How to Avoid Sales Fatigue—The Hidden Productivity Killer

Author: Chris Gillespie

Fatigue can show up in a number of interesting ways and it’s up to both management and sales professionals to self-assess and realize when they’re overworking themselves. With my background in wilderness Search and Rescue, I liken this to going for a very long hike: You’d assume that by not stopping, you’d go faster and further. In reality, if you don’t take frequent breaks you’ll slow down to a crawl and then start making poor decisions. This is exactly how hundreds of people get lost in national parks every year and have to be rescued.

The same exact principle is true in the workplace. If you are grinding yourself into the ground at your computer screen prospecting for twelve hours each day and not taking breaks, you’re going to do a very poor job. This can be tolerable for short stints, but as a salesperson, you really don’t have the luxury of redoing some things. You only get one shot at making a killer first impression. You only get one good discovery call. And you only get one presentation to the CEO. If you’re not performing optimally during these critical moments, your sales will suffer.

Fatigue affects your performance in everything, but especially in sales:

While it’s true that as a sales professional, you’re not at the helm of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker or the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, mistakes made when you’re tired can still be damaging to your career. The Canadian Organization of Health and Safety claims that the effects of fatigue are similar to being drunk:

  • Reduced decision-making ability
  • Increased errors in judgment
  • Reduced communication skills
  • Reduced reaction time
  • Increased tendency for risk-taking (not the good kind, sales leaders)
  • Irritability

These effects kick in after the 9th-12th hour at the office and linger for days. In this state, you’ll make poor first impressions, retain less from your discovery calls, and get outmaneuvered in negotiations over and over again. You’ll address clients by the wrong name, miss obvious social cues that it’s time to stop talking, and get generally upset when prospects don’t do what you’d like them to do. Clients will avoid calls with you and your productivity will plummet. Your manager will be on your case to perform and you’ll get frustrated, compounding your problems.Keep this up for a sustained period and you’re going to make fewer sales and eventually start worrying about your job security. More importantly, the long-term effect of fatigue is burnout. Long hours at the office come at the expense of more than just sleep: it eats into your personal interests and your social life and deprives you of the inspiration to go to work in the first place.

So how do you spot fatigue? Just look for bumbles, mumbles, and stumbles. This was our rule of thumb in Search and Rescue: When people start stumbling over rocks, mumbling their words, or just bumbling around with pointless repetitive actions, it’s your job, as a peer, to draw attention to it. Their brain and body are taxed and they’re not making great decisions. This is when hikers read the map upside-down and get themselves lost in the dark.In sales, this is when you misquote the customer by a full decimal point, put the wrong company logo on your slide deck, forget what you’re saying mid-sentence, and draw a complete blank on critical questions. Your clients will be incensed at your lack of thoughtfulness and in sales, perception is reality. You’re going to lose deals because you didn’t connect with people. And it’s up to you and your team to help keep each other out of this state.

How can sales professionals avoid fatigue?

  1. Get eight hours of sleep. It’s simple but worth mentioning because while you already know this, you probably don’t do it. As a salesperson, you work long hours. You get in early and stay until the job is done. You’re especially unbalanced near the end of the month or quarter. There’s also generally pressure not to be the first person out of the office, which doesn’t help. Just know that no amount of coffee the next morning is going to make you the A-player that you otherwise would be, and your brain needs sleep to win those deals. The trick is to talk openly with your manager and team about what time is acceptable to leave the office.
  2. Maintain healthy outside interests. Maybe that actually is hiking. Maybe it’s the gym. Maybe it’s really heavy dubstep. Or dinner with friends. Whatever those things are, don’t deny yourself the fresh infusion of fun and excitement that will keep you balanced and motivated to tackle each day of work. I know many salespeople who never miss a day of the gym because they see a direct correlation to their performance. Find your thing, and find time to do it. For those reps on a monthly sales cycle, you may want to front-load these activities into the first three weeks of the month and accept that the fourth week is a work-heavy week.
  3. Don’t take work home with you. Let me ask you, how many times during this article have you checked your phone? As salespeople, we’re beyond addicted to notifications–we live for them. Do you ever find yourself checking your email, LinkedIn, phone, and then email in an infinite loop? I do. When these notifications follow you home, they prevent your brain from resetting. Do your best to designate no-phone times and turn off unnecessary notifications.
  4. Managers, tell your reps when it’s okay to go home. Research shows that employees that are forced to spend a fixed amount of time at work find ways to make that enjoyable by filling in the gaps with Facebook, Zynga, and ESPN. As a sales manager, create a culture where your sales reps manage their time wisely. Your goal is to help them sell and it’s in your best interest to guarantee that they’ll be on their A-game during those critical moments like break-up calls or negotiation. Otherwise, they’ll be left bumbling around like a tired hiker who’s slowly getting lost because he’s not thinking straight.

As salespeople, it’s important to self-assess and understand that working smarter doesn’t mean running yourself ragged. It means getting a decent amount of sleep and prioritizing your key interests and hobbies. It means setting your phone down when you go home. And it means that the entire sales organization is working together to keep each other balanced so that you can each be your best self and go on closing deals and winning.

Do you feel like you do a particularly good job of maintaining this balance? Share your story below.

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