At Dreamforce this year, Salesforce made an interesting announcement beyond its usual product updates and industry vision: it revealed that every Salesforce office now includes a dedicated meditation room. As someone who has spent time working for the Dalai Lama and learning the power of focus firsthand, I've developed a lot of respect for how important mental clarity is for success. But it's not something you hear discussed very often in the world of sales.
Sales is a stressful occupation. In a survey by online career database PayScale, sales account manager was ranked as the second most stressful job, with 73 percent of respondents rating the role as "highly stressful." Salespeople are under a lot of pressure to meet quota, convert quickly, and keep approval rankings high.
In my experience, stress can be both helpful and hurtful, depending on how it is managed. The right type of pressure can build competition and motivation, while the wrong kind can be paralyzing. As Salesforce's investment in meditation rooms suggests, it's never helpful to become entirely consumed with worries. Instead, organizations and salespeople themselves should focus on facilitating motivation and dispelling unnecessary obstacles to sales success.
Turning Stress Into Success
Stress can be beneficial for salespeople for the same reason commissions, sales incentives trips, and internal competition are effective: it drives activity. When managers heighten the pressure slightly by setting ambitious goals or creating competitive environments, they're triggering a type of stress that actually helps bring about better results. Many salespeople actually even appreciate the push, as it enables them to achieve their full potential.
The art lies in actually harnessing those benefits. For sales managers, that means understanding which goals are realistic and setting ones that stretch--but don't dishearten--each team member. One good way to do this is to harness the power of analytics. Managers should research and decide which key performance indicators are most important to their business and then plot them against each rep's past performance in those areas. The longer leaders track, the more information they'll have about how the average reps perform and which factors make the biggest impact on success.
For reps, processing stress positively means tapping into the energy it brings and accepting the challenge. You'll typically find that a top performing sales rep will do this naturally, creating a sense of urgency for themselves by setting private goals, participating in internal competitions to hold themselves accountable, or benchmarking against someone that consistently performs well. Lower performing reps may have harder time channeling their stress into positive energy if expectations and the path to meet those expectations aren't clear.
Find ways to balance the way you motivate your reps at all levels. For your higher performing reps set expectations but give them more flexibility to set even higher goals for themselves so they can reach their full-potential. And for lower performing reps, make sure to put some formalized structure in place, incentivizing them to meet daily goals and celebrate small wins. This will keep them engaged and less focused on past losses and end of quarter goals, but rather on what they can control in the moment to help them get back on track.
Saying Goodbye to Bad Stress
It's well understood that employee happiness should be a top priority for any employer, and sales organizations are no exception. Overstressed employees aren't good for morale or for revenue. Research from the Bridge Group found that companies with higher attrition also saw 12 percent lower quota attainment than their more retention-minded peers. That means that dealing with bad stress is both an ethical responsibility and a business imperative for sales leaders.
Mitigating stress requires one of two things: less pressure or more resources. Those resources might be mentors, educational tools, or software to help alleviate busy work. Automation tools in particular can save reps huge amounts of time (thereby relieving some stress) and also elevate the nature of their work so that they're more engaged. Aberdeen found that salespeople spend nine percent less time looking up information year-over-year when they use a sales intelligence solution.
In addition to making workloads more manageable, businesses can moderate employee stress by doing as Salesforce did and supporting positive health habits, promoting a culture of work-life balance, or funding gym memberships. They should also have processes in place so that employees have a way to vocalize their problems if they do become too overwhelmed and can no longer function productively. Salespeople themselves should also be responsible for monitoring their workload and recognizing when they've passed the threshold of productivity.
Stress is a major part of salespeople's lives, but it's not something the industry often talks about. Identifying different types of stress and breaking them down into actionable items is the only way to ensure salespeople stay motivated, focused, and most importantly, sane.