Managing salesperson stress: How to avoid employee meltdowns
| September 20, 2017
The car salesman, in a fit of rage, screamed at his customer that she couldn't change her mind. She had already made her choice to buy from his dealership — she had promised him. This, of course, was all the customer needed to validate her apprehension about the dealer, taking her business elsewhere.
Every employee has a breaking point. As a manager, you must walk that fine line between encouragement to succeed and encouragement to snap.
Selling cars is one of the toughest, stress-filled jobs there is. Salespeople are asked to sell an expensive product that, unless the customer walked to the dealership, isn't immediately necessary.
Yet many find ways of getting the job done and making the sale. Others crash and burn in glorious, teeth-gnashing infamy.
Such was the case when Cari Godin attempted to buy a car from a Silver Spring, Maryland, dealership. While her initial meeting with the auto salesman didn't show any obvious signs that there could be a psychotic break, things took a decidedly negative turn once she called to politely decline purchasing the car.
Things did not go well.
After being told no, the salesman's patience began to wither while his anger continued to rise. He pointed out that not only had he given her the specific price she had wanted and that he had given her the trade-in price she had asked, but she had also provided a down payment.
Nonetheless, Godin insisted that she had changed her mind, and that's when it happened.
"He snapped," Godin remembered.
The salesman — who had only been working the job for under a year — began screaming at her, his patience and decorum long since evaporated into stress-driven mist.
Mercifully, the call ended when the salesman's manager suddenly took the phone. The manager immediately apologized for the salesman, gave Godin his number and asked that if she changed her mind to give him a call.
Needless to say, she had never been surer of a decision in her life.
Preempt 'bad' stress
While the auto salesman's manager did save the day, how did things devolve to such an extent? Sure, there are stressors in the workplace — especially sales — but how often do these types of breakdowns happen?
The answer is that they happen enough. However, there are preemptive measures that can be taken to avoid such a public and profit-strangling meltdown.
According to Nick Hedges, president and CEO of Velocify, in an article for Inc., managers can motivate employees to gain success in spite of stress, while also doing their best to eliminate the type of stress that stunts productivity.
"Stress can be beneficial for salespeople for the same reason commissions, sales incentives trips and internal competition are effective: It drives activity," Hedges explains. "When managers heighten the pressure slightly by setting ambitious goals or creating competitive environments, they're triggering a type of stress that actually helps bring about better results."
Some employees actually appreciate the pressure as the stress pushes them to accomplish more than they would have otherwise.
But stress can also have a downside.
"Overstressed employees aren't good for morale or for revenue," Hedges writes. "Research from the Bridge Group found that companies with higher attrition also saw 12 percent lower quota attainment than their more retention-minded peers. That means that dealing with bad stress is both an ethical responsibility and a business imperative for sales leaders."
Auto sales stress
For auto salespeople, specifically, there are things managers can do to avoid overstressed employees already dealing with quotas and commission.
According to Shala Munroe, in an article with the Houston Chronicle, the first thing an automotive dealership owner can do is to set money aside for slow sales months.
"Although this is difficult, especially when you first start out and aren't making many sales, it's imperative to reduce your stress," Munroe writes. "Cars sell better in the warmer months, so keep the winter months less stressful by having a stash of cash to back you up."
Among other things in an eight-part list, Munroe also advised that managers teach salespeople to listen to their customers. Rather than attempting to sell a model that brings in the most money, listen to what the customer is actually looking for and do your best to meet those needs.
"Your personal attention makes the customers feel special and respected, which makes them more likely to be friendly and respectful to you," she writes. "This makes your work day more pleasant and can lead to sales by having customers build confidence in you."
While profit is great — and should always be a driving factor in business — managers can also help employees manage their own stress as a way to maintain workplace morale.
"Because work is getting more demanding and complex, and because many of us now work in 24/7 environments, anxiety and burnout are not uncommon. In our high-pressure workplaces, staying productive and engaged can be challenging," noted Rich Fernandez for Harvard Business Review.
"Although it's unlikely that the pace or intensity of work will change much anytime soon, there's a growing body of research that suggests certain types of development activities can effectively build the capacity for resilience."
Some ways to help employees manage their own stress is to encourage well-being practices (i.e., offering personal development tools like mindfulness and resilience training), allowing time to disconnect from work and training employee brains to deal with chaos.
Taken together, the measures can help avoid employee meltdowns. Managers who only react to stress-fueled breakdowns could be losing not only profit and business, but also the productivity, morale and overall sanity of their workforces.
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