Burnout is a real problem for many high-performing teams.
It’s hard to find a “better” example than in sales, where the annual turnover rate in the United States averages at 34%.
And who could blame them? Sales is one of those jobs where you sink or swim based on your efforts. Talking to leads, engaging with prospects, cultivating deals – every aspect of sales productivity has a direct impact on a business’s bottom line and often on a sales professional’s compensation. All of that can lead to a lot of pressure and stress on sales teams.
These burnout figures – and the factors that drive them – are important considerations when you think about initiatives to improve performance. Rather than just arbitrarily improving your sales compensation model to tease out better numbers, you need to tackle reduced motivation at the source. Doing this is a far more sustainable way to improve productivity without causing burnout.
Let’s take a look at what causes burnout and how to motivate your sales reps to improve sales productivity. We’ll derive insights from speakers who shared their experiences during our recent webinar on motivating sales reps and avoiding burnout.
What is sales productivity?
Before you can improve sales productivity, you need to know how to understand and measure it. In the webinar, Gianna Scorsone, General Manager and Head of North America at Aircall, gave her thoughts on what people think productivity is versus what it really is.
According to Scorsone, productivity is frequently misconstrued and, therefore, measured incorrectly: “People often think productivity means, ‘How much can we squeeze out of every rep’, or ‘How much activity can we drive.’ When I think about what sales productivity really means, it means thoughtfulness paired with activity. It means effectiveness. So productivity equals success and engagement, not just activity.”
Scorsone also believes in working both smart and hard and thinks that it can be dangerous for businesses or teams to look for shortcuts or try to find “hacks” to improve productivity without considering the whole picture.
“When we think about effectiveness, and how to prevent burnout – if all we’re doing is saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to give you all these hacks to drive more activity out of your reps,’ that takes a lot of the fun, a lot of the thought, a lot of the intelligence out of the job itself and of course the impact.”
Think about it. A lot of standalone productivity metrics, like opportunity-to-win ratio, conversion rates, and total deal size closed, certainly do have hacks that you can use to bring up your numbers in the short term. But just focusing on raising these numbers without looking at how they affect your sales reps might not be sustainable in the long term. That means they could negatively impact your business overall, rather than help you achieve your high-level goals.
In the long run, you want to improve sales productivity by motivating and engaging your reps. You also want to keep your most effective sales leaders happy and working at their peak performance level. The key to both is to ensure you don’t overload your sales teams with too many targets and activities so you can avoid burnout and reduce your employee churn rates.
What causes sales burnout?
Sales burnout is caused by a variety of factors. Here are some of the most common ones that you need to watch out for in your sales teams.
Lack of structure and clearly defined goals
Sales development representative (SDR) productivity tends to go down when reps don’t know what they’re working toward.
Without well-defined goals, they end up without any personal victories to look forward to. Over time, the lack of targets eventually leads to burnout because teams feel as though they’re putting in a lot of effort without any meaningful results.
And it’s not just about personal metrics. If your reps don’t know how their work impacts customer success or business objectives, they might feel like their role isn’t valuable.
Lack of collaboration and mentorship
As a people- and metrics-driven job, sales can be emotionally taxing. That’s why your sales team needs to have access to mentors who can provide counseling or support when they’re feeling burned out.
Mentors can also provide professional advice. Senior sales reps or sales managers can help advise on things like time management, lead prioritization, and next steps for sales follow-ups.
However, when it comes to needing emotional support (like when they’re feeling overwhelmed by tasks or depressed over a lost deal), some reps may prefer to speak to their peers rather than supervisors and management.
Lack of access to effective sales tools and training
If you’re not maximizing your sales productivity with best practices and efficient tools, that means your sales reps are doing more work with the same output.
Imagine if you saw a modern sales department without any kind of CRM, where people still had to manage every lead’s next steps and status in the pipeline on Excel sheets or pen and paper. In many ways, that’s the equivalent of not automating your team’s administrative sales tasks and lead management procedures.
One way to resolve this is to invest in a cloud phone system for your sales team to automate the tedious administrative work involved in client calls. These systems can integrate with your CRM to log the call to the relevant lead entry and pull up client information immediately based on caller ID.
Lack of feedback
Another source of burnout is the lack of feedback. Your reps need to know how they’re doing, both quantitatively through sales productivity metrics and qualitatively through the feedback of mentors. They need guidance to know what they’re doing right and where they may need further improvement. Otherwise, they may have anxiety about their performance at work. This pain point is a close cousin of mentorship. If you pair mentorship with regular feedback, you may be able to hit two birds with one stone.
7 strategies to prevent burnout and increase sales productivity
So now we come to the biggest question of all: now that you know what sales burnout is and what causes it, how do you prevent it?
1. Create purposeful objectives
One of the most important ways to get your sales team motivated is to give them a purpose. This ties right into the pain point of not having clearly defined goals. You want your reps to feel like they’re part of the big picture; to do that, you need to involve them in your greater business objectives. That means setting performance targets that are geared toward your business goals as a whole – not just generic “good” sales numbers.
If your objective is to increase existing customer retention, then you need to involve your sales team, setting account management targets that focus on reselling to existing customers and supporting their needs, rather than converting hot leads and doing aggressive outbound lead generation.
2. Celebrate customer wins
There’s no doubt that individual sales wins are highly motivational. However, reps need to know they’re doing more than just reaching an arbitrary target set by management.
This goes right back to purposeful objectives. Jason Bay, Chief Prospecting Officer at Blissful Prospecting, says, “That’s the really big thing to remind your reps of: we’re helping our customers – there’s a bigger mission and purpose behind what we’re doing.
“A lot of leaders share sales wins with their team: ‘So-and-so just landed a big meeting!’ ‘So-and-so just won a big deal!’, and what they don’t celebrate are customer wins.”
Sharing customer wins illustrates how the team is working together toward something, not just for the success of the business but for customers as well. This can motivate your reps by showing them how their efforts contribute to the greater whole, like when it comes to building lasting customer relationships and improving client satisfaction.
Bay gives a simple but concrete example of how to celebrate these wins with the team. “With your customer success team, when [they] pump out a new case study, that should be dispersed across the entire sales team. Just remind everyone of the good work that [you’re] doing.” That way, sales teams can see the result of their work and better understand how their role contributes to the greater success of the company.
3. Clearly define goals
While we’ve established that the big picture is important, your sales reps still need to be able to celebrate personal victories to motivate them and increase their productivity.
Setting measurable goals will give your reps something to look forward to and encourage a little friendly competition among peers.
Some clear goals you can set include:
- Number of emails sent
- Number of product demos completed
- Number of leads at each stage in the sales pipeline
- Weekly deal size achieved
Sam Nelson, SDR Leader at Outreach, says, “On the SDR team, it’s very easy to know what your goal is. It’s quota and what qualifies as quota. You can measure everything by “Does this get me closer or further away?” However, some sales targets may not be as clearly quantifiable, so it’s important to set up appropriate ways to measure them.
Nelson also points out that a lack of clear goals can significantly affect reps’ productivity. This is because productivity isn’t just about the number of tasks sales agents complete – it’s about how valuable or important those tasks are.
If your agents don’t know how their responsibilities relate to larger organizational goals, they won’t know which activities to prioritize first. As Nelson says, “What you need to focus on at every moment of the day is figuring out what that best thing is, and you figure out what that best thing is by figuring out what exactly your goal is.”
4. Be mindful of how many activities lead to SDR success
Scorsone from Aircall says in her discussion about productivity, it’s important to not get caught up in just measuring how many sales-related activities your reps are accomplishing. You also need to measure your SDR productivity by how efficient these activities are in getting leads into a call or a meeting.
Bay from Blissful Prospecting likes to use a metric he calls the “Rep’s Load” that he doesn’t see a lot of people tracking. “If you have someone that takes 50 activities to get a meeting versus someone that takes 10, think about the load that creates for the person that needs 50 activities,” he says. “They have to, between email and phone, do 50 of those activities just to get a meeting. That creates burnout right there.”
The key to increasing sales productivity here is to identify which among these activities are not performing well. This can be due to the individual aptitudes of the sales reps involved in each activity or because an activity itself is simply ineffective relative to the investment.
From here, you can work on reducing the rep’s load metric, adding training and mentorship to make up for deficiencies while doing sales process reviews to eliminate ineffective activities. Ultimately, you’ll be decreasing the sheer number of activities and time spent on getting a result with a lead.
5. Build clear sales processes
Having a lot of decisions to make can be taxing for any employee. It’s possible that your sales team’s productivity is being hampered by having to make a large number of decisions, some of which might not even be necessary for them to be involved in. Clear sales processes can reduce the amount of time your reps spend making decisions so they can focus on their work.
Nelson from Outreach pointed out how this problem is endemic to sales and burnout. “The physical activity of doing SDR work is not really all that hard. [The problem is] making tons of decisions all the time. Having processes and eliminating decisions where they don’t make that big of a difference can do a lot in helping avoid burnout.”
As an example of what clear sales processes should look like, Nelson says structured sequences guide sales reps and reduces the number of decisions they have to make.
“You figure out the structure, and you know a structure that works for your particular prospect, and then you can focus all of your energy into writing the first email that that sequence is going to amplify. You don’t need to think, ‘oh should I be calling right now, should I be doing this,’ and you don’t have to scatter your focus around all kinds of different places.” That means higher quality work, more efficient time management, and a smoother progression for leads moving through your sales funnel.
6. Encourage collaboration in sales team culture
Sales is a team effort, and this is becoming truer as sales cycles get longer, adding multiple touch points throughout the customer life cycle.
Individual sales reps need to focus on uplifting the entire organization with their sales activities – not only work on their individual targets. But this isn’t just about improving sales productivity. This is also ensuring that every sales rep gets the help they need when they need it. You want to foster a culture where it’s okay to approach someone and ask for help. And you also want to be able to provide your team with the tools they need to collaborate.
One of the best places to start implementing this is the sales call. You can upgrade your cloud phone system to allow call whispering, allowing reps to “whisper” in their teammates’ calls without the prospect hearing so they can offer advice and coaching at every turn.
By making it acceptable to ask for help and encouraging the use of a tool that explicitly allows for it, you improve the ties between your sales reps and help them avoid burnout.
7. Encourage self-reflection and feedback
Improving the way your teams receive coaching and feedback can’t just be done haphazardly. You need to provide them with a framework of self-reflection and feedback that helps them understand how they did with respect to the greater business objectives.
Scorsone describes a framework that she learned from working with various coaches: win, learn, and change. During prep work or post-call discussions, she would talk to her reps and ask:
- Win: What did we specifically do or say that impacted us positively to get to our outcome or inch close to the outcome?
- Learn: What could we have done differently or what did we hear that might get us to the outcome we’re looking for as a result of those learnings?
- Change: What can we change to strengthen our ability to get to the outcome?
She describes this framework as a “dynamite way for a rep to say, ‘Hey, you know what, I wasn’t perfect, and this is what I could have done differently.’ It’s a powerful tool to allow for very fast retrospective thinking.”
Sales productivity without burnout: a matter of guidance
Decreasing burnout and increasing sales productivity go hand in hand. Less stressed and anxious reps become powerhouses of motivation, and you also spend less time and energy training new reps to replace the turnover that you’d otherwise get.
Mentorship. Tools. Structure. Processes. Goals. All of these things ultimately point to giving your sales team the guidance and support that they need to succeed.
You need to listen to what they have to say, their most common objections about work and culture, or how the sales process works at your company. Even by simply acknowledging these concerns, you can do a lot to make your sales reps feel heard and appreciated, which is one of the key factors in reducing burnout.