“If I’m feeling it… My reps must be feeling it as well…”
This was how every conversation I had with VPs of Sales started during peak COVID last year.
It was an excellent lesson in Abstraction and why Mental Health in sales is STILL just as important today.
What is Abstraction?
Abstraction is a concept I learned while reading Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last. He explains what abstraction is and the destructive effect it can have on human behavior by discussing Milgram’s Experiment.
This was a very famous experiment that took place during the early 1960’s. It was created to better understand how Nazi’s during WW2 could kill millions of people in concentration camps.
Researchers wanted to answer two fundamental questions:
- How much pain would the average person cause someone before stopping?
- Would the average person kill someone if ordered to do so?
As part of the experiment, volunteers were put in front of a console with 30 switches that went from 15 volts to 450 volts. These switches were also labeled with phrases like “Slight Shock” and “Very Intense Shock”; all the way up to one painted “XXX” in red to signal death.
Volunteers were then instructed by the researcher in the room to shock another person with higher and higher volts. Before you get too upset, the people being shocked were actors and no shocks were actually being delivered.
The results were as follows:
When volunteers had to place the person’s hand on the shock plate, 70% quit the experiment and didn’t go very far. When volunteers were in the same room and didn’t have to touch, but could still see and hear the person they shocked; 60% stopped the experiment early.
But when volunteers were placed in another room and could no longer see nor hear the cries for help from the person being shocked; only 35% refused to continue.
This means 65% went all the way and essentially pressed a button to kill someone at the instruction of the researcher in the room.
The more abstract and more removed the volunteer became from the person being shocked, the less empathy and compassion they showed towards them.
They de-humanized them and continued to follow orders being given by the researcher.
Why Mental Health In Sales Is Still Important Today
Now this is obviously a very disheartening experiment about human nature, but here is my point about the de-humanizing nature of sales and treating salespeople like numbers:
COVID removed abstraction in the workplace. It brought those at the top of the corporate ladder and those on the bottom closer together.
For 18 months (and still going for most places in the world) we were all in the same room together.
Sure, everyone was dealing with isolation and lockdowns, but because there was less abstraction, VPs of Sales could better see and feel the immense pressure quota and metrics had on reps.
Sales reps were viewed less like a number on a dashboard and more like a human being.
As things begin to normalize, we have to remember that the abstraction between executives and individual performers is returning.
This means if you were an executive who cared about the Mental Health of your team in 2020, then you still need care about their Mental Health today. Burnout was an issue before the pandemic and continues to be an even bigger issue today, with 58% of salespeople struggling with their Mental Health.
Salespeople on the frontlines continue to get shocked with increasing quotas and unrealistic expectations.
You just don’t feel it as much, because you’re in a different room now.
If you’re being told by the researcher (aka the board) to keep issuing higher and higher shocks… Then give your salespeople a shock resistant glove.
For example, Resilience and Mental Health training that help them perform better and protect them from the rising stressors in their sales environment.
We’re all humans after all.
The more empathy and compassion we show each other – the better everyone will perform.
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 and Mental Health expertise to improve sales performance through mental health best practices. His strategies have helped sales teams become more motivated, resilient and better equipped to tackle stressful events within sales.