Getting Out of a Sales Rut
Exploring the intersection of mental health and sales fatigue
By Ryan Dohrn
Mental health is a very important subject for us to discuss as it relates to our work life and, I believe, our sales life, as well. Please understand that I am not a clinically trained therapist in any way, shape or form. I do hold an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) certification from the International Coaching Federation. My intention with this column is to try to provide inspiration to those of you who might have found yourselves in a sales rut or mentally fatigued at work, or in life, as we’re getting back to some level of normal sales business across America. If you are experiencing significant mental fatigue or issues related to your mental well-being, please seek professional advice. I have listed several resources at the end of this column. I dedicate this column to my fellow media sales warrior, Chris Atkins, who took his life amidst a vibrant media sales career. Chris, you are missed.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 31% of survey respondents report symptoms of anxiety or depression, 13% report having started or increased substance use, 26% report stress-related symptoms, and 11% report having serious thoughts of suicide within the past 30 days. These numbers are nearly double the rates expected before the pandemic. Friends, this is a real problem. This is more than a revenue issue. This is a human issue.
We’ve all had those days and weeks and months. Days when you just don’t feel like doing much of anything, much less selling. It doesn’t matter if you are selling copy machines or advertising. Some days you just don’t feel like doing it. Have you had one of those days? If you haven’t, you’ve probably not been selling for very long, because it’s quite normal to feel this way. But know this: you are not alone out there.
So, what do you do? Is there a way to get yourself out of a sales rut? Is there a way to push through the mental fatigue? The answer is a resounding … YES! Rather than blaming this dilemma on the pandemic, it’s probably better for all of us in sales land to recognize that we’re just normal people that have chosen a career many would never take for any amount of money. Each month I end my Ad Sales Nation podcast by saying, “If ad sales was easy, everybody would be doing it. And they’re not. We are the chosen few. But, we’ve found a career that will feed our families for a lifetime.” It is a statement that I feel deeply about. I tell my ad sales coaching clients all the time that I go where I want, eat where I want, travel where I want, all because of media sales. It has literally been a part of my life for 30 years. But over that period of time there have been many days, many weeks, many months when I’ve just not felt like I wanted to sell anything. Here are the seven things that I often do when I find myself in a sales rut or mentally exhausted from the business of sales.
- Connect with others in the sales business. The first thing for every sales rep to recognize is that sales ruts are normal and they happen to everybody. You are a unique person, but this circumstance and situation is not unique at all. You’re human. These things happen to all of us. It’s important also to surround yourself with other people that understand where you’re coming from. Oftentimes, those around you can’t sympathize very much because they don’t really know what it’s like to be in the sales business. Think about it. If every day you’re guaranteed a paycheck, you’re not used to what we in sales land are going through each day. Being in sales is tough. We live and die by our sales activity. Nothing is a guarantee in sales. Having a few mutual connections that are also in the sales business is important to your long-term sanity. While it’s always good to get other people’s outside perspective, it’s also equally important to surround yourself with other people who completely and utterly understand what you’re going through on a daily basis. There’s a reason that people crinkle their noses when you tell them you are in sales. You probably do not smell bad. They just know they could not handle being in sales. In every major city there are groups of sales professionals that gather together on a regular basis. With COVID restrictions subsiding across the country, It’s probably easier now than it has been in the last year to find a group of like-minded sales professionals that you can gel with and who will provide you a shoulder to lean on. Here is a link to several groups that you can join: https://jobstars.com/sales-professional-associations-organizations/. I truly feel this is an important piece of the puzzle. If you’re not able to find a networking group, seek out professional sales coaching. Finding a coach that’s also in the sales business can be extremely helpful to you since they will be able to better sympathize with your current situation and provide guidance.
- Change your frequency. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to read the book The Secret, you’ll understand a little bit of what I’m talking about. Even if you feel that book to be complete hocus-pocus, I feel it to be based in some level of reality. There is a universal understanding that when you continue to do something the same way and expect a different result, you are defining or trying to redefine the non-clinical version of insanity. Many of the salespeople that I personally coach will find themselves on the wrong frequency. They have been doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, and they just can’t see why things aren’t going in their direction. Whether you believe that life operates on certain planes or frequencies is completely up to you. But, I can tell you that changing things up, changing your frequency, can be part and parcel to your success and getting out of a sales rut. Recently, I was working with a fantastic sales professional that found herself in a sales rut. I encouraged her to change things up. To leave home at a different time for work. To drive a new direction to the office. To listen to a different style of music on her way to work. To change her coffee. To park in a different parking spot. To wear a different type of outfit than she would normally wear to work. All of these little factors contribute to you looking at things from a different perspective. What’s interesting is that we are all creatures of habit. Some of those habits become so ingrained in our lives that even though we’re doing the same thing over and over again, we just don’t see it as being that simple. After just 48 hours of doing things completely differently than she normally would, she closed a big dollar sales deal. Was it the coffee? Was it a magic parking spot? No. I don’t think that this is a conspiracy theory by any means. A lot of times it’s just about retraining your brain to see things from a little bit of a different perspective. Try something different today. You might be surprised at how impactful it is on your life.
- Call a client who loves you. All of us have advertisers that we love. In some cases, I’ve been in the wedding of some of my favorite clients. After all, sales is about quality relationships with quality people. Do I love all my advertisers? The answer is … no, I don’t. But I do have a select group of advertisers and clients that I absolutely enjoy and would spend time with regardless of whether or not they did business with me. These are the types of people that I often call on when I’m having a bad day. I do not usually tell them that I’m having a bad day. But, I will engage in conversation with them knowing that they are not going to beat me up about price or frequency or Facebook. There are three things that can come from this. The first is that you just might find a sales opportunity. The second is that you are actually doing yourself a favor by retaining that customer. The third is that you created a positive conversation that will probably lead to another one. I’m not suggesting that you ask your advertisers to be your therapist. I’m merely suggesting that when you talk to people that really like you, you tend to re-energize yourself with positivity.
- Work your list of clients. Within any competent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, you are able to form a list of customers. I have three lists that I work on a daily basis. The first list is a standard prospecting list like the one we all have in front of us. The second list contains those clients that I’ve already met with that I consider “in progress” towards a sale. The third list is my active clients that I am looking to retain for a lifetime. When I’m having a bad sales day, I focus on my lists. I might put on some rock music and increase the strength of my coffee, and then I work my lists. What I find is that lists create focus. When you’re mentally fatigued you often have a hard time focusing. With a focused list, I’m able to really laser-focus in on a particular group of people that I’m calling for a reason. Keep in mind, I’m not a big fan of leaving voice messages and asking people to call me back. Rather, I leave a voicemail to encourage a customer to reply to the email that I sent. So, when I’m working this list, I am usually using a cadence of phone call first, followed up by an immediate email. My lists are a living, breathing document. My goal is not to work a list from 10 to 0. My goal is to have a list that is always growing and changing. From a pipeline sales management perspective, I never want any of my list to get to 0. If your CRM system can’t create a list, I would suggest you find a new CRM.
- Work new categories. In addition to the list that I work on a daily basis, I will oftentimes change my sales approach on categories that I sell. Personally, I like to trade accounts with other sales professionals on my team. The reason for this is because when I give someone an account that I’ve worked hard and they trade with me, we almost always close a deal one way or the other. Many times customers just need to hear a different tone of voice or a different approach. From a team perspective, I like the fact that I can get out of a certain category and focus on another category to give my brain something fresh to look at.
- Get some sleep. Sleep experts from the Mayo Clinic tell us that a lack of focus or mental fatigue can often be traced back to a lack of sleep. Don’t fool yourself. Most adults need seven or more hours of sleep each night to function at a high capacity level. If you’re like most salespeople, after a long day you’ll have a couple of cocktails, a nice meal, and stay up late binge-watching Netflix. Completely normal. But also, this particular habit could lead you to a lack of sleep. One of the things I noticed when I was diagnosed with sleep apnea is that I was definitely not getting enough sleep. I am an eight-hour of sleep kind of guy. My body truly needs eight hours of sleep. Can I function on seven hours of sleep? Absolutely. But if I want to be at my prime, I need eight hours of sleep. I know this sounds like a basic thought. Sort of a 101 kind of thing, right? So do it! Sometimes it does take a village to be successful. You may need to talk to your significant other and make it a team effort. In the end, though, your success is a team success at home and in the office.
- Get back to the basics. When things aren’t going well it is a common practice for us to take random sales approaches to see what might stick against the wall. This is an absolutely bad sales strategy whether you’re new or old in the sales business. There are fundamental pieces to the sales game that have to be achieved in order for you to be successful. Go back to the basics. Are your emails short and simple and to the point? Are your emails and voice mails relevant to the exact needs of the customer? Are you contacting your customers at the optimal time of day? Are you selling strictly on the phone or are you trying to get in front of people to have face-to-face meetings? These are just a few of the basics that you need to wrap your head around if you’re going to be successful and get back on the sales horse for a long ride to victory. Look back at your sales life. What are the three things that worked best for you in the past? Go back and look at them closely.
In the end, you control you. While other people around you influence you … in the end, the decisions that you make are the decisions that you will make. Please don’t settle for the statement, “It is what it is.” I don’t accept that with myself or with my family members or with my team members. I truly believe it is what you make it.
If you’re in a sales rut, choose just one of the seven ideas listed in this column and put it into action. Wrap your brain around it. Commit to it. And own it. Getting out of a rut is not about giving it half your effort. It’s going to take everything you’ve got to get the train back on the tracks and rolling in the right direction.
And finally, never, ever be afraid to ask for help.
As I stated at the beginning, you might find yourself in a situation where you just can’t get yourself mentally correct. Please seek professional advice if that happens. Here are some resources to help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En español 1-888-628-9454
Use Lifeline Chat on the web: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis service that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects people to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741. The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
Ryan Dohrn is an award-winning ad sales training coach, a nationally recognized internet sales consultant, and an international motivational speaker. He is the author of the best-selling ad sales book, Selling Backwards. Ryan is the President and founder of Brain Swell Media and 360 Ad Sales Training, a boutique ad sales training and sales coaching firm with a detailed focus on ad sales training, internet consulting, and media revenue generation. Ryan is also the Publisher of Sales Training World.