Pressure vs stress in sales

When you work in sales, pressure and stress come with the job. But what do we mean when we say these words? Let’s find out more.

Right now is an even more challenging time to be in the sales profession. Take everything you typically have to deal with – targets, tricky customers etc. – and add that we’re all working from home, protecting ourselves from Coronavirus, negotiating our way through a business landscape that is changing faster than ever. How is the current situation making you feel? Are you thriving on the pressure, or weighed down by stress?

Last week, I attended a workshop hosted by SNP Communications and the Revenue Collective about managing stress and difficult emotions. In this article, I want to go a bit deeper into the things we talked about.

Pressure and stress

The speakers started by defining the difference between pressure and stress. Did you know that these two terms are different? I think we use the words pressure and stress interchangeably, but actually, they’re not the same at all. 

Because they’re different, they need alternative diagnostics. If you’re under pressure, your mind and body will react differently to when it is stressed. So, it’s essential to understand the difference. 

I like the way the psychologist Hendrie Weisinger defines it in his book, How To Perform Under Pressure.

  • Pressure is when you feel that need to perform in a certain way because something essential is at stake.
  • Stress is when there is an excess of demands on you, but not enough time, money or energy to fulfil them.

A footballer taking a penalty in a World Cup shoot-out will feel pressure. The outcome of the game and their team’s progress in the tournament depends on what they are about to do. 

Meanwhile, someone running a company may be sat in a meeting that is overrunning meaning they’ll be late for the next one, with their phone going crazy in their pocket with the number of emails arriving, while worrying about how they’re going to make payroll this month because that important deal fell through – they’re feeling stress.

Do you see the difference?

Pressure in sales

How many of us tell our family and friends who don’t work in sales that they ‘work in a high-pressure environment’ or that ‘sales is really stressful’? What do we actually mean when we say that?

In sales, the feeling of pressure is an energiser that typically moves us to action. Think of the pressure you feel at the end of the quarter when the target is in your sights. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a feeling that now’s the time to perform, give it your all, do or die. And, if you perform and you hit that target, you get the rewards that come with it.

Stress in sales

On the other hand, stress is a mixture of feelings – physical, emotional and mental. 

You could feel stress in sales when you’re on a run of bad results and you don’t know what to change to get out of it. You know your manager has noticed and is about to take action. Meanwhile, you’re not sleeping because you’re worried about what is going to happen next. 

This spiral of feelings is what contributes to stress.

Why this is important

Knowing the difference between pressure and stress is essential because while pressure can drive you on to better things, stress literally makes you ill. You need to know what you are dealing with at any given moment so that you can take action.

We all have our ways of dealing with stress, but we need to know when to take a break, or do whatever you do. 

On the other hand, knowing how to deal with pressure in short, sharp bursts can make us more effective salespeople. After all, we would all rather be the footballer who steps up and scores that game-winning penalty rather than the one who hides away. Wouldn’t you like to be the one who nails that call at the end of the quarter when the chips are down?

What is resilience?

It’s something we hear a lot about, but what exactly is resilience and how can we get more of it? Let’s find out more.

When the question comes up about the qualities that make up a great salesperson, we always talk about confidence, curiosity, empathy and more. Another trait that always comes up is resilience. 

But, do we know what resilience really is? I’ve got my views. What do you think? 

In this article, we’re going to look deeper at resilience. What is it? How does it help you in sales? How can you improve your levels of resilience? Let’s go.

What resilience means to me

Now, resilience is more important than ever. Currently, the majority of people are furloughed and it’s uncertain what will happen when things bounce back. There is bound to be job cuts and unemployment may go to an all-time high. 

To me, resilience means your ability to deal with hardship. In life, stuff happens, a lot of it we cannot control. What we can control is the way we deal with challenging situations; how we bounce back from adversity. That’s resilience.

Building your resilience

While some of us are born communicators or have unquenchable resources of empathy, I don’t believe you are born with resilience, nor do I think that we have a fixed amount of resilience. 

In 2017, Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book about resilience, in the aftermath of the death of her husband. In this book, Option B, she compares resilience to a muscle. Resilience is something you can build and become better at. She set out five ways you can tone your resilience muscle:

  • Understand that your disappointment will not affect every area of your life, nor will it last forever
  • Be open about why you are upset – kick the elephant out of the room
  • Talk to yourself with compassion – rebuild your confidence one step at a time
  • Count your contributions every day – make a note of things you do well
  • Realise the small things that bring you joy

The first one of those is so important to me – things will change. The core of your resilience is being able to recognise this when going through hardship.

Resilience in sales

While nothing we have to go through in sales can compare to losing a loved one, often sales can make us feel pretty low. 

Sometimes we make mistakes that jeopardise our chance of making a sale. Other times, there are things we cannot control. Salespeople face rejection several times every day (if you’re not, you’re not making enough calls!) and slumps can feel never-ending. What separates the best from the rest is how they deal with it.

If you’re an SDR and a prospect has just said to you, ‘No, not interested’ and hung up, you might feel pretty bad. Resilience is being able to understand that this situation is not permanent and things will change. You should also know that things could be a lot worse!

Control what you can control and let go of what you can’t. Never stop trying to improve your skills, remind yourself of why you’re in that seat and be there for your colleagues when they are going through hardships themselves.

Find out more

If you’re facing hardships right now because of the COVID-19 situation, or for any reason, remember that it will pass. However, your future success depends on how you bounce back. Do whatever it takes to make sure you come back stronger.

What top salespeople are doing RIGHT NOW to be successful

You may be stuck in your home. Your figures may not be precisely where you want them. But, there are still things you can do to set yourself apart from the crowd. Let’s find out more.

For most of us in sales, things aren’t great right now. We’re all working from home, which has its advantages, but also separates us from our everyday support network. For many of us, demand for what we sell has taken a nosedive. We also have the anxiety of trying to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. It’s tempting to just throw your hands up and coast, waiting it out until the crisis blows over.

However, the best salespeople, the ones at the top of their profession, are not doing this. The best people are not wallowing in self-pity; they’re looking for ways to make the best of a bad situation. Not only will their actions put them in a good position when things return to normal, they are helping them to succeed right now. You can be like them too. It’s not too late.

Here are three things top salespeople are doing right now to be successful.

1 – Investing in personal development

Now that you don’t have to commute to work, you have some extra time. The best salespeople are using this time to improve their knowledge and skills. The great thing is, there’s never been a better time to do it – there is so much great new content out there.

Block out a specific time during your work week that you can listen to podcasts, watch webinars or read articles on subjects that will boost your skills. 

For me, I’ve found that companies are pushing out tons of great live content, but I can’t always make them, or they’re in a different time zone. What I do is register for things that stand out. Then, on a Friday afternoon, I carve out a two-hour slot when I know I can focus properly, and listen to my recordings. 

I really look forward to this time because it’s when I invest in expanding my knowledge. I love hearing insights from other sales practitioners. 

2 – Maximising effort

As I said at the start, I know it’s tough right now. Perhaps you’re an inbound rep and your inbound leads have completely vanished. You may be a CSM and the majority of your accounts have asked to pause. 

However, you can always find something to work on that will help move things forward now, as well as position you better when things eventually bounce back. Is there a special project you could work on, such as refining the customer onboarding process, or building a new playbook? Look at it as all the things you used to wish you had time to do!

At a Revenue Collective workshop I attended earlier this week, I learned that we feel rewarded for the effort we put in, not the outcome. It’s called The IKEA Effect – we place a higher value on the things we make ourselves.

3 – Building their personal brand

Finally, the best salespeople are reminding the world how good they are by creating and maintaining their personal brand. 

Think about what you want to be known for on channels like LinkedIn? What do you want your prospects to think about you? How about your managers and colleagues? 

If you do a lot of outreach on LinkedIn, your profile page is prime real estate. Spend some time making sure your profile is as good as it can be, promoting the parts of your personality that you want everyone to see. 

After that, start interacting with more people on the channel. Be aware of what you post and how you comment; make sure it is always in line with the goals for your personal brand.

Find out more

One day, hopefully soon, we will bounce back from this situation. The sales world will have changed, but one thing will remain – you get out what you put in. Make sure you maintain your activity, as well as focus it in the right areas. You will reap the rewards soon.

OKRs – The smarter way to set and measure your goals

How do Uber and Google achieve their goals? By setting OKRs. What about you?

Every company and team have their own way of setting and measuring goals. I’ve seen several different frameworks, but the one that inspired me, that many of you will be familiar with, is OKRs.

Google, Spotify, Uber, LinkedIn, Airbnb – just some of the world-beating companies that set ORKs in order to succeed. If you haven’t tried it yet, maybe now is the time?

In this article, we’re going to look at OKRs in more detail, as well as share some tips on how you can take advantage of this innovative framework.

What are OKRs?

Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs for short, is a simple tool to help companies achieve the right goals, by setting specific, measurable targets to hit over a short period. 

John Doerr, who widened the use of OKRs during his time as a venture capitalist, (and wrote about it in his book Measure What Matters, which is brilliant, by the way) describes an OKR like this:

‘I will OBJECTIVE as measured by SET OF KEY RESULTS’

Each objective may have 3-5 key results attached to it, so if your objective was, ‘Increase profit by 10%’, your key results might be:

  • Reduce costs of production by 10% 
  • Win 100 new customers 
  • Implement your new faster delivery system

Doerr recommends that a business sets 3-5 OKRs and that they set them every quarter, which should be the period of measurement.

The essential points with OKRs are:

  • The objective is something that genuinely matters to the business
  • The results are specific and measurable – you either win 100 new customers by the end of the quarter, or you don’t
  • They are simple enough for everyone in the company to understand

Why do OKRs work?

Here at SalesWorks, we’ve just laid down our next set of OKRs. I like them for several reasons:

The simplicity of OKRs shows everyone in the company what they need to focus on for the next quarter. It helps each individual understand the vital role they role in achieving an important goal. OKRs increase collaboration between teams and team members. 

OKRs aren’t directives from above. In fact, they work both ways, ensuring everyone throughout the company is working on solving the same challenges, which are also the right challenges. 

Also, being able to evaluate and adjust your OKRs every quarter means you can adapt to changing business conditions. If you need to pivot or change your focus, just change your OKR.

My favourite quote from Measure What Matters is, ‘Ideas are easy, execution is everything.’

With OKRs, you get the clarity, collaboration and focus that makes for effective execution.

How to set OKRs

Now you know the value of OKRs to your organisation, let’s look at how to set them.

Firstly, make sure your objective is something worth doing. It has to be something that is essential to your company: a problem worth solving. You could set an objective to grow your social media following by 20%, for example, but if that metric doesn’t help your bottom line, what’s the point?

Next, make sure every team in your organisation can contribute to your OKRs. Everyone in your business needs to know the OKRs, understand their part in achieving them and have a hand in their success. If only certain individuals and leaders are committed, OKRs won’t be as effective.

Finally, don’t be afraid to shoot for the moon when you set your OKRs. Set them in a way that even if you don’t hit your specified targets, you have still achieved something beneficial for the business. John Doerr wrote that if a company reaches 100% of its OKRs, they were too easy. Dream bigger!

Once your OKRs are down, it’s time to plan how you are going to hit them. Go for it.

Discipline takes you from ‘Good To Great’

What separates the best from the rest? Discipline across your entire business. Let’s find out more.

Although I’m still busy with online training, public speaking and running SalesWorks, I have found more time during the Coronavirus lockdown to read books. That stack of unread books that shames me every time I walk into the room is slowly getting smaller. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I love it – I just start a book, and then something comes up, and I never get to finish!

Good To Great

Anyway, one of the books I finally got to read is Good To Great by Jim Collins. I loved it. It really resonated me from a sales point of view, but also because it’s precisely what we need to hear at times like this. 

The book argues that to make a good business something extraordinary, the watchword is discipline – specifically, discipline in three areas:

  • Disciplined people
  • Disciplined thought
  • Disciplined action

Disciplined people is all about getting the right people in the right roles in your business, then setting them on a path towards excellence. 

Discipline of thought is about being honest about the facts, without getting distracted or sidetracked.

Finally, disciplined action is about understanding what really matters and what doesn’t. It’s about knowing what is essential to achieve on your journey to greatness, and what is just window dressing.

Going from Good To Great in sales

You may be wondering how this all relates to sales. Of course, it relates to sales in every way!

Having the right people in the right roles is absolutely essential. Sales is a challenging role; it’s target-driven with high pressure from the start. The people in your sales team need to have the right profile to handle it and thrive. As I talked about in last week’s article, it’s about understanding people’s strengths and playing to them. 

Discipline of thought is all about adherence to the process. The best salespeople plan and structure their day. They look after the little things like keeping their CRM tidy. They build and execute cadences – sequences of actions that move the buyer along their journey to becoming a customer.

Disciplined action is all about creating a culture of discipline in the way you work. Understand how you are going to get to your number. Think about how you leverage other teams, such as customer success, pre-sales and marketing, to get you there. 

Why it matters now

As I mentioned, Good To Great resonated even more with me because of how relevant it is at the moment. 

We’re all locked in our homes. We don’t have our managers monitoring us, or our colleagues to keep us on the right track. It’s easy to get sidetracked, by things that aren’t important or even just the sofa! However, we still have jobs to do, and we need to call on all our reserves of discipline.

The best companies are using this time to improve. They’re not just trying to survive, and they’re certainly not taking their feet off the pedals. We will be out of here one day soon. No one wants to get left behind. Find the discipline to need to succeed.

Do you define a career path for your SDRs?

To create and maintain a successful, highly-motivated SDR team, you need to tap into what really motivates a young SDR. Let’s find out more.

You hire a graduate to join your SDR team. They’re young, bright-eyed and eager as anything to get into sales. They go through onboarding and then you let them loose on the phones. But, then what? What do you do to keep that fire burning inside them? How you do you get them to want to build their sales career in your company?

The SDR position is where they learn the ropes, with the average tenure being 15 months. Where do your SDRs go after their 15 months? Do they stay in your company or do they go elsewhere? If they’re leaving, perhaps it’s because you haven’t defined a clear career path for them. 

To build and retain great salespeople in your organisation, it’s essential to be proactive about creating career paths. You need to have a visible place for your high-performing reps to get to. If you don’t, they find it somewhere else. Let’s look at this topic in more detail.


As I’ve talked about in previous articles, today’s generation of SDRs are not like they were ten or twenty years ago. Whereas in the past, money was the prime motivating factor, today it’s something else. Today’s SDRs want to build a career. They tend to want something fulfilling and meaningful, where their achievements are recognised. You can’t just fob them off with a pay rise. 

Defining a career path is a simple way to keep them motivated. If they can see, from the very start of their time with your company, that their hard work will be valued, it will keep their inner fire alight. Showing them that there is a route they can follow, through different job roles with more responsibility, until they can grab a management role, is effective in this way.

Retention and attraction

You need to show your SDRs that they don’t have to move on to move up. When they feel their time as an SDR is over and they have the skills to take on a new role, you don’t want them to take their knowledge and skills to a competitor. Keep them with you.

It’s essential not just to retain talent but to ATTRACT talent too. A company-wide career pathing initiative could be something you can talk about in your job advertisements and with the candidates you interview. For today’s generation of young salespeople, it will make a difference.

When you attract and retain talent in this way, you’re left with a happy and productive sales team. 

Contrasting motivations

When building career paths, it’s vital to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every person in your team is different and motivated by different factors. That means they need their own career path. 

Get to know them. Find out what they want from their time at your company. What parts of the SDR role do they excel in? Where are their skills?

The career path doesn’t have to be the standard Inbound SDR to Outbound SDR to AE route. Someone better at building relationships may be better suited to customer success or account management.

How to do it

Of course, you can’t just say to an SDR, ‘After 15 months, you get to be an AE.’ You need to make sure they have the right skills and have built up a solid track record of high performance. 

Set small, digestible goals for your teams to achieve, not just one big milestone. Don’t allow them to take shortcuts, always set realistic time expectations.

Is ‘Hope you’re well’ really enough anymore?

Empathy isn’t just a buzzword. It can be your key to sales success at this challenging time. Let’s find out more.

As I write this, we’re just starting the fifth week of the Coronavirus lockdown. Most of us are working from home, although some of us may be furloughed under the government’s Job Retention Scheme until the crisis is over. 

For someone who typically runs training sessions and speaks at industry events, I’ve had to completely change my approach to what I do. I’ve been running workshops online and talking at virtual events, including several different sessions with SDRs. They’re finding they have to adapt the way they work too. However, many have found it a challenge. I’ve heard all kinds of things, from ‘Nobody picks up their phone anyway’ to ‘They get loads of email’. 

So, how can SDRs cut through the noise and make a genuine connection during this unique period in our lives?

Everyone is different

The thing is, every individual is different. Right now, the lockdown is highlighting these differences and bringing them out into the open. We’re all acting differently right now, so generic statements like those above simply do not apply.

As an SDR calling up a prospect during the Coronavirus lockdown, your goal should not be to sell. Your goal should be to empathise, relate on a human level, show you are there and able to help. 

What is empathy?

Empathy seems to be the buzzword with all the influencers at the moment, but what does it actually mean? How does it relate to what we do in sales? For me, it’s about going beyond the standard conventions and platitudes.

When you send an email, do you start it with ‘I hope you’re doing well’ or something like that? That’s nice and polite, sure. In normal circumstances, it’s probably what you’d do. But, is it genuine empathy? I don’t think so.

Empathy is the ability to share and understand someone else’s feelings. It’s about building a connection beyond an SDR trying to book a meeting with a prospect.

How to apply empathy

Here’s how an SDR can show empathy and build a connection on a call.

Firstly, before you make the call, think about what could be going on in your prospect’s life right now. They could have been sick with the virus, or perhaps one of their loved ones is suffering. They could be worried about their job, or the financial impact of being furloughed. They may be home-schooling an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old and are on the verge of losing their sanity! 

Think about the job your prospect does also. If you sell to HR, consider how many tough conversations they may have had about redundancies and furloughing, on top of the worry about their own jobs. 

You can’t do much to help them in this situation, but you can acknowledge it. Open your call by talking about the uncertainty around what’s going on. Share your experiences about how it’s different. It doesn’t hurt to show a bit of vulnerability. All of this will put your prospect at their ease and get them to open up.

Empathy works.

Be yourself

My biggest tip around empathy though is a simple one – be genuine. 

You’re a nice person, right? You care about other people and the experiences they’re going through. When you speak to someone, whether it’s a total stranger or someone you’ve talked to many times before, show that you care.

Maybe it’ll help you sell. Maybe it won’t. But, it could make their day. It could provide them with something truly memorable.

Then, when this crisis is over, maybe it will help you make better connections in the future. After all, we all have our challenges to face, even when we’re not locked down at home. We’re all different and we’re all going through something. Try not to forget that.

Why training your reps is more important now than ever before

Building pipeline during this unprecedented time requires different skills from SDRs, compared to how it was before. That’s why it’s essential that sales leaders invest in formal training. Let’s find out more.

At time of writing, the UK is a week into the Coronavirus lockdown. Schools are shut, we can’t leave our homes unless it’s for essentials or exercise, and we don’t know when it will end. On top of this, most of us are still working. SDRs find themselves taken away from their vibrant office atmosphere, confined to making calls from their kitchen table.

If you’re an SDR and your struggling, it’s understandable. However, if you’re a sales leader, it’s essential to recognise that building pipeline from home demands a different skillset. You can’t just tell them to get on with it and expect things to be the same. You’ll get left behind.

Last week, I took part in a webinar with Matt Iovanni from FullFunnel about how to succeed as a home-based SDR. You can watch it here. We talked a lot about demand generation tactics that reps and leaders can implement now, but what I really wanted to concentrate on is training your teams.


We put out a poll on whether companies have a formal training programme. By formal training, I mean something that is documented and followed up on, not just part of your Monday morning sales team meeting.  We also asked whether they have increased or decreased training during this time, or kept it the same.

We found that while 50% had increased training, the other 50% had kept it the same. 

Formal training is so important for three reasons:

  • It keeps teams motivated, engaged, productive and positive
  • It gives your teams the tools to shift their perspective, lead with empathy and provide value – essential in the current environment
  • You can upskill your SDRs on prospecting – essential with the increased focus on outbound

How can you retarget your training so it gives your reps the skills they need during this challenging period? There are three pillars you should consider.

1 – Investment

We still want our reps to be productive from home, even though we recognise that we need to change our approach. Maximise the time that you have now to refine and build on skill sets through virtual workshops and learning. 

Build an ongoing coaching and training plan based on these specific areas, taking into account the reality of the situation we face today, not how they prospected six weeks ago:

  • If you need to, pivot your teams from inbound to outbound
  • Leverage gamification – it will help you drive CRM usage. Keep up with incentives
  • Invest in medium-term growth – look at sharpening skills at the top of the funnel

2 – Behaviour

According to GlobalWebIndex research, 80% of buyers have changed their behaviour as a result of the current crisis. The way we build relationships, co-create value and negotiate has changed too. Salespeople need to adapt their behaviour. The skills you were using six weeks ago might not work anymore.

Most companies are not reporting a reduction in productivity, but they are monitoring it closely. When we recover from this unprecedented period, we want to be in a position where we are able to proactively address the pent up demand. 

Formal training is what will help you succeed, now and then.

3 – Messaging

Some companies are scaling back their communication and advertising in the fear that it will fall on deaf ears, but in my opinion, it’s time to scale up. Soon, we’re going to get fatigued with all the virus stories, so work on your personas, branding, positioning and messaging. Be known for quality, empathy and volume. 

From a training point of view, now is the time to employ coaching technology. Listen to real calls. Look at the traits of the top performers and identify common development areas.

Find out more

We hope that the current Coronavirus crisis will be solved soon and that we can return to something approaching normality. But until then, we must continue to get our message out there and fill those pipelines.