New research from Gartner has revealed a startling truth– almost 90% of B2B sales reps are experiencing burnout (source). Although it’s no secret that sales is a high-stress job, uncertain market conditions have only amplified the pressure to perform.
Unfortunately, sales isn’t the only function experiencing high levels of burnout. Nearly 3 in 5 employees report negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%) and lack of effort at work (19%). Meanwhile, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and an astounding 44% reported physical fatigue—a 38% increase over the previous year (source).
As a result, we’ve seen several new movements crop up in response to the general discontent felt among employees. (Quiet quitting and The Great Resignation to name two.) But, as burnout continues to rise at alarming levels, we have yet to land on one clear solution.
So, what does this all mean for sales leaders and is there really no fix for sales burnout? We answer these questions and more in today’s blog post.
Let’s jump into it!
What is Sales Burnout and Why is it so Common?
Before we dive into the nitty gritty details. Let’s level set. What exactly is burnout? While it looks different for everyone, on the most basic level, burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated workplace stress.
Harvard Business review cites six main factors that contribute to burnout across all professions and industries (source):
- Perceived lack of control
Salespeople in particular are more susceptible to burnout for a few reasons:
- Performance-based compensation: In sales, a rep’s paycheck fluctuates based on their performance. This means, there are no “quiet” days in sales. Each activity, each conversation can impact how much money a rep takes home during any given pay period. This is often compounded by the lack of visibility reps have when it comes to sales commission.
- The expectation to Always Be Closing: Sales teams often operate under the belief that the customer or prospect always comes first, even when it means the wellbeing of the sales rep takes the back seat. This often means sales is a 24/7 gig- taking calls at all hours and maintaining extreme schedules to suit the needs of the customer. In fact, 74% of salespeople report feeling like they’re on call 24×7 and have to respond to customers immediately or it will impact the relationship (source).
- Visible business impact: While all departments play some role in an organization’s success, the impact of sales is more immediate and more visible than other jobs. While this can have its benefits when it comes to wins, it also means losses and failures are also more visible. The result of this visibility, then, isn’t just the pressure of earning a paycheck but also keeping an entire company in business.
- Unattainable or irrelevant goals: In sales, reps live and die by their quotas. Yet, quota setting is one of the areas that comes most difficult to sales managers. In fact, 61% of sales managers cite quota setting as their biggest challenge (source). This poses a huge issue in sales departments. When a rep’s income is dependent on their ability to hit an impossible quota, burnout becomes inevitable.
These four factors, when combined, create a work environment that feels more like a pressure cooker than a sales team.
Prevention vs. Intervention
As a sales leader reading this article, you might be asking yourself, “So, how do I spot or prevent burnout?” Unfortunately, for modern sales organizations, prevention efforts won’t solve the nasty side effects of existing burnout. And, rest assured, a portion of your team is already suffering. (Remember, 90% of B2B salespeople report feeling burnout.)
The question, then, becomes about intervention rather than prevention. But, why is this an important distinction to make? For one, preventative measures aren’t effective at eradicating existing burnout. Consider this fact: 71% of organizations report that they offer programs aimed at wellness and burnout (source). This number highlights a huge disconnect.
How can so many organizations claim to fight burnout when so many salespeople are still, well, burnt out? The short answer is that these programs often focus on prevention rather than intervention.
Let’s look at an example: A workplace identifies high rates of burnout. They implement training to educate employees on techniques to prevent burnout. These include exercise incentives, free mindfulness tools, and practical advice about relieving workplace stress. Someone who has yet to experience burnout may employ these techniques and benefit greatly. Someone who’s already in the throes of burnout is more likely:
- To skip the training altogether to get caught up on work.
- Go to the training but feel resentment or even panic at the thought of having to spend an hour on what they perceive to be non-essential activities.
- Too overwhelmed and overloaded with work to make the time for things like exercise or mindfulness, even if they do understand the value.
The other reason to prioritize intervention over prevention, is that burnout is an expensive and damaging problem to have. Between lost productivity, employee disengagement, absenteeism, lower organizational commitment, and turnover, burnout costs organizations as much as $190 billion annually (source).
When it comes to burnout, sales organizations must prioritize intervention to simply stem the revenue bleed that’s already occurring as a result of burnout.
How to Solve Sales Burnout Once and For All
While we can’t fundamentally change sales as a profession, there are steps your organization can take to reduce burnout– steps that don’t involve yoga or time spent away from the phone.
The answer to sales burnout comes in the form of technology– automation to be specific. In this section, we’ll break down the six primary causes of burnout and explain how the right tools can effectively eliminate these from your sales organization.
Before we dive deeper, let’s quickly clarify that when we use the term automation we mean any software, system, or tool that handles a manual or repetitive task required to run an effective sales cycle.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into it!
When you have more work than hours in your workday, burnout becomes inevitable– especially if this remains the case for any extended period of time. But, in a profession that feels like a 24/7 commitment, there’s this mentality that long hours just come with the territory.
While this may always be true to some extent, strategic use of automation can lighten workloads and improve productivity during working hours so there’s less to be done off the clock.
According to a recent study, 74% of salespeople agreed that most of their time at work is spent on non-selling activities, and that the average sales rep spends nearly half of their workday (41%) on non-revenue generating activities, or NRGs (source).
The Solution: Investigate where your reps are spending the most time and use automation to reduce time spent on NRGs. That way, your reps will have more time to spend on meaningful work so they accomplish more during the workday without a heavy administrative burden.
In Practice: Your AE’s are responsible for following up with inbound demo requests. They spend approximately half of their day reaching out to these prospects and coordinating meeting times. To cut down the back and forth between AE and prospect, you install a meeting booking tool directly on your website so the prospect has the option to schedule a call while it’s top of mind, without any manual lift from the rep.
With a quarter to half of each day freed up, reps have time to do additional prospecting and outreach. Ultimately, shortening sales cycles and improving rep productivity– giving reps more time to unplug and unwind off the clock.
Perceived Lack of Control
Research shows that job autonomy is one of the most important predictors of job satisfaction, motivation, and improved performance. When sales reps don’t feel in control of their day to day responsibilities, they begin to feel like a cog in the proverbial machine.
Sales reps who feel they have no autonomy are 34% less likely to hit their quota and 44% more likely to seek employment elsewhere– meaning less revenue earned and increased costs related to sales turnover (source).
As a sales leader, though, giving reps total autonomy can feel like a trade off– especially if you’re not acutely aware of the impacts of burnout. It can feel like you gain a more engaged, less burnt out team in exchange for decreased productivity or lower quota attainment. But, that doesn’t have to be the case.
You can successfully solve rep burnout and improve sales performance with the help of the right tools and systems. Plus, when a rep feels they have autonomy in their role, you’ll see a corresponding boost in productivity and save money on lower rates of sales turnover.
The Solution: Use automation to build and distribute robust dashboards and reports. The benefit here is two-fold. For sales reps, automated reporting provides necessary context and enables reps to make smarter decisions independently.
For sales leaders, automated reporting allows you to loosen up on the reins a bit and safely give your team more autonomy. Should any one rep’s performance slip at any point, you’ll be able to identify and correct the behavior faster using your detailed reports and dashboards.
In Practice: Your sales team feels they have little to no insight into how much they’ll earn in sales commission each month. As a result, it’s hard for them to feel in control of their livelihood. This puts additional stress on their plates that compounds the effects of burnout.
To fix this issue, you purchase a commission automation platform that gives reps real-time visibility into their earnings so they understand how much they’ll earn each pay period and more importantly, why they’re earning it.
On top of feeling a new found sense of control, you’ll also reap the benefits of increasing trust on your team and saving time on manual calculations and commission disputes.
The Effort Is Greater Than the Reward
Burnout often occurs, not because one’s job is difficult, but because the effort isn’t commensurate with the “reward” they receive in return. A reward can be tangible– a bonus, a promotion, or recognition– it can also be internal– like feelings of fulfillment, pride, or accomplishment.
When you consider how much time and energy reps spend on NRGs and admin work, a picture of the average work day begins to form. If a rep is working all hours of the day and night and most of that time is spent on manual, repetitive tasks– seeing the payoff of that effort is going to take quite a long time.
Deals take longer to close and as a result, commission and recognition are also delayed. It becomes harder and harder for reps to find fulfillment in a job that feels thankless.
The Solution: As we suggested earlier in this post, automating manual or repetitive tasks can give your team time back in their day to spend on more meaningful work. When reps spend more time selling, the lift becomes lighter and deals close faster. This makes for a more rewarding experience.
Something else to consider is using automation to provide more visibility into rewards. Whether that’s a tool to provide feedback, a gifting program, or even a leaderboard. Consider what you can do to better reward your team for the effort they put in.
In Practice: You automate a company-wide notification anytime a deal closes. It contains the rep’s name and important details about the work that went into the sale. As a result, your reps not only get the satisfaction of a job well done, they also get recognition and praise from across the entire org.
Lack of Community
It’s easy to feel burnt out when you don’t feel like you’re a part of something bigger. And now, with an estimated 36.2 million Americans expected to be working remotely by 2025, it’s more difficult than ever to facilitate camaraderie or a shared sense of purpose on sales teams (source).
Team unity is no longer something that simply comes with the territory. Sales leaders must be intentional about building a sense of community on their teams.
In order to effectively reduce burnout through community building, it’s important to understand what that means… and what it doesn’t mean. The word community sparks immediate visions of team building exercises and forced family fun. But, as we already alluded to, taking this approach may only increase levels of burnout.
While pizza parties are great when time permits, they can be seen as a surface-level nuisance to a team that’s already experiencing burnout. Instead of thinking about community as team bonding, think of community as shared purpose.
Your team might know what they’re supposed to be doing. They might even know exactly how to do it. But, does your team have a reason to come to work each day– something they can lean on in tough times or use as their compass to guide difficult decisions? If your answer is no, your sales team might be lacking a shared purpose.
The Solution: A great way to create a shared sense of purpose is to leverage automation to break down silos within your organization. Make sure your team has ways to connect their work to the work of their peers and the work of other departments within the organization.
In Practice: You implement a company-wide email notification that distributes new win/loss reports after every closed deal. As a result, your team and the broader organization have insight into critical learnings that are then used to perfect the product, marketing messaging, sales outreach and more.
This provides an opportunity for each rep to feel as if they have a greater purpose and are valued by the organization whether they win or lose. It also offers opportunities for connection as other employees and departments may reach out to sales teams for further insight.
Perception of Fairness
When decisions, goals, or requests seem unfair, it’s easy to feel burnt out and aimless at work. After all, if the odds are unfairly stacked against you, work begins to lose its meaning. This ties closely into the idea of having control over one’s work.
There are many elements of sales roles that have the potential to feel unfair– lead routing, account selection, commission structure, goal setting, etc. But, just because something seems unfair, doesn’t mean it actually is. Many times, when something feels unfair it’s because there’s important context missing or something hasn’t been explained well enough.
The Solution: Use technology to automate anything that currently requires human discretion– lead routing, account scoring, territory management, etc. This will ensure fairness and provide your team with a sense of security knowing that an impartial tool is giving them a fair shake.
We also recommend using automation to provide clarity into big picture decisions and to connect each rep’s work with the work others are doing.
In Practice: After previously struggling to set fair quotas, you enlist the help of a tool that uses sales data and automation to ensure your goals are both fair and in service of overarching revenue goals.
As a result, quotas are more reasonable and reps are less discouraged. Engagement and productivity increase as a result of this shift.
Misalignment of Values
As humans, it’s hard to get on board with a mission that doesn’t align with our values. And while it’s impossible and even unwise to hire a team with identical values, there are ways to leverage automation to communicate your business values and tie them back to the work your team is doing.
A simple first step is to make sure you’re communicating your values as an organization early and often. Simply knowing an organization’s values makes a difference. In fact, 65% of employees who knew the core values of their organization were reported to be highly engaged (source).
The Solution: Choose tools that allow you to tie both individual and team contributions to your organizational values. This might be in the form of a recognition program, a performance management tool, or even during call coaching.
In Practice: You work with HR to implement a tool that allows you to give and receive feedback– each time you or your team uses the platform, you’re able to assign a company value to each piece of feedback. If the feedback is positive, you’re recognizing how the other person demonstrated this value effectively. If the feedback is constructive, you’re highlighting the values or traits the person failed to bring to the table.
There’s no way around it: The world of B2B sales is in a state of crisis. Both reps and managers feel overworked, disconnected, and exhausted. While burn out feels like an impossible problem to solve, the right tools and a strategic approach can make a world of difference.
Rather than leave your team’s mental state in the hands of corporate wellness programs, really consider what sales specific issues are causing burnout on your team. Start slow and take small steps to mitigate the stress on your team using the framework we laid out in today’s blog post.
Your team and your bottom line will thank you.
Spiff is a new class of commission software that improves trust across organizations by automating commission calculations and motivating teams to drive top-line growth. With an intuitive UI, real-time visibility, and seamless integrations with the systems you already use, Spiff is the first choice among high-growth businesses.