized. As such, keep in mind that those small acts of support add up to resilience in the face of daily demands.

Encourage collaboration over competition.

Traditionally, sales isn’t known for its emphasis on teamwork. Performance bonuses, leaderboards, and individualism have long dominated the workplace culture.

These old ideas about sales are changing. Today’s Relationship Era combines human strengths with powerful AI, big data, and automation.

Among those “human strengths” is collaboration. And research proves that teamwork leads to better numbers. CEB found that reps who worked with others increased their close rates from 22 percent to 49 percent.

How to build a supportive culture:

Unfortunately, developing a supportive culture where sales reps trust one another is not as easy as implementing a new SaaS tool. Those teams used to the leaderboard competition can expect some growing pains.

Ideally, you want to create a sales culture where salespeople feel comfortable sharing information—be it a new trick in the CRM or a two-rep approach to going after a whale prospect.

Things like contests might seem fun, but they might be a source of stress. If competition is part of your strategy, consider holding contests where reps compete as teams.

Sales reps should be encouraged to speak up and share criticisms or feedback with the group.

Start small, hosting meetings where reps answer the same set of questions.

For example:

  • What are your goals for today?
  • What did you achieve yesterday?
  • What can you improve today?

It’s also your responsibility to lay some ground rules. Everyone must be respectful—no making fun of the person talking, making snide remarks, or interrupting.

Build work-life balance into the job.

Burnout happens when people don’t have enough downtime to recharge and regroup. The “always-on” sales culture doesn’t exactly lend itself to that much-needed R&R.

We’ve grown used to the idea that top performers arrive early, stay late, and rack up vacation days.

As a manager, it’s your job to check in with employees to make sure they aren’t overworked or under pressure. It’s also your job to set an example—be that work-life role model.

In a Deloitte survey, nearly 40% of participants said if they noticed their manager making personal commitments a priority, it would make them feel more comfortable doing the same.

You can’t always change a workaholic’s habits. But, making clear that you’re not impressed by working through lunch or missing personal milestones can make a difference.

The importance of work-life balance

Finally, reps need the right tools.

Sales is a tough game. Good reps already know this and rise to the occasion. But, managers need to recognize when their team needs a break.

If your salespeople don’t have tools that make their jobs easier, burnout isn’t a matter of “if” but “when.”

CSO Insights reported that a staggering 88% of sales reps are unable to access critical closing information on their smartphones. 60% of organizations said they experienced a longer than necessary sales cycle due to a lack of sales tools.

That’s where a CRM comes in. It lets teams shorten the sales cycle by bringing every touchpoint into one place. That visibility enables a data-driven approach; with easy-to-read analytics that reveals what works and what doesn’t.

Luckily, technology plays a significant role in fighting burnout. Want to see what we mean? Start a 14-day trial of Copper and you’ll see.

Try Copper free

Instant activation, no credit card required. Give Copper a try today.

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