Burning to Sell or Burning Out?

By Heather Baldwin

You’ve no doubt seen the symptoms. You even may have been through it yourself. You leap over stages in the sales process, show up for work consistently late, don’t bother to track key performance indicators and overreact to the first negative comment from a prospect. Sound familiar? They’re the symptoms of burnout, an affliction suffered by millions of workers and a major contributor to high turnover rates in sales. Almost every organization is dealing with it at some level. According to Stephen Schiffman in his book, Beat Sales Burnout: Maximize Sales, Minimize Stress (Adams Media, 2005), more than 90% of companies are having some problem with plateauing salespeople who are simply going through the motions. In his book Schiffman offers 18 recommendations for sales managers to help their people reduce burnout. Here are three of them.

1. Strategize for the marathon, not for Delta Force. On average, a whopping 95% of people who start a marathon finish the entire 26.2 miles. Considering the enormous distance, that completion rate is astounding. Here’s another statistic: An overwhelming 98% of super-fit soldiers training to become part of the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force do not finish a key running event, which is significantly shorter than a marathon. What’s the difference? The Delta Force recruits are running a race with no end. At some point in the training process, they are told: Run until you can’t run any more. They aren’t given a specific distance, but are instructed simply to run. During the event they have no idea if they’re 10% finished, halfway finished or almost done. By the time the officer in charge ends the event, only about 2% of the recruits are still going.

Here’s the point: When you set goals for reps or talk to them about raising their numbers, don’t use the Delta Force strategy and say you have to do better this quarter or you need to close more sales. There’s no end, no finish line in those instructions, which means you increase the chance of burnout. Instead, Schiffman recommends taking the Boston Marathon approach, which sounds like this: Bill, I’ve looked at your numbers. Based on what you’re doing right now, the numbers say we need you to make 10 more phone calls every day if you’re going to hit quota. Considering your current ratios, that’s two more first appointments every week. That’s the number that will get you across the finish line this month. What do you think? Can you make 10 more calls a day?

By setting a measurable goal, salespeople know how close they are to attaining the goal and when they’re getting ready to cross the finish line, just as marathoners know the closer they get to that 26 mile mark, the closer they are to finishing the race. It also means your reps will be less likely to collapse along the way like the Delta Force recruits.

2. Avoid do-it-yourself mentor selections. Pairing a rep who is approaching or going through burnout with a dynamic mentor is a great way to reignite the spark of enthusiasm. But make sure you pick the mentor. Some sales managers argue that allowing reps to pick their mentor increases the likelihood of a successful learning relationship, but don’t believe it. The reason, says Schiffman, has everything to do with the 80/20 rule that states 20% of your reps drive 80% of your revenues. You’re also likely to find that those top performers aren’t in the office because they’re out closing sales. On the other hand, poor performing reps generally spend more time in the office where they get to know other poor or average performing reps, and thus are more likely to ask to pair with one of them. Instead, hook up your struggling reps with experienced, top-performing veterans and get them out on the road with those veterans as much as possible.

3. Recruit with the live-breathe-enjoy formula. One of Schiffman’s clients recently remarked to him that he doesn’t hire salespeople unless he’s certain the reps live, breathe and enjoy their jobs, what he called the LBE formula. When recruiting, try to target salespeople who love their work and who don’t view selling as a job, who don’t start work when they arrive in the morning and quit at the end of the day and who find joy in tasks such as scheduling meetings with clients and giving presentations. If you hire people who are passionate about sales in the first place, you’re less likely to deal with costly burnout and turnover later.