The similarities between a high performing athlete in sports and the best salespeople we work with is astounding. They both require an individual to consistently perform their craft to near perfection, while under high pressure and facing adversity.
One of the major differences between the two however, is how they approach the Mental game.
Whether it’s basketball, golf or any other sport – performance experts, coaches and athletes all know that they will be unable to perform their craft at a high level if their Mental Health suffers. When they’re anxious, experiencing self-doubt or overwhelmed by the moment, they become unfocused, make mistakes and lose their edge.
Even the most physically gifted athletes will suffer if they lack the mental resilience to keep their mind sharp under stress. That’s why the best athletes know that the key to having a long career revolves around protecting their mind AND body.
Sales cultures and sales organizations don’t think this way. Mental Health and the Mental game is still taboo. Sales teams are thinking short term and rarely consider the meaning of “performance” outside of the current month or quarter. “High-performance” in sales means telling sales reps to sell faster, achieve higher targets and be more connected than ever before.
There is no “Off” switch. No recovery. All there is… is more, more and more.
If someone on the sales team experiences burnout – they are often replaced.

 The Best Salespeople Never Burnout – Only the “Weak”

One major misconception in sales is that Mental Health issues and burnout only happen to under-performers. The salespeople who struggle to keep up unfairly get labeled as “weak,” “lazy” or simply not cut out to make it in sales.
But burnout and declining Mental Health impacts everyone in sales. Burnout has no biases and should not be used as a measuring stick to determine the best from the worst.
In fact, star athletes and star salespeople can be the ones who suffer the most and you just don’t know it. They are the ones we always ask the most from. When the team is behind and the pressure is high – we turn to them for answers. Especially right now during COVID-19.
When these stars miss, don’t show-up or struggle to perform, sales leaders need to support them with their Mental game. Not add more pressure, motivate them with fear or leave them on their own to “figure it out.” Sometimes they need your help and why many of us in sales can learn from this story about Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Paul George & The LA Clippers

For those of you who are not familiar with NBA – Paul George is currently an All-Star forward playing for the Los Angeles Clippers. When he joined the team with fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard at the start of this season, expectations sky rocketed. They immediately became a championship contender and anything short of a Finals appearance would be deemed unsuccessful.

I would imagine this pressure feels similar to a company receiving its first round of funding and immediately demanding more from their sales team to scale rapidly. Except one hundred times worse because the players on the Clippers are under the microscope of the millions of fans and media watching, judging and commenting on everything you do.

Then COVID-19 hit and the NBA responded with the “bubble.”

Based in Florida – the “bubble” is an isolated campus where the players, coaches and teams are finishing the remainder of the season. The campus is restricted to necessary personnel only, which means no family, friends or comfort from home.

This is a drastic change for these athletes to make, much like a permanent shift to selling from home is currently a drastic shift for salespeople. The NBA understood what they were asking of their players and how much an environment like that would impact their Mental Health. As a result they invested into providing more Mental Health resources so players could protect their Mental game.

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But even then – it was not enough.

When the playoffs started, Paul George struggled, shooting 10 of 47 from the field in Games 2, 3 and 4. For the non basketball fans – this is abysmal. It would be comparable to a top salesperson significantly missing their target for three consecutive months. Something that is likely happening to top sales performers across the world as we speak.

The media and fans were ruthless during this three game stretch. George’s reputation and reliability were immediately called into question. Prior successes were forgotten, media started to question George’s character and some fans responded by starting a petition to trade George overseas. They were uncompromising in their short-term, Win now mentality.

To those working in sales – this probably sounds familiar.

However, after an atrocious three game stretch, Paul George bounced back. He led his team in scoring and the LA Clippers delivered a resounding win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5. After the game, interviewers and members of the media went looking for answers.

Why was he under-performing and what did he do to bounce back?

George’s answers caught them off guard:

“I underestimated mental health, honestly,” George said. “I had anxiety, a little bit of depression, from being locked in here. Just wasn’t here, I was checked out. Games 2,3,4, I wasn’t there.”

“It’s tough, it’s just really hard being in here,” George said. “It’s not easy. All-day it’s just basketball, it’s hard to get away from it. Shout out to the NBA for creating this environment, but at the same time, it’s rough.”
“Everybody reached out, whether it was in person, through a text,” George said. “All of my guys showed up for me. They helped me. They were there when I needed them. I’m indebted to this team. The energy, the synergy, the camaraderie, the brotherhood. I can’t thank this squad enough.”

George even mentioned seeing a psychiatrist and how it helped him rediscover his Mental game so he could perform again at a high level.

The Best Salespeople and Mental Health in Sales During COVID-19

This story will resonate with most of you who are working in sales. The intensity of change we have all had to go through has not been met with the same intensity of support by our sales organizations.

When we’re working from home – isolated from friends, family and colleagues – it can feel like its all about “sales.” Similar to Paul George’s experience with basketball – it can be hard to get away from selling right now. As a result we start to become anxious, depressed and/or burn ourselves out.

In turn, our sales performance suffers.

If we’re fortunate enough to be navigating this change well, we may still be quick to judge others. Like the microscopic media and demanding fans, we can forget that star players are human. That even the best salespeople can struggle during uncertain times.

As a sales community we need to stop underestimating the impact Mental Health is having on our day to day performance. This is the time to slow down and invest in the resilience, EQ and Mental Health training so your team can speed up.

Simply because you have a team of Superstars who are currently performing this month; it doesn’t mean their performance will not be impacted by Mental Health next month – like Paul George. Now is the time to start thinking long term. It’s time to start treating salespeople like corporate athletes and investing into the Mental game.

If you need help doing this I’ve launched an online course to help salespeople improve their sales performance, resilience and well-being through better Mental Health. Check it out by clicking the link below.

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About The Author

Jeff Riseley is currently the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance and Mental Health Advocate. With over a decade of sales experience – Jeff understands the importance of Mental Health in achieving peak sales performance.

Jeff combines his sales (Sales Knowledge Institute) and Mental Health expertise to improve sales performance through a mix of sales mentorship and mental health best practices. His strategies have helped sales teams improve their sales process, while helping them become more motivated, resilient and better equipped to tackle stressful events within sales.

He is currently delivering these strategies through on-site workshops, coaching and speaking engagements. To explore working with Jeff contact him at [email protected]


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