How SDRs Can Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout

How SDRs Can Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout

Sales development representatives (SDRs) play a key role in the sales process, acting as the first point of contact between potential leads and the company. For the right individual, being an SDR can be a rewarding job and the start of an enjoyable sales career, but it also comes with challenges. 

Sales can be a high-pressure environment and SDRs are on the front line. Trying to hit quota, handling rejection, and managing a heavy workload can cause stress and lead to burnout. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at some practical tips and strategies SDRs can use to manage their stress and prevent burnout, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and successful career in sales.

Understanding stress and burnout

Before we can tackle stress and burnout, we need to understand exactly what we’re dealing with. 

At its most basic, stress is our physical and psychological response to challenges and threats. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as a “state of worry or mental tension, caused by a difficult situation. How that looks can differ from person to person. You might feel angry and moody, ready to pick a fight with anyone who looks at you the wrong way. You might feel anxious like there’s a pit in your stomach. 

As the WHO points out, everyone feels stressed at times. There are even “positive” sources of stress, like watching a scary movie, going on a roller coaster, or asking someone out on a date. Even when it’s negative, stress serves a purpose, letting us know something is wrong and providing a burst of energy to do something about it. 

The real problem is when we experience too much stress. If the stress goes on for too long and we don’t address the root cause, we can end up suffering burnout

While it’s not technically classified as a medical condition, burnout is included in the international classification of diseases (ICD) as a “syndrome” specific to the workplace, characterized by three symptoms:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from your job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your job
  3. A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

We’ve probably all felt like that from time to time, but if left unchecked this can have serious effects on our physical and mental health. What may start as an “off day” can quickly spiral, leaving us feeling hopeless and exhausted. While burnout specifically applies to the workplace, the consequences can spill over into our personal lives, affecting both ourselves and our loved ones.

Sources of stress for SDRs

The SDR role involves prospecting for new business and hitting sales targets, all of which can potentially lead to stress and burnout. Some likely stressors that SDRs may encounter include:

  • High pressure and unrealistic expectations. An inevitable part of any sales job is the need to hit certain sales targets and quotas, with the top performers rewarded for their efforts. However, this can easily lead to a high-pressure environment, where those goals seem impossible to achieve. 
  • Constant rejection and lack of success. SDRs are typically responsible for reaching out to potential clients, meaning they’re likely to hear “no” a lot more than “yes”. This constant rejection can take a toll on an SDR’s self-esteem and lead to burnout.
  • Long hours and lack of work-life balance. Sales development is often an entry-level role, where you’re expected to work long hours. If this becomes unbalanced, it can interfere with your personal life and leave you feeling exhausted.
  • Lack of clear goals and direction. Unfortunately, some sales managers still view sales development as a numbers problem, where you just burn through SDRs until you hit your targets. Without clear goals and direction, SDRs will likely struggle and feel overwhelmed by the tasks they need to complete. 

Does any of that feel familiar? Seriously, think back to the last time you felt stressed at your job, when you felt worried or tense about a situation at work. What was going on at the time? Was it a particular conversation with a lead? Or maybe looking at your sales targets?

One of the biggest mistakes SDRs make when trying to manage stress and burnout is to push through the stress and continue working without addressing the root of the problem. It’s a common problem. Many of the best sales movies still promote the idea that you need to be a chest-thumping, testosterone-fueled hero who never gives up. 

Don’t get me wrong — hard work is important for any career, especially in sales. A certain level of stress is inevitable. However, if you’re not aware of your stress levels and how it’s affecting you, you can easily end up burned out. Instead of getting more done, you could find your productivity plummeting, eventually leading to your mental and physical health suffering.

How SDRs can reduce stress and avoid burnout 

Once you’ve understood the potential causes of stress, you need to take steps to prevent them where possible. Speaking in the Harvard Business Review, executive coach Monique Valcour recommended four strategies for beating burnout:

  1. Prioritizing self-care. Hopefully, your SDR leadership and management team will be doing their best to provide a good working environment. However, if you don’t look after yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to. SDRs need to prioritize their own physical and mental well-being by engaging in activities that they enjoy and refresh them. 
  2. Shift perspective. Sometimes a simple change in mindset can reduce feelings of stress. For example, are there aspects of your job that you can change to make them less stressful? While SDRs aren’t normally in a position to delegate tasks, maybe you can have a talk with your manager about using sales automation tools to reduce your workload. Taking back control of your situation and developing a positive mindset can reduce the negative impact of even the parts you can’t control.
  3. Reduce exposure to job stressors. As we’ve already seen, some stress is inevitable for SDRs. You will have targets to hit and you will get plenty of rejections. However, are there different parts of your work that are unnecessarily stressful? For example, are you working after hours, checking your emails and messages on your phone when you should be sleeping?
  4. Seek out connections. According to Monique, the best antidote to burnout is “seeking out rich interpersonal interactions and continual personal and professional development.” Basically, who are you spending your time with? If you’re surrounded by stressed, negative or cynical colleagues, it’s going to rub off on you. Instead, actively seek out coaches and mentors who can help you form positive relationships and develop your skills

There are other steps specific to the SDR role that you can take to reduce stress. For example, SDRs should work with their managers to set realistic and achievable KPIs, rather than striving for perfection or unrealistic targets. This will help to reduce stress and the likelihood of burnout.

Similarly, rather than taking rejection and setbacks personally, learn how to handle them in a healthy way. This can be done by reframing the rejection, understanding that it isn’t any kind of reflection on your worth as a person. You can also turn it into a learning experience, viewing it as a necessary step in your growth as a salesperson.

Considering the recent advances in AI technologies and introduction of powerful tools like ChatGPT or GPT-4, dealing with routine tasks like email writing and handling objections can become a bit less stressful. There are tools that act as your personal AI sales assistant and help you streamline those activities so you can focus on something more enjoyable.

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Developing healthy coping strategies 

While we can try and reduce stress, we can never completely eliminate it. As a result, it’s essential to have a collection of stress-relief techniques. 

Unfortunately, some SDRs may try to cope with stress by turning to unhealthy habits such as overeating, smoking, or excessive alcohol consumption (again, a situation that isn’t helped by the stereotypical image of salespeople promoted by the media). These coping mechanisms may provide temporary relief but will ultimately worsen the situation and can lead to more problems.

Instead, experiment with different healthy coping mechanisms. Look for activities that leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed. This doesn’t mean going on a Netflix binge (although there’s nothing wrong with the odd streaming session 😉). Rather, spend time on positive habits such as exercise, meditation, and spending time with loved ones. 

Ideally, these will be activities you can spend significant time enjoying, but they can also act as emergency relief when things get stressful. For example, if you get off a particularly difficult call, you can take a break to walk around the block, put the headphones on and do a five-minute mindfulness session, or send a message catching up with your best friend.

However, if you’re still experiencing significant stress, it’s important to seek support. Many SDRs may feel that they have to handle their stress and burnout on their own, but this isn’t the case. Talk with your colleagues and speak with your manager to explain the situation and explore any available resources. 

If you’re still struggling, talk with a medical health professional. This may not come easily for some people, but it’s better to get the help you need than burn out.

Final thoughts

Stress is a part of life, but if it goes on for too long it can lead to burnout. Unfortunately, being an SDR can bring you into contact with plenty of different stressors. 

The first step is to recognize the warning signs. Are you feeling tired, moody, or agitated? Are you feeling particularly cynical about your work, or feel that you’re ineffective? If so, try to pinpoint the source of your stress and take steps to reduce it.

The effects of stress and burnout can be serious, negatively impacting your work and your personal life. However, taking practical steps to reduce and manage your stress will help you be a more productive and effective SDR. 

Manage your workload, stay on top of your sales goals, and hit your targets with Reply. Try it out for yourself with a 14-day free trial.

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