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Battling the stigma of mental health in sales

About a year ago, Seismic Regional Vice President of Sales David Weiss and his wife, psychologist Ehrin Lovria Weiss, Ph.D., were enjoying wine together in their kitchen. When scrolling through their phones, they were struck by the volume of social media posts about selling during quarantine, meeting quota while selling from home, and other work-related topics, all of which seemed to ignore the current state of the world. It felt like something was missing from the media landscape that needed to be addressed.

As much as sellers were looking for advice on transitioning to virtual selling, David and Ehrin felt that sellers also needed compassion, empathy, and understanding. Ehrin, a psychologist specializing in anxiety and stress management, and David, a veteran sales leader, decided to record a conversation about the stressors, mental health issues, and unique challenges that are rampant in the sales community. For many, these issues were accentuated during the pandemic, where traditional sales models and work environments have been upended. 

The conversation morphed into a podcast called “PsychAndSales.” The first several episodes featured David and Ehrin, but they soon invited other sellers on to the show. PsychAndSales now has more than 30 episodes and counting.

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we met with David and Ehrin to learn more about their podcast, the importance of discussing mental health in sales, and what they want listeners to take away from their conversations. 

David and Ehrin enjoying vacation

Why is this topicmental health, particularly in salesimportant to you?

David: I coach and mentor sellers in my spare time, and I noticed that the pandemic was only adding more work to salespeople’s plate. They needed to do 10x the activity, they were bombarded with more training, and no matter how hard they worked, their sales process was often destined to stall — all during one of the most difficult times in recent history. This added a lot to the collective stress and anxiety of our profession. 

Sales is an untapped industry for discussing mental health. Salespeople are told to “hustle.” They’re expected to be “type A.” If you look at the content out there, it’s almost always about skills, training, how to work harder, etc. But if you look at professional athletes, the top athletes say that their mental game is just as, if not, more important than their physical skills. So if you’re not at the top of your mental game, you can’t fully tap into your other abilities. This is the gap in most of the messaging I see around our profession. This is where so much of the undue stress, fear, burnout, and unhealthy habits come from. 

Ehrin: There’s an expectation to be perfect; to be superhuman; to not have flaws or weaknesses; to go out and achieve. I think we’re seeing more conversations open up about this problem in sales, but there’s still a lot of stigma around it. Or, companies talk about it, but don’t know how to implement more support for their sellers around this topic.

What have you learned from doing the podcast?

David: Sales is an anxiety-inducing career. Everyone struggles with it at some point in their career— even high-performers—but few are willing to talk about it. I was surprised by how prevalent it was, because our community doesn’t talk about it. Through the podcast, I’ve been able to discuss with top sellers and sales leaders the ways they incorporate positive practices into their daily routines. This includes everything from meditation to sleeping more, keeping a gratitude journal, finding new personal and professional outlets, giving back to their community, and simply talking about their struggles with trusted people in their life. 

Ehrin: We’ve interviewed several people we know personally. But until we had them on the podcast, we didn’t know they were having these issues. I think the pandemic allowed people to say, “everybody’s struggling right now, so it’s okay for me to admit that I’m struggling, too.” What’s interesting is that most of the stories people shared predated the pandemic. COVID didn’t cause these issues, but they felt more comfortable talking about them.

Is there a common thread that you’ve seen in your conversations with salespeople?

Ehrin: We talk about “achievement addiction” and self-defeating behavior in a few episodes. Achievement addiction is an overarching way of thinking that your self-worth depends on your ability to achieve, reach high levels, and be perfect. This leads to a lack of satisfaction because you’re not enjoying your end result. It’s a very fleeting feeling of satisfaction. American culture tells us to always be productive, to move on to the next level and the next achievement. This can lead to feeling unsatisfied with life. 

David: Salespeople don’t often celebrate the journey. We celebrate the end result, which is winning the deal. We need to be better at celebrating the smaller wins, the moments of progress, so we’re not constantly focused on these singular moments. You also see a lot of people who try to outwork the challenge, but many eventually find that to be unsustainable. As challenges mount, this leads to negative mental spirals and burnout. We then stop showing up the way we need to for everyone in our lives, but we feel trapped. This is a common thread, so we try to find ways to forge a different path.

What do you want listeners to take away from listening to your podcast?

Ehrin: We want our audience to know that mental health is a process—it’s not a dichotomy of good versus bad. It doesn’t mean you are “mentally ill” if you want to work on your mental health. We want them to take away tools to keep themselves from running into mental health problems, as well as tools if they are starting to struggle. We also want to take away the stigma of mental health from their identity as a salesperson. If they’re struggling, we want them to know they’re not alone, because there are many others in the sales community going through this, as well.

David: Mental health is a muscle that needs to be worked to be strong. Anyone who wants to reach the height of their game needs to understand their feelings and emotions. We want more people to feel comfortable talking about mental health and finding healthy outlets. Salespeople often tie their self-worth and identity to their revenue goals. That can lead to unhealthy behaviors, whether you’re crushing it or not meeting your numbers. Extreme behaviors tied to professional outcomes in either direction can have detrimental outcomes. I’ve seen depression, but I’ve also seen sellers who deal with stress by making extravagant purchases like houses and cars when they feel low. People need to disconnect their revenue number from their self-worth. You are not your title, number, or position at your company. 

Ehrin: We’ve had people on the show who have struggled with serious mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, and we want to show that even if you are diagnosed with a mental illness, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful salesperson. 

Listen to episodes of PsychAndSales on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, David and Ehrin recommend the podcast Feeling Good, and the book, The Happiness Advantage. Ehrin also authored a children’s book, The Anxiety Relief Book for Kids

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