Jeff Riseley – the Founder of Top Gun Sales, spoke with the Sales Health Institute to share his story and best practices for managing Mental Health in sales.
Top Gun Sales provides sales consulting services to small and medium-sized businesses. They help CEOs and Founders increase their revenue through a stronger sales process.
What do you currently do for Top Gun Sales?
I’m currently responsible for all aspects of the business. Most of my time is spent meeting with clients across the GTA, to help them build and execute successful sales strategies.
This also includes sales coaching, training and hiring.
Why do you think more awareness is needed around Mental Health as it relates to working in Sales?
Primarily because I feel a lot of stigma around mental health exists within sales organizations. From my experience, most salespeople are fearful about opening up about their mental health in the workplace.
Sales culture breeds a culture of winning and losing. This leads to most salespeople learning to be competitive with their peers and hyper protective of their reputations.
As a result, when salespeople encounter challenges with their mental health, they are often uncomfortable being vulnerable with their colleagues, because they believe it will damage their career.
I’ve seen a lot of managers misinterpret declining sales rep performance as a character issue, instead of a person struggling with mental health.
What has been your experience with mental health throughout your sales career?
Like sales its-self – it has been a roller coaster. Some real highs and some real lows.
My mental health has suffered consistently throughout my entire 10 year sales career – never more so than as a new sales rep.
At the beginning, I had no idea what mental health meant and I was unaware of the daily strain, working in sales was placing on it. I always thought work was supposed to be “stressful” and what I was feeling was normal.
Not true and it doesn’t have to be.
For me personally, I suffer from anxiety on a daily basis and if left unchecked, it leads to a dark downward spiral of self defeating thoughts and hopeless depression.
Like most new salespeople, early on in my sales career I did not have the resilience or mental fortitude to manage a typical day in sales. My anxiety would often be triggered by a negative event that happened at work like losing a deal, facing client rejection or missing my daily target.
Unaware of the impact these events had on my mental health, my mind would become obsessed with these negative events, analyzing and replaying them over and over again. My mind would desperately try to find a solution to prevent future recurrences – a totally unrealistic expectation working in sales.
Coping methods like drinking or playing hours of video games only made it worse and led to insomnia.
Lying awake at night, I’d lose perspective on my entire life – the beginning of my spiral.
“Losing a deal” would grow to losing my job, to being unable to pay rent, to being disowned by my family and being 100% certain I’d be living on the streets in a matter of weeks.
As my confidence and mental health declined, so did my sales performance.
Negative sales events at work increased and I became more and more certain that I would lose everything that was important in my life.
On two separate occasions, the spirals became too much and I ended up in the hospital with severe panic attacks. In both cases, I called into work the next day “sick,” because neither workplace had a mental health policy and none of my peers talked about it.
I felt alone, weak and “not cut out for sales” – even though I had been performing extremely well.
It was after the second hospital visit, when I started to open up about my mental health to friends and family. This was the start of my path to recovery and passion to improve mental health.
I learned that openly talking about my mental health was the easiest way to stop my spiral and keep perspective.
As I became more confident, I started talking about my mental health within my sales team and found out, no one judged me. People genuinely wanted to help and began opening up about their own struggles with mental health and sales.
What are some of your best practices for maintaining your Mental Health while working in sales?
Changing my mindset has been the biggest factor for maintaining positive mental health. Sales can be unpredictable at times. I make sure to detach myself from the things I can’t control that can derail a sale in its final stages – ex; a clients company suddenly getting acquired.
I take responsibility for the things I can control, like following the sales process, keeping up with my metrics and taking responsibility when I fall behind. If I’m constantly putting my best effort forward, making the right decisions – the chances I’ll be successful in the long run are high.
Prospect, prospect, prospect – nothing impacts my mental health more than having a stale pipeline, so I’m always carving out prospecting blocks to ensure I’m finding fresh leads.
Finally, developing rituals that help me stay optimistic and practice gratitude have been helpful. Rituals include things like meditating daily, going to the gym, no coffee after 2 and keeping a journal before going to bed.
What is the number one thing you would change about working in sales, that you think would improve the overall mental health of salespeople?
The number one thing I would change about working in sales, is organizations including a discussion about mental health during the new sales onboarding process.
Companies should help new sales hires become aware of their mental health and share best practices for managing it in the workplace. Within sales their mental health will definitely be tested and some level of training should help them navigate the pitfalls.
Stigma and lack of knowledge was always the biggest challenge for me. In the early days, I had no idea how to recognize when my mental health was declining and didn’t feel comfortable talking about it with my sales team, when it got worse.
Companies starting the conversation is the first step towards breaking the stigma and creating awareness.