Sales Burnout Affects Nearly 90% of Sellers

BY Jessica Helinski
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Sales burnout is real, and it’s rampant. An industry study revealed that 89% of sellers say they feel burned out by their work. The research, by Gartner, sheds light on this major industry challenge that is affecting both professional and personal health. 

Sales burnout and "drag"

For nearly all sellers, burnout is a reality. Unfortunately, this high number may not come as a surprise given the high-​pressure industry. SalesFuel’s own study found that for many sellers, it’s getting harder to do aspects of their job, such as dealing with rising prices and meeting expectations.

It turns out, "drag" is a major contributor to burnout. Gartner reports that sellers are experiencing high levels of drag, which lends to feelings of being burned out. Drag is the opposite of drive; it manifests as apathy toward work, low productivity, and feelings of “going through the motions.” 

The challenge is drag, the opposite of drive, which manifests in avoiding or procrastinating work, boredom, and a struggle to focus," explains Gartner's Alice Walmesley. "Sellers experiencing drag achieve lower quota attainment, have higher burnout, are more likely to express intent to leave and have shorter expected tenures. About a quarter of sellers experience high drag, and more than half experience medium levels of drag.”

Four contributing factors

While studying the root of drag and burnout, Gartner uncovered four primary causes:

  • Lack of development opportunities
  • Feeling like a “cog in a machine”
  • Lack of clear manager feedback
  • High burden of non-​value-​added administrative tasks, such as seeking multiple approvals for deals

So, even among the most motivated sellers, drag can still have a negative impact. This is especially true if a rep is dealing with at least one of those four factors.

Recognize and respond 

SalesFuel’s Tim Londergan points out that the World Health Organization (WHO) has even added burnout to the eleventh revision of the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon. He notes, “To clarify, WHO details this sensation NOT as a medical condition, but one reason for which people should contact health services. Further, WHO lists the symptoms of ‘chronic workplace stress’ in three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion”
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or negativism or cynicism related to the job”
  • Reduced professional efficacy”

Sellers can escape burnout, but first, they must recognize the signs. In addition to lackluster performance, reps will likely find their emotional health affected as well. The Sales Health Alliance notes that there are varying levels of burnout, and sellers need to take an honest, deep look at how they’ve been feeling. 

Burnout is not black and white and instead something we experience on a spectrum,” Sales Health Alliance Founder Jeff Riseley writes. “There are degrees of burnout, just like there are degrees of skin burn attributed to a burn victim.”

Sellers should consider the intensity, frequency and duration of their feelings, which will help determine their level of burnout. Sometimes, feelings of being burned out may be due to a specific situation, like a recent trip or difficult negotiation. Or, they can be a bit deeper and a sign of a more long-​term issue. Sellers are encouraged to assess their feelings and reach out for assistance if needed. 

Managing burnout, especially in sales, requires daily attention and practice,” Riseley adds. “When we’re more aware of changes (intensity, frequency, duration) to our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, we can take actions that prevent burnout before it starts to feel hopeless.”

For more advice regarding sales burnout, check out these professional tips.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich