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Got Stress?

If your sales reps are under pressure and burning out, try these tips to get them back on track.

Stress serves its purpose in our lives. Say you're on safari in Africa, and a lion makes its way into your campsite. Making a beeline for your Land Rover certainly makes good sense, and the stress of such a situation allows humans to sort through fight-or-flight options. But in the workplace, stress can create reps who are fretful balls of nerves. Employee stress matters to managers because daily anxiety wears down a salesperson's ability to perform at the top of his or her game and can lead to costly mistakes.

Jordan Friedman is a health-education trainer and author of The Stress Manager's Manual. Friedman explains that stress can dull the three essential tools for selling: energy, focus and effective communication. "It's the sales executive's responsibility to create an environment in which players can work together in harmony to reach goals," he says.

If your reps are showing signs of burnout and fatigue on the job, here are a few steps toward assuaging workplace stress:

  • Understand triggers. Sales pros get beat up on a regular basis. "The salesperson faces more rejection and refusal, more nos and more short-tempered customers than any other profession," says Bryan Flanagan, director of corporate training at Ziglar Training Systems in Addison, Texas. Flanagan points out that reps are always facing a deadline and a deliverable-every month, quarter and year-end. "A salesperson must be mentally and emotionally tougher" than folks in other professions, according to Flanagan.
  • Support stress-relief programs. Consider picking up the tab for gym memberships for your team. Look for fitness centers with classes and activities including yoga, Pilates, weight training and cardio machines. Or bring in a health guru-perhaps a yoga instructor for a lunch-and-learning session to educate employees on the benefits of flexibility and breathing exercises. Yoga is a discipline that nearly everyone, in any shape, can practice. Encourage employees to participate in regular fitness sessions to relieve tension and foster greater creativity-crucial for selling.
  • Offer mental-health benefits. The American Management Association's "2003 Survey on Health and Wellness Programs" found that just 33 percent of organizations sponsored stress-management programs. Demonstrate that stress management is a real priority at your company by offering employees a mental health benefit with their insurance coverage. Many insurance plans offer employees the chance to meet with a counselor for a certain number of visits each year at a reasonable co-pay amount.
  • Use fun and low-cost stress busters. DEAR stands for "drop everything and relax," a tactic recommended by Flanagan. Here's how it works: The sales manager sets a specific time and makes an announcement that it's time for DEAR. Reps then take a few moments to extricate themselves from the phone, do some stretches for good ergonomics, take a quick stroll, or shoot the breeze with co-workers. Flanagan also encourages a "bad call of the day" contest, in which sales reps share their most onerous call, and the team votes on who wins a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Jordan Friedman offers the following ideas for effective stress relief in the ranks:

  • Sleep well. Restful sleep boosts reps' concentration and energy. Reps who get quantity and quality sleep function well the following day.
  • Get moving. Running, swimming, stair climbing, racewalking-do any cardiovascular undertaking that elevates the heart rate for 15 to 30 minutes, two or three times per week.
  • Have an emotional outlet. Talk with a relative, friend or counselor to communicate feelings about work and personal life.

Kimberly L. McCall (Marketing Angel) is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.

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This article was originally published in the June 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Got Stress?.

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