It’s no secret – the Head of Sales/VP of Sales role might be the most stressful job in any organization. And that’s exactly why I’m organizing the first ever Surf & Sales Summit, to give sales leaders an exciting yet unconventional way to reduce sales stress and re-energize for peak performance.
Real Answers, From Real Sales Leaders
To gather a nice diverse set of ideas, I thought I would ask a few friends of mine – that includes VPs of sales, sales consultants, extroverts, introverts, and everything in between.
From Matt Curl, VP Business Operations at FiveStars:
- Find your creative outlet
- Set aside a few personal hours every day
- Set realistic expectations
- Create your own ‘Religion’
1. Find Your Creative Outlet
Give yourself a daily set of tasks that are purely a creative outlet. These are tasks that will allow your mind and body to be simultaneously engaged.
For me, this manifested as cooking dinners for the family. I tried other things first, like running, but it failed.
Whenever I would get on a treadmill (also helpful for decreasing stress), I often found that my mind would wander into thoughts of work, given the mundane nature of say, running.
When I was engaged in an activity like cooking, I was able to really focus on the task at hand and be creative/helpful for the family.
Most importantly, I was able to effectively not think about work, since cooking is an activity that occupies your mind at a deeper level.
2. Set Aside A Couple Of Personal Hours Every Day
I used to struggle with the ‘always on’ nature of work and felt personal guilt or responsibility for not answering the phone etc., during certain times.
At about 1.5-2 years into the role as VP of Sales, I learned to communicate personal boundaries to the team, specifically that I was out of commission every single day (barring an emergency) from 6-8pm so I could spend time with my kids and family. I allowed any calls/needs/etc., from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. and then again from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m., but was rigorously defensive over that two-hour block.
The team learned to work with this quite quickly and again, helped to combine with #1 above to ensure I had a couple of hours daily to focus on my family and personal emotional needs.
3. Set Realistic Expectations
I set realistic expectations by telling myself every month was going to be tough and require my full focus (especially on what I can control.)
I often found months/quarters where I felt most stressed came from times when I had convinced myself that things were going to go ‘right’.
Moving the personal mentality and setting an expectation with myself that each month will require my best effort and focus allowed me to be pleasantly surprised when tail winds occurred. It helps me curb stress that occurs when things go sour.
4. Create Your Own ‘Religion’
I created a ‘religion’ around attempting to catch every single sunset possible.
Again, this was typically in my 6-8 time, but I had a religion around ensuring I caught every single sunset.
When you’re looking out into the ocean, somehow problems you’re facing seem small. For me personally, this was a time for me to re-ground myself and come back to putting my stress inducers into focus.
My thoughts typically revolve around:
“Many people can’t afford to feed their children, but I’m stressed that the sales month isn’t going the way I want it” or “I’m stressed because I’m given a huge responsibility and opportunity to perform, but this is really a huge blessing and I’m incredibly lucky.”
Grounding yourself and finding time for proper perspective was invaluable to me.
From Richard Harris, The Harris Consulting Group:
- Use a 60 second breathing exercise
5. Use a 60-Second Breathing Exercise
I put both feet flat on the floor.
I sit up straight, extend the spine, like a fishing line is gently pulling me upward
I breathe in for 4 seconds, out for six seconds 2x
I remind myself to sit up straight.
I then focus on the space in front of me, on each side of me, on top of me, etc.
I recognize the space in front of me while I breath in (4), out (6), 2x.
I recognize the space behind me (4) (6) 2x
On top, below, etc.
All following the same pattern.
When I am done, I sit for another 15 seconds, thinking of nothing.
This really slows down the heart rate, allows oxygen into your lungs and body, and you literally feel yourself relax.
Over time you can do this entire exercise in about 15 seconds just doing the breathing, but visualizing the space helps. It creates a healthy boundary between you and the issues stressing you out.
From Basile Senesi, Head of Sales at Fundbox:
- Develop personal rituals
6. Develop Personal Rituals
“For me, the two things I do that relax me daily are the two things that get me away from a screen: Running & Cooking. It’s a ritual for me.”
What I found interesting about this is that it runs counter to what Matt Curl said about running.
I think the key takeaway here is that everybody is different and what matters is that whatever you choose is deeply personal to you, and if it works and it’s healthy then have at it.
From Paige Drews, Enterprise Account Executive at Mindtouch
- Disconnect when necessary
7. Disconnect When Necessary
What about somebody who has been in Sales Leadership but is now an Enterprise AE? Is it the same?
For Paige Drews of Mindtouch, the ability to re-gain energy and strength comes from the:
“Need to de-stress and disconnect, sometimes completely. For those close to me, this disconnect may be so extreme it requires a “head’s up.”
So, what does this look like in practice?
“Going somewhere or doing something that will not require social engagement.
I’ll take my dog deep into the woods, go fishing, drive – there have been times I’ve found myself hours away caught up only in the scenery of where I am.
Or I throw myself into a project. I’ll create whether it’s art in paint, or building something, getting into my garden, finding some new hobby I have interest in, I immerse myself in what I am doing, and again can find myself hours into something with no regard to the world around me.”
As you read through these things, a common theme begins to emerge.
In all these situations, it seems essential that the world revolves only around ‘me’, feeding that which has been depleted.
As a great sales leader, you are constantly giving. Giving away your time, your experience, your energy.
You must be present in the exact moment you are in, and be actively aware as its happening. It’s the rest in watching the waves, or the lines on a canvas that create a clean and re-energized mind ready to re-engage in the workplace.
From Claire Morris, VP of Customer Success at ShippingEasy
- Have a reliable morning routine
- Use a digital task / project management system for everything
- Always have a trip on the calendar to look forward to
- Use your resources
8. Have a Reliable Morning Routine
I used to sleep until the last minute and sometimes eat breakfast, sometimes skip it, and no morning ever looked the same, except that I was always a little stressed about getting to work on time.
Getting up 30 minutes earlier (or more), having an easy breakfast, getting my coffee, and getting in at least 15 minutes before I need to gives me back so much energy for the day that those few minutes of extra sleep could never have equated.
9. Use a Digital Task/Project Management System for Everything (even personal life!)
Being well-organized and detailed means anytime I notice I have a moment of “what-to-do-now” time, I have a prioritized list to reference and immediately start being productive again.
Nothing like getting-shit-done and crossing things off your list to help you de-stress.
In my personal life, if I have gifts to buy, events to attend, tires to replace, a rug to purchase, (etc. x 1,000), keeping lists in the same task management system as my business life but a separate folder means I can eliminate the “I can’t forget to do that!” stress and I get the same satisfaction (and serotonin release) from marking those items as complete too.
10. Always Have a Trip on the Calendar to Look Forward to
Whether it’s something simple like a staycation or trip to another town nearby or an across the world adventure, and whether it’s 8 months from now or tomorrow, this keeps me grateful for the job I have and position I’m in, and always working to kick ass.
When I’m motivated, stress converts to energy versus anxiety. The high-pressure items on your list transform into a list of ways you can earn and feel amazing about taking that trip.
11. Use Your Resources
If you have emerging talent at your disposal that is vying for the chance to level up, use it! That’s how I got here — some very busy senior talent didn’t have the time or brain space to do everything on their plate, and I was thrown opportunity after opportunity to stretch myself and prove my potential. Always search for capable, thirsty talent around you, and invest in it.
From Scott Leese, SVP of Sales at Qualia
- Organize an event
- Spend time with people who are not stressed out
So, what do I do to de-stress?
What don’t I do is a better way to frame that question!
While scaling a sales org at Qualia, working as a Strategic Advisor for nearly a dozen startups around the country, running my Consulting firm, continuing to work on getting my book out there, and putting together the Surf and Sales Summit – while balancing a family and a tenuous long-term battle with health, it is absolutely essential for me to master stress management.
I have an acupuncturist I see twice a week. I make sure I walk my dogs at night and walk my kids to school at least once a week. Despite living in Austin and being land-locked, I make certain to take a few surf trips a year. I hit the gym a few times a week and get to the office very early every Monday morning to prep for the week. But maybe what is most important to me is who I spend time with.
12. Spend Time With People Whom Are Not Stressed-Out
We all know the type – rushing around trying to squeeze way too many things into too little time, overly anxious about outcomes beyond their control.
I made a decision a long time ago that I was simply not going to have personal relationships with these types of people. I do my best to avoid them, or at the least spend minimal time with them. If they increase my nervousness, anxiety and stress level, then they have no place in my life.
I want to surround myself with people who are successful, busy, and balanced. They center me and make me feel like I’m not alone. They help me understand that others have it similar [or harder] than me, and if they can do it my competitiveness kicks in and I want to match them.
It’s a tough and stressful job being an executive in a startup. Being the Head of Sales and knowing it’s your job to keep the lights on and keep things growing can take its toll. It’s really important not to neglect yourself in the process. You, and your company, will be better for it.