Working in sales can be stressful.
You’re faced with multiple events that can trigger stress, panic, and fear.
Whether that’s someone hanging up on you, deals falling through, or missing your targets.
So how can you deal with the constant highs and lows?
In this episode of the B2B Rebellion, Jeff Riseley, Founder of Sales Health Alliance, discusses his own experiences of stress in sales, what pushed him to found Sales Health Alliance, and how you can stay mentally healthy while working in a high stress environment.
Andy: Hey, guys. Welcome back to another episode of the B2B Rebellion. Really happy to have on today, Jeff Riseley. I've been following Jeff for a little bit of time now on LinkedIn, and that's where we came across one another. And I felt it really important at the moment to have Jeff on, just based on what he's focused on. So his core focus is mental health and sales, and I think right now, just with the current situation globally, I think a lot of people are under pressure more so than ever, families, personal lives, as well as work.
But generally, in a sales capacity, I think from being in sales myself, you always wanna put on a brave face and you're always constantly under pressure chasing a number, and that number may be far, far away from where you're currently at, and you're always, then, trying to pretend at least that you've got it under control.
And the key to be in sales is that you're a good salesperson, so you're able to sell it that you're doing okay and that you're doing a great job in order to get there. So it's a role which people are afraid to feel vulnerable in, I would say, right?
And looking at Jeff's experience, I've seen that he's worked in a numerous amount of sales roles. He's worked in the tech space as well. I know myself from coming from the tech space, when I first joined it, my head spun. The anxiety that I first got when I joined the tech space was massive because first of all, I was new to the game. And second of all, the speed at which things move in the tech space is unbelievable. Light speed, right?
And again, looking back at Jeff's experience, he's done it himself. He's been in that sales role, he understands the position, understands the pain points, understands what it means to have those highs when you meet target and those lows when you're maybe a little bit behind target. But Jeff, I've just intro-ed you a little bit there, but do you wanna tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jeff Riseley: Yeah, yeah. So my name is Jeff Riseley and I'm the founder of the Sales Health Alliance, and I created the company to help empower sales teams to reach peak levels of sales performance and well-being through better mental health. And yeah, it's... This company and this idea has really been born out of my own experience while working in sales. I think I can relate to a lot of what you just said there, Andy.
My first sales role was just over 10 years ago, it was very much a boiler room type of environment. You're judged on whether or not I could make $200 a day, achieve two and a half hours of talk time. If you weren't hitting your metrics you were let go pretty quickly. And I managed to thrive in this environment. I went on to be the top rep in the company, I was doing really well, but in the background, I was struggling big time.
That's when I was really first introduced to what mental health in sales was. I had really bad panic attacks, insomnia, couldn't really just get out of bed in the morning on certain days. I would have this fluctuating rise and fall of depression. So yeah, on the front, like you said, you put on a good face, you put on a mask, and you can perform, but behind, I was suffering. And it was after the third panic attack when I said, "Look, I need to do something about this."
So I went to see my doctor, going to therapy 10 years ago was still highly stigmatized, so he prescribed me some anxiety medication which I tried for two to three months and I really hated how it made me feel. It disconnected me from my intuition and my emotions that made me successful in sales. And that's when I had started to make this my own passion project.
I just felt like if I could learn everything that I possibly could about mental health, how the body responds to stress and anxiety, if I could learn ways to work with my anxiety rather than against it, it would ultimately lead to better performance on the sales floor, and I just started doing it. Year after year, that's just learning, getting better, learning, getting better, tried using myself as a guinea pig, and I didn't fully realize how important this stuff was until July of 2018.
I had just launched my first sales consulting website before Sales Health Alliance. And out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which was a huge curveball, but it was kind of an aha moment where I realized the same strategies that I was using to take care of my mental health in sales, I naturally started to execute on in this next stressful period in my life.
And again, as an entrepreneur, and again during this next period as we go through COVID-19. That's when I realized that, wow, there's a lot that you can do here to protect your mental health, take care of yourself to reach peak level of sales performance. And that's how we got to where we are today, trying to spread the knowledge around this stuff.
Andy: It's an amazing story, man. I think it will resonate with a lot of people, it certainly resonates with me. I have a bit of a theory that a lot of people that are successful are driven by their anxiety, or at least they understand their anxiety and can make it work for them, and that's what helps them be so driven. I don't know if you've got a similar feeling there?
JR: Yeah, so 100%. A lot of people fear anxiety and one of the biggest mindset shifts that I had to make was anxiety is essentially your superpower. I always relate it to anxiety being Spider-Man's spidey sense. So when Spider-Man is in a dangerous situation, his spider-sense starts to tingle so that he can jump away and it helps him avoid kind of painful events, and that's our anxiety that wants us to jump away from situations that it perceives as fear.
But the one thing you have to realize is if Spider-Man is always jumping away from bombs, he'll never learn how to diffuse them and grow from them. And that was a shift that I had to make personally when I started to realize, "Wait a second, my anxiety is actually a really good thing and learning to use it to identify really important, meaningful things that scare me, but if you sit with it and you work with your anxiety, you can actually start to learn and grow from these experiences."
Anxiety only really flares up, at least from my experience and what I've seen, is when you're on the edge of your comfort zone. And you're right on the edge and your anxiety flares up to say, "Hey, there's a lot of uncertainty. We don't know what's out there." So it starts injecting you with all sorts of self-doubt and fear to make you run back to your comfort zone.
And it's a really boring way to live because you get stuck doing the same thing, stuck in the status quo, and you really have to learn to work with it so you can push yourself outside your comfort zone to reach greater growth levels, achieve more meaningful experiences in your life.
Andy: For sure. For sure. What age were you when you had that third panic attack that you mentioned, that spurred you then to go get yourself sorted and do something about it?
JR: Yeah, so it would've been, I guess, 22 probably-ish, 22. Yeah, 'cause I'm 32 now, so it's about 10 years ago. So yeah, I would have been about 22, I think. Yeah, it was terrible, man. It's just like panic attacks are the worst 'cause especially 'cause I was getting them in the middle of the night.
And I found that within sales, you are hit with so many different trigger events, whether it's someone hanging up on you, deals falling through, missing your target, but you don't really... There's so many distractions in sales at the same time, whether it's metrics, whether it's being like pushed to keep going, keep going, keep going, that all of these little things that are impacting our emotions, making you feel afraid, embarrassment, getting angry, all these things get pushed away.
And for me, they'd just pop up in the middle of the night when I was by myself trying to sleep in a quiet space. All of a sudden, these emotions and these thoughts would come raging back and for someone that doesn't really know what this is, it's super overwhelming. Your body, it just freaks out and then it really shuts down.
Andy: Absolutely, so 22 is quite... It's at 22, to make that decision to go try to get help and everything, that's quite a mature decision to make at that age. Like a lot of SDRs, a lot of our community that are here that would be listening to this would be in an SDR role. And SDRs tend to be around, I don't know, between 20 to 25 years old or something before they make the step up to an AE position, if they want to go that direction.
I can relate to that. So personally, I was an SDR for a number of years. I live in Vienna, Austria, and I'm Irish obviously. And in Austria, they speak German. So I've been living here for 11 years, so 11 years ago, I moved here when I was 23 when I moved here, and I just did it on a whim. My wife, my wife is Austrian and she was living in Ireland and said, "I don't like it in Ireland. I need to change."
So you know what, 2008, the recession was about to hit Ireland so I said, "Look, let's give Austria a whack." And I had no idea what I was getting myself into like.
Andy: And I did a bit of German, learned a little bit of German. My boss at the time was like, "Oh, you know what? You can work from home over there and you call into the German market, you'll be a German SDR." And I said, "Oh yeah, no problem." With my little bit of German that I had.
Andy: And that's when I had my first panic attack, about six months into living here, first panic attack, I thought I was going to die, is the only way to describe how a panic attack feels.
JR: It's brutal, man, and it's just... I think that's what a lot of sales organisations don't realize, and it's like... Especially fresh grads, I had no idea what mental health was, I was fortunate enough to have a fairly sheltered upbringing. I had came from a good family, I went to good schools.
It wasn't by any means like an uncomfortable upbringing, which was very fortunate, I'm grateful for that, but then you're thrown into sales, and like I said, every day you're dealing with these really powerful emotions like shame, embarrassment, anger, fear that you've really never had to deal with at any other point in your life. And it's thrown at you all at once, multiple emotions at any given day.
And at the end of the day, you're just buzzing by the end and you're just like, "What the hell has just happened to me?" and sales organisations do a really bad job of putting a band-aid on it by just saying, "Well guess what? We have a really fun drinking culture," or, "We go out to the bar, and that's how we cope with these emotions."
And it's this avoidance and this escape mechanism where you try to run away from these emotions and what you're actually feeling and bury them deep inside, but those emotions don't go anywhere unless you really approach them and really sit with them and really explore what's actually happening. And for me, that's what was always happening, you can escape them for a bit, but they'll come back at some point, that'll just absolutely shut you down to say, "Hey, listen to us. This is not good, you're not... I'm really scared here. Help me."
Andy: Yeah, and the thing that you mentioned there around alcohol as well, that's one thing that a lot of salespeople would use as you mentioned, as a crutch. To be like, "Okay, I'll take a breather now I'll have a few drinks."
We'll have a couple of drinks with the team regardless if it was good news or bad news, we'd push it down with a couple of beers or whatever. And then the next day or the next week or something like that, it comes back 10 times harder. That's what alcohol is, is just accelerates it. Not immediately, but later on for sure.
JR: Mm-hmm. Definitely.
Andy: Let's get to the Sales Health Alliance. Tell me, how did you start and what led you to that specific moment where you said, "Okay, I'm gonna do that." We've already spoke to somewhat of the lead-up, but when did you say to yourself, "Okay, I'm gonna start this thing"?
JR: Yeah, like I said, it just came. I think a lot of the experience with testicular cancer really solidified that the stuff that I had learned was extremely helpful for myself personally in sales and in these next situations. But then I had to acknowledge, right? I had to acknowledge that, "Look I'm not a trained therapist, I don't have the degree or the academic background to support if this stuff is actually feasible." I have done all of the neuroscience, all of the reading around the research on this stuff, I know that stuff, but the degree isn't there.
So then I just started writing about this stuff and making blog articles, sharing my thoughts openly. And the more I started to write and the more I started to share my best practises, it really started to become clear that there's a huge gap within the market right now in the sense that you have two sides of what's happening within mental health.
On this side, you have salespeople and sales leaders that are starting to openly talk about mental health, which is amazing to see, and I'm so grateful that this is happening. And then, on the other side, you have these academic professionals like the therapists, the psychotherapists, the mindfulness experts.
So you have them on the other side that are academically trained, but the problem is, anyone that goes to therapy knows, one of the biggest challenges the therapist has is being able to build rapport with the person they're speaking with right out of the gate. The best way to do that is through shared experiences. And that's where I'm finding that a lot of the mental health experts are having trouble relating to the salespeople and relating to those experiences in sales because they just haven't lived it.
So where I like to position my business is in the middle that says, "Hey, I get what you're going through as an SDR or as a sales leader or as an account executive, I've lived it, I know what that feels like. I've learned enough about this side to provide some really actionable things that you can do to start taking care of yourself, to reduce burnout, to make yourself more resilient."
But when some of those bigger issues come up, like buried trauma or addictions start to rise, I wanna make sure there's an alliance in place, an alliance of mental health experts and tech providers that I can refer some of these bigger, more problematic and deeper issues to the trained expert.
So, that's where I realized I guess there's a really nice spot in the middle to really move forward, so it was kind of like that social proof that I got from sharing my best practises, not only on myself but sharing them with others to see them get better, and then I thought, "Okay, it's time to do something with this," and two weeks ago or last week I just launched the first online course to really help improve sales performance well-being, and sales performance, resilience and well-being through better mental health, so I'm really excited to get that out there to the sales community.
Andy: I'm really... I'm gonna take a look at that online course for sure, and I wanna get back to that a little bit later, but just a question before we move on to that. Were you in a job when you started posting about your experiences, talking about your mental health so openly and so on, were you... Or were you out of work at that point? What were you doing?
JR: So I was running that sales consulting company, so...
Andy: Oh yeah, okay.
JR: I was essentially an independent consultant, so I was working primarily with high growth startups helping them build up their sales process.
JR: I was working but I definitely had the autonomy to start really pushing the envelope here without having... Feeling like my employer will not agree, so that was a fortunate situation I found myself in.
Andy: Sure. You mentioned a couple of times about companies you're starting to see are getting much more open to it. I also see the same thing. I think it's in the past maybe 18 months, two years, I think it's... A lot of work has been done by local governments and different things as well to push mental health, and I think that's then breeding itself at least into the tech space, and the tech space may be actually pushing that forward a little bit as well.
What else do you think that companies could be doing or they may be ignoring right now, is there anything that you see as an opening from the tech community?
JR: 100%, sales has been and always be a performance-driven sport, and the salespeople are the corporate athletes of the sales world, or of the business world. And I take this piece of advice from Tom Short, he just distilled it in such a perfect way that I could not change, so he says... And he talks about it, we have this conversation today how every high performance team whether it's in sports or whether it's in sales, there's three key pillars that you need to focus on.
You have your craft, you have your mind, and you have your body. And the problem that sales teams have right now, and I see it all the time is 95% of salespeople or sales leaders in sales organizations are investing 100% of their budget into improving the craft as the only way to boost sales performance. So they're focusing on objection handling, performance, or asking better questions, or running better demos, that's all around improving the craft.
And they're missing a huge opportunity to start investing into things like EQ, resilience training, mindset training, mental health training, all of that is focused on the mind. And when you think about sales, sales is primarily a mental game, the majority of mistakes that get made are going to be mental mistakes. So organisations that realize this need to start prioritizing some of their budget towards helping salespeople navigate some of these stressful situations in a mentally healthy way, and also how do you take care of yourself?
How do you build in those rest and recovery periods so that you can keep performing consistently day in and day out? And that's really what the Sales Health Alliance and what this online course that I've built is really around, is really focused around, it's executing on those two things.
Andy: Okay, that's excellent. Just for people on the ground then, salespeople, what can they be doing to improve their mental health, make sure that they're doing okay, looking after themselves, is there some tips that you can give?
JR: Yeah, so there's lots. That's a huge question. There's a...
Andy: Yeah, of course, yeah yeah.
JR: I could write a book on that. I think one of the biggest things is really, really becoming inwardly curious with some of the experiences you're facing, some of the emotions that you're facing. The way I like to describe emotions is, emotions are just waves. You are not the emotion, you are simply experiencing the emotion at any given moment, you're experiencing anger, you're experiencing sadness, but you are not actually that sadness. It's when you feel like you're becoming the sadness where you feel swallowed up by the wave.
So one of the best things to do is to remember that, let's take sadness for example if you're feeling sad and you can become inwardly curious and sort through all of the noise and buzzing that's going in your head and say, "Sadness is at the root cause of this," and label it, just sit with it. Sit with it, acknowledge that you are not the sadness, it's a wave. You can really start to feel that emotion dissipate, let it pass through you and get back to that place of calm.
And that's something that a lot of new salespeople really have a difficulty understanding is like really being able to label what are all these emotions that I'm facing and become overwhelmed, start those panic attacks or that anxiety. So, that'd be one is just remembering that you are not the emotion, you're just simply experiencing it so when you can label it and sit with it, you will start to feel much better.
And two, self-care is a huge part of how you take care of yourself in sales. A lot of people treat it like an aspirin where they take it when they're really stressed out, when they should be treating it like a daily multivitamin. That's how multivitamins work, you have to do it consistently to build resilience over time.
So the best thing you can do is have a start-up routine, so have one or two self-care activities that you do at the start of the day, and one or two self-care activities that you do at the end of the day to help your body understand that it's getting ready for performance, and they know it's time to recover after that's done.
Andy: What do you do, if you don't mind sharing? You don't have to share, but is there anything that you'd be happy to share?
JR: Yeah, morning for me, it's always a lot of... Personal development is a big one for me in the morning, so reading a personal development book, plus going for a walk as well as a cold shower, that's huge. Then at the end of the day, it's exercise. Sometimes a bit of exercise at the beginning, depending on how well I've slept, but then there's exercise at the end, gratitude, and a meditation usually.
But there's other things that I built-in. The thing you wanna remember is like when that discomfort is up, let's say you start a new job, you're entering an uncomfortable situation. You want to realize that you're in an uncomfortable situation, so you also wanna match that with higher self-care. So when you're outside your comfort zone, you always wanna be increasing your resilience medication, if you will, in the form of self-care activities to take care of yourself.
Andy: Sure, that makes sense. The exercise piece for me personally, makes a big difference. The more I can exercise, the better I feel. Obviously, eat well. Similar, actually similar to you in terms of my daily routines.
I get up early. I like to get up a little bit before everybody else, so I have the house to myself for a couple of minutes. I've got a young family, so a lot of running around, a lot of screaming first thing in the morning. Bring the dog out for a walk. Clear the mind a little bit. Listen to a podcast or listen to... Or a podcast or a book. I'm currently listening to the Bob Iger book, the guy that's the CEO of Disney. Super interesting business book as well. So, similar... And then in the evening, just try to wind down.
Andy: And... Yeah, no, they're really good tips, man. I much appreciate you coming on and sharing those with the audience there. Just in terms of the online course and that, where could people find it, do you want... Can you give some more details on it and what does it cost, for example? Yeah.
JR: Yeah, so it's... You can find us at SalesHealthAlliance.com, just click under the training section and you'll be directed towards the online course. The course is 199 per person. Ideally, though, I've positioned it as a no-brainer for organisations to really implement at a team level. It's about three hours of video content, plus an hour and a half of exercises, and there's a whole new e-book in there, which is awesome as well.
But I have built it with enough flexibility to be implemented from a remote standpoint as well like I think a lot of people are tired of the webinar burnout and trying to sit down at a set time and say, "Here's an hour webinar workshop and let's learn everything we can." It just doesn't work anymore.
So the way I've been working with organisations to implement it is to treat it more like a book club, where each week there's two sessions that you'd go through as... For, essentially, an hour and a half of coursework that the team would have to go through.
And then every week, you meet for an hour and not to learn stuff, but just to discuss the learning and how it applies because then that builds in that consistency of having open conversations around mental health, and getting a better understanding of what triggers are other people facing, how is mental health manifesting in them, and having a more informed discussion rather than trying to learn everything on a set time when you're busy worried about your sales target or making your calls or hitting your metrics.
So I'm more than happy to help people do that as well, so you can always just drop me an email at Jeff at SalesHealthAlliance.com. It's going well so far, so I'm excited to see 'cause I think this will really start moving the needle on this conversation around mental health in Sales.
Andy: That's great news, that's really good news. I'm really happy for 'em. I'm definitely gonna check it out myself. But, we've come to the end of our time now, so thank you so much, Jeff. It's been really, really interesting speaking with you.
I actually feel a calmness all over me already. It's been a very nice calm and a nice conversation to have, and it's a really important topic, and thank you for the work that you're doing there because it's really important that somebody's started that and doing something about it as well, so thank you.
JR: Yeah, I appreciate you having me on, Andy, and hopefully this helps some of the SDRs and salespeople that are listening right now because I get it, it's a tough, tough grind every day.
Andy: For sure. Thanks, mate.
JR: Yeah, see you.