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How to Handle Stress in Sales

Sales is a stressful role. 

That’s just facts. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s got to be a painful or unenjoyable role. 

Because believe it or not, you’ve got control. You’ve got the power to create a healthier relationship with stress. 

And that’s exactly the subject of today’s blog. You’ll hear insights from some of Cognism’s very own sales team, all the way from SDRs to management. 

We spoke to: 

Let’s get straight into it. 

Scroll 👇 or use the menu to get started! 

Why is sales a stressful role? 

We’ve all been there. 

Being stressed, but not really understanding why. 

But that’s why asking this question is a useful place to start. Because understanding why we’re feeling stressed can help us handle the pressure in the first place. 

And for B2B sales, this is really important. Because the stress SDRs feel isn’t down to the same thing. 

It could be down to one thing for one SDR and a mix of things for another.

It’s more like a snowball effect, as Ryan explains:

"Sales is always on. It’s not a role where you can just clock in and clock out. There’s no end in sight - it’s a constant journey. There’s a constant loop of obstacles. And then the more success you have, the more it stacks up."

What kind of obstacles do SDRs face?

Firstly, it’s down to the competitive nature of the salesperson.

Saif said:

“For high-performing salespeople, there’s an innate competitiveness and desire to be the best. And this can put a lot of internal pressure on yourself.” 

Secondly, they can face obstacles from a metric perspective, as Rachel explains:

“Within a sales environment, it’s very target-driven. Numbers don’t lie. So if your metrics aren’t there, it’s stressful.” 

But is it fair to assume that the stress purely comes from the SDR? 

Saif doesn’t think so:

The stress “also comes from bad management, when there’s no actual coaching.” 

With that in mind, we should then be asking ourselves the next question…

How can management help SDRs to handle stress?

1. Communicate 

Saif said that “managers have a responsibility to coach and help SDRs when it comes to stress.” 

Here’s what he had to say:

"When someone is underperforming, there’s a reason for it. People don’t lose their talent and become bad at sales overnight."

And that’s why it’s important to get to the bottom of why their performance changed. 

Ryan agreed, saying:

“When you’re in the 1-2-1s, don’t just focus the discussion on metrics. Ask questions like ‘how are you doing?’ Because everyone has stuff going on in their personal lives.” 

And Ryan emphasised it’s important to be compassionate. He said not to do the following with your SDRs:

"How are you mentally, but also you need to perform and hit this number."

Remember that managers don’t need to be superheroes; not every problem is there to be fixed. Saif said:

“If someone in your team is feeling stressed, sometimes you don’t need someone to fix their problem. They just need someone to be there, to listen.”

"Be a soundboard for your SDRs who are feeling the pressure."

2. Encourage the growth mindset

Having an open mindset can help you approach stress more clearly. And for Rachel, it’s all about encouraging her team to have a growth mindset:

"On the second day of training, I’ll do a sprint on mindset. I’m a big believer in the growth mindset and not thinking about failures."

"Instead, I encourage SDRs to think more along the lines of taking something as a challenge to learn from. I really try to instill that in all of the new SDRs."

Rachel adds:

“Just because a cold call went badly doesn’t make you a failure in the role. Think of it as a learning curve. This is especially important if the new SDRs are grads, and have no experience working in a professional environment.” 

We couldn’t agree more. Because after all, you get better at your job when you’re learning. 

So the key takeaway here is 👇 

Having a growth mindset can help you to not be too hard on yourself. Because you’re approaching setbacks differently, this will help you to manage stress more efficiently. 

Saif is also an advocate for having a strong mindset. 

But don’t be fooled. A strong mindset isn’t about constantly feeling the pressure to succeed, month-in and month-out. 

Saif recently wrote a post on LinkedIn, and this particular section was insightful:

“A strong mindset is accepting:

  • Some months you may underperform. 
  • Not every deal is winnable. 
  • Not every cold call ends in a meeting. 
  • Being on top of the leaderboard is great, but it doesn’t define you.”

You can read the full post here

But, as expected, this is easier said than done. So, we wanted to understand how long it takes for SDRs to develop this mindset. 

Saif said:

"It really depends on how quickly you can be exposed to it, and then how long you’re going to neglect it, because it’s uncomfortable to think about."

He also said that it depends on the individual person:

“Very coachable people (e.g. someone who plays sports) will pick it up quickly, whereas others need to fall on their face.”

“But it’s all about improving 1% every day. So as long as you’re on the right journey, that’s all that matters.” 

Focus on the small wins

Ryan is a big believer in this mentality. He said:

"You’ve got to detach from the outcome as much as you can, and focus on what’s important now. And at the end of the day, your job is about having as many conversations as you can with new people everyday."

And yes, these convos aren’t always going to go your way. Because some will be positive, some will be negative, and some will be neutral. 

But Ryan said:

“It’s still a win because you’re doing the process.” 

This is a great approach in the long run. Because you can think to yourself: 

“The more conversations I have, the better my skills are going to be.” 

Practice makes perfect - there’s your small win! 

Is there a particular part of the year/cycle where sales is most stressful? 

Sometimes, anticipating when a time of the year is likely to be more stressful can help. 

Why? 

Because you’re subconsciously preparing for a busy period of time ahead. 

Josh said:

"SDRing is quite myopic - it’s a monthly process. So the end of the month can be quite stressful, especially the last week of the month."

"That’s in comparison to an AE who has quarterly targets."

He added by saying:

“The stress derives from things that are not in your control. For example, let’s say you’re on 9, and your target for the month is 10. All it takes is a few cancelled meetings, and then you won’t hit the target.” 

When this scenario happens, how can you pick yourself back up?

For Josh, it’s about reminding yourself why you’re in the role in the first place: 

“Whether it’s for the money, recognition from your peers, the competitiveness of the role, or something else entirely.” 

Because that’s how you can stay “ambitious and consistent”. 

For Ben, he noticed the stress of the role within a particular month: 

"Having spoken to other managers and SDRs, there was a big fuss made about December time, because it’s less time to reach the same target. It doesn’t reduce just because there’s less time in the month."

But here’s the thing. 

This is all great advice, but what can be done to make sure SDRs are prepared?

Well, keep reading for some…

Tips on handling stress 

1. Focus on healthy habits 

Seems simple enough. 

But it’s crazy how many people end up neglecting wellness, due to the pressure of their job. 

So remember to take Josh’s advice:

"I work out either before or after work. Doing something physical is key, whether it be running or swimming. I’ve also been getting into meditation fairly recently. I’ve noticed that it does definitely clear the mind."

Journaling has also proved to deliver results for Rachel:

“I started journaling after around 6 months. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and feel stressed. So I’ll write down a stream of consciousness for around 30 minutes, focusing on how I’m going to fix why I’m feeling stressed.” 

Now, she’s refined her process:

“Before I go to bed, I’ll write down 5 things I need to do the next day so I don’t forget.” 

2. Be organised 

This is the number 1 priority for Ben:

“The best way to not be stressed is to stay as organised as possible. Because the minute you forget to write down notes from every call, or notes to call someone back at a specific date and time, it’s all over.” 

Never underestimate the power of a simple notepad and pen. And for something more permanent, Ben recommends using Outlook Calendar or ScratchPad. 

Ben also shared a piece of advice from his mentor that has really stuck with him:

"To lead your most stress-free life in outbound sales, you’ll want to be hitting your target in the third week of the month, and then you’re not leaving it until the last week."

"And then in the fourth week you can focus on prepping for the month ahead. It’s about frontloading for the following month so you’ve always got meetings booked in."

Bottom line: always be ahead of the game. 

3. Take regular breaks 

We’ve all suffered from Zoom brain, blue light headaches etc. 

Both Josh and Ben recommend that you take regular breaks away from the screen. 

Again, it seems simple. But when we’re so bogged down and busy with our work, we can forget. 

So this is your gentle reminder to not stare at the screen constantly. 

Stretch your legs, go get a coffee. Because that Salesforce report you’ve been staring at for the last couple of hours isn’t going to change or disappear. It’ll be there once you’re back!

4. Take a holiday 

Again, a simple yet effective piece of advice. 

In fact, it’s something Josh wished he told himself from the start:

"It’s so important to take a holiday. And not just a few days here and there. Go somewhere where you’re not on your phone, Slack, or the computer."

"It’s so key, especially to get out of the city. Because it's 100 miles an hour, and then the job on top of it which is also 100 miles an hour."

Remember - your annual leave is there for a reason! 

5. Control the controllables 

Preventing stress means you can handle stress in the first place. 

And controlling how you’re going to achieve your target is an example of this. Josh’s mentor at the time was Rachel. And she said the following, from day 1:

"Control the controllables. The target looks daunting at the beginning of the month, but it’s important to break it down into sizeable chunks on a daily basis."

"That’s how you can bring around a long-term outcome."

6. Ask questions 

A cause for stress can be because you’ve been left in the dark in your sales role. So Ben has said it’s important to preach the “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” mentality. 

It’s simple - you don’t get, if you don’t ask. 

How can you handle stress when you're working from home? 

COVID-19 has meant that hybrid work or remote work has become the norm for many salespeople. 

So if someone can’t get the support they need at the office, how can they deal with the stress at home? 

Well, for Rachel it’s all about work-life separation:

"My sister and I shared a flat, so we made sure to have certain habits in place. For example, the desk that I’d work from during the week became a table with flowers with no laptops on it at the weekends."

And of course, as many people often suggest, Rachel said:

“If you don’t have to work in your bedroom, then don’t. Avoid it at all costs!”

The taboo around mental health in sales

Saif said:

“I always tell SDRs to vent to someone in your team, whether that be a colleague or management. Because it breaks down the barriers.”

But the problem is that it’s not done enough. So we asked Saif whether this was because of a taboo surrounding salespeople and their mental health:

"For sure. And it’s because it stems from the image of sales, and because it's still predominantly a male industry. And unfortunately, men’s mental health isn’t spoken about enough."

He adds:

“When people picture cold calling, they think about reps in a boiler room selling PPI. It's very archaic, and it’s where a lot of older sales guys or leaders' attitudes have stemmed from. And that means mental health hasn’t really been talked about by these generations.” 

That’s why it’s important for managers to be open with their teams. And for SDRs to go and talk to their managers. Because as Saif rightly said:

"Talking about things that make you vulnerable makes you strong. It’s not a weakness, and the more we normalise it, the better."

It goes back to this idea of communication. Be as open as you can be when you’re in a sales role - that’s the trick to controlling the stress of the job. 

External resources to help handle stress in sales 

It’s great to have internal support from your peers, managers, and so forth. 

But we wanted to know if there’s external support to help SDRs cope with the stress of the role. Our interviewees gave some great recommendations 👇

Headspace which is one of the best meditation apps around. If you’ve got a wellness budget, use it! 

SDRs of London, a LinkedIn support group for UK-based SDRs.

Atomic Habits by James Clear. A book on how to make good habits and break the not-so-great ones. 

The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. Saif said this book gives you “an insight into who you are as a person. And it allows you to differentiate yourself from the outside and the inside.” 

The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. A book discussing the theory of Stoism, which is about learning to be happy and more resilient.

The High Performance Podcast - life lessons from some of the world’s most successful people.

Closing thoughts 

There’s no escaping the fact that sales is stressful. 

But as we’ve learnt, it’s about the little changes. That’s how salespeople can get a hold of the stress they’re feeling. 

Josh said:

“I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of the stress in sales. But even little changes will be incremental benefits so you can enjoy your role.” 

Ryan also shared that you should be learning in your job:

“Early on, if you’re not learning or earning, you shouldn’t be at an organisation. If you’re stressed and frustrated, move along. Don’t spend time in toxic environments.” 

And there we go. That’s everything on how to handle stress in sales. We hope these tips will help you have a less stressful year!

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