Stress can be beneficial for salespeople for the same reason commissions, sales incentives trips, and internal competition are effective: it drives activity. When sales 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 trick lies in actually harnessing those benefits. For sales managers, that means understanding which goals are realistic and setting ones that stretch—but not discourage—each team member. We talked with ITA Group’s regional sales managers, John Lamb, Shawn Russell and Lauren Rasmussen, to hear their tips for managing their team’s stress as well as their own. Take a look at what they had to say below. Put simply: Treat them as you’d want to be treated.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
“I’ve found over the years that stress usually is associated with high workloads, tight deadlines and lack of control. All three of these can be managed through effective communication,” said John Lamb. “So I would say my best practice for managing stress is mitigating it in the first place.”
When you need something from others, be very clear about what you want, why you want it, why it’s important and when you need it. Then ask the person if your request can be realistically fulfilled given the parameters. Also ask them if they have any questions or if they don’t fully understand the request.
“Do not dictate how they do it. That can cause quite a bit of stress,” Lamb said.
Encourage a culture of open communication about mental health and wellbeing so employees know that it’s OK to talk about stress at work, and assure them that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
“First and foremost, I believe it is important to reinforce their ability to delegate or ask for help,” said Lauren Rasmussen. “Regardless of role, sales or not, asking for help can seem like a weakness; however, not all help means offloading work. I have found just discussing the topic at hand can bring forth new ideas, solutions or approaches that may relieve the pressure being felt.”
“A big cause of stress for folks is the unknown, so the more I can be clear, concise and consistent about what it is I’m needing from them, [then] hopefully the less stressful it is on their end,” added Shawn Russell. “I also let [my team] know my door is always open if they want to talk—sometimes just sitting and listening to people is a big help for them.”
It’s important to create an open, cohesive environment so your reps feel comfortable speaking openly with you about their own stressors and ways to improve the sales process. Avoid being judgmental and instead ask directed questions to get to the core of their stress.
Advocate for Your People
Most stress for sales people is caused by an inability to convince customers to buy. This can be due to external or internal barriers.
“My job as a sales leader is to help the salesperson identify those barriers and execute a plan to remove them (or agree we can’t remove them and move on),” Lamb said.
“At the end of the day, what seems to matter most is that the salespeople know they have an advocate; someone who can empathize and find ways to help them succeed. It’s interesting to note that the more questions I ask now, the less stress I have later. Funny how that works.”
Have Some Fun
To avoid the negative effects of stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work.
“I encourage the team to participate in all the fun stuff we do here at ITA Group, like the biking challenge, team hoorays [informal gatherings at the workplace], baseball game, volunteer time off, etc.!” said Russell. “Our work is important, but so is enjoying your life and we spend a lot of time with these folks so it is important to keep stress levels down, do great work and have fun!”
Feeling overwhelmed is a major stressor. A great way to make a major reduction in your stress is to get a handle on your work by prioritizing and organizing.
“Many little things don’t tend to get me worked up for long, because I can make a list and start checking things off. Sometimes I’ll even put the tiniest of tasks on that list, such as ‘eat lunch’ or ‘make to-do list’ just so I can cross yet another item off the list,” said Rasmussen. “I usually start with the very little quick hits because being able to physically see that list get smaller makes me feel a sense of accomplishment and like I am making progress. Often I feel better immediately after two or three items are checked off! Adding self-imposed deadlines to that list also helps so I can see on paper that not everything needs to be accomplished today and things may not be as big and scary as they were when it was all in my head.”
Mix Things Up
“I find it also helps to change things up a bit during stressful times—I will switch my desk from sitting to standing up, or I will take a quick walk to help relax and give my mind a break in hopes that I will come back and be able to look at whatever was causing the stress is a different way,” Russell said.
Getting up to get a cup of coffee or do a lap around the office can instantly reduce your stress levels in particular situations. By moving away from your desk and performing the task of making the coffee you’re not only removing yourself (albeit temporarily) from the stressful environment, you’re also distracting yourself.
It’s important to clearly define employees' roles, responsibilities and goals. Make management actions fair and consistent with organizational values.
“When it is a larger project that is stressing me out, I first evaluate if the request is reasonable,” Rasmussen said. “If it seems unreasonable, often it is. I’ve found in both my own career and in managing others, out of a desire to be accommodating we often say ‘yes’ without making others aware of what they are asking for or even asking for an extended deadline. Frequently, I find simply by recommending an alternative solution others are receptive as well.”
“Expectations must be mutually understood,” Lamb adds. “As the late Stephen R. Covey emphasized in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, ‘Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.’ If we check our ego at the door, we are open to thinking differently and empathizing with our team members and customers.
“That said, team members will experience stress, especially in a sales environment. Part of our role as leaders is to help our people prioritize. Focus on what’s important now. What is our goal, and how have we agreed we’re going to get there? What’s holding us back? What barriers do we face? Sales people are hired to sell. Sales leaders are in place to help them sell as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
Taking Care of Yourself
As a sales manager not only do you deal with the stress of your team, but also with your own. Balancing care for others and for yourself is not an easy task. It requires different techniques and strategies to cope with the objective of mitigating stress and having a positive working environment both for yourself and others.
“I try to keep my stress in perspective. I have a quote on my desk from Brendon Burchard that says, ‘And then one day I decided that hurry and stress were no longer going to be part of my life. Stress is self-created; I decided to stop manufacturing it. We can choose an internal clam and joy even amid the chaos,’” Russell said. “While that is certainly easier said than done, I try to keep that in mind when I feel myself getting stressed out.”
“When stress does occur I find it most productive to identify what’s causing it,” said Lamb. “Are you stressed about a current problem that needs to be resolved? Or are you worried about something that might happen? I put my energy toward fixing or avoiding existing problems rather than worrying about potential outcomes.”
“I try to remember (and repeat) what a former manager at ITA Group told me—we aren’t saving babies,” Rasmussen said. “We have to take our work seriously and have to execute to the absolute best of our ability, but we also have to keep in perspective the bigger picture and not let this one bump upset the entire apple cart. Easier said than done, right?!”
Take Stress Day By Day
While your team may be able to switch off when they get home from a day at work, you might not. This may seem obvious, but it is so easy to overlook the little things when you feel like you don’t have any spare time. So, make sure you are eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising—which will all make you more productive and less stressed day-to-day. To find more ideas on how to battle workplace stress and burnout, be sure to check out our Insights post, “Burning At Both Ends: Employee Burnout Warning Signs (and How to Avoid Them).”