Mental Health Sales Excellence at American Express - “Don’t live life without it” | Ofer Zak

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“When numbers are down it can be hard to stay positive and happy – depression hits”

I have had anxiety since as long as I can remember. 

I am a business development executive at American Express. My role consists of cold calling companies to give them access to business working capital through our credit card programs. Typically I’m speaking to C and V level executives and pitch them for the sale. I also manage the account after signing, for customer experience and full card usage.

Sales is one of the most difficult jobs out there

Quotas, rejection, the grind of calling, things not going your way in a certain account. Without properly taking care of your mental health, all of this can build up inside until you’re filled with anger and resentment towards your job. Your performance takes a serious dip, which affects your numbers, as well as how you get paid.

Some of the challenges that I have faced in a professional sales role would be things like, not being sure if I said the right thing at the right time and how that could affect my relationship with a prospect. Maybe they thought I was weird or something. Or being super anxious when a prospect ghosts you for weeks. When numbers are down, it can be hard to stay positive and happy– depression hits.

In the past for me personally, this has lead to a downward spiral. When my income is affected I often have anxiety about other things in my life like supporting my family and paying for rent.

The top 3 events that impact my mental health are:

  1. Being ghosted by a prospect.

  2. An account delaying the spend they promised.

  3. Missing targets.

I pride myself on being genuine and honest in all of my interactions with clients, however it affects me the most when those values aren’t reciprocated by the client or prospected. Sure– business can be hard and clients shouldn’t have to, but I genuinely try to help all of my clients. I wish sometimes they understood how much pressure I was under and how much it would help my mental health if they returned a call or email.

Best Practices for Maintaining Mental Health in Sales

As time has passed, I’ve learned ways of alleviating some, if not most, anxiety. Here are some of the tools I use to help my mental health in sales:

  1. Stay busy. If you keep cold calling, emailing, and researching new companies to call, you won’t have time to be anxious.

  2. Walking away from my phone or computer for a few minutes every hour or two. It’s common sense, but not enough people do it. Go for 20 minutes elsewhere. Chill out, fresh air. Just walk away.

  3. Listening to music.

  4. Talking with coworkers about silly nonsense. Keeping things light and humorous in the office is so important.

  5. Coaching from teammates and managers has helped me overcome the talk track issues on the phone with prospects.

  6. Reminding myself that things always work out, because they always do.

It is so easy to lose perspective on the things that are important to you while working in sales. These best practices really help me stay grounded and keep my anxiety at bay.

Increasing Awareness of Mental Health in Sales

Over the course of my career, I’ve also noticed a lot of organizations want more for less from their sales reps. It often seems like salespeople can be treated like a number and there is little understanding around what’s going on in their personal lives.

Transparency with my manager has been extremely important - I have told him that I suffer from anxiety. He has been awesome, and has coached me to manage my bad days when they pop up. He has also been instrumental in keeping me on track with targets and numbers.

The below are the items that I think would have a significant impact on sales rep’s mental health if changed:

  1. More transparency around why individual sales targets are raised would be a big one for me. I’m all for reaching bigger revenue targets, but sometimes the “why” is lost in top down messaging.

  2. I work hard for my money and if targets are going to be raised, I think organizations should come with more training and coaching to help me achieve the new target.

  3. Providing more sick days. Or even manager approved stress days off. We spend 40+ hours a week in the trenches and companies should be taking more responsibility in helping employees gain access to mental health services.

Creating more awareness around mental health in the sales industry would help sales professionals out a lot in terms of performance. In an ideal world, it would be great if entire companies were open to discussing mental health in the workplace and had programs in place to help salespeople deal with the pressures of a sales role.

My name is Ofer and I am UNCrushed.

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Ofer Zak

Toronto, ON, Canada

This article was originally published in interview format on Sales Health Institute here