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My Sales Went Through the Roof — Then I Hit Rock Bottom

A sales person sits frustrated at the computer: Mental health in sales
Hitting quota is a great short-term goal. Being happy while you do it is the long-term dream. [Nicholas Felix /]

When success in sales didn’t make me happy, I turned to the only thing left: managing my mental health.

I missed my quota. Again. For the third year in a row, I had tanked at my sales job at Salesforce. This was 2016, the year I almost quit sales. 

I decided to get help instead. I reached out to mentors, hired a coach, and took a rigorous sales training course. It worked. The following year, I was the company’s top seller. The year after that, I went from selling $1.3 million in annual recurring revenue to over $5 million annually. 

So why was I still so miserable? My sales had never been better. My mental health had never been worse. I traded in the stress of failure with the stress of living up to my success. I was at rock bottom, suffering from addiction.

I thought I had to fix my sales. Instead I had to fix myself. I got sober, began therapy, and worked a 12-step program. For the first time in my life, I put my mental health first. Today, life is good. What I learned is that I could be truly happy no matter how much or how little I sold.

If you’re struggling too, you’re not alone. Some 63% percent of sellers say they struggle with mental health, according to the State of Mental Health in Sales Report. To help, I’m sharing the four key tips that helped me get better. For those feeling dark, know that your brightest days are around the corner. 

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Tip 1: Focus on output, not outcomes

The biggest stressors are between our ears as we obsess over outcomes. Will I hit my quota? Is this deal going to close? These questions fill our days with constant worry.

I remember staring at the leaderboard back in my dark days, my face heating with frustration. The emotions became so intense that I was showing up to meetings with commission breath, desperate to make a sale. Customers could smell it a mile away. 

Other sellers might relate. “This kind of stress will kill your negotiations,” says Anita Nielsen, sales expert and owner of LDK Advisory Service. “If we’re in a place of negative self-talk, we’ll be tempted to leave money on the table.” 

I couldn’t take the discomfort anymore. First, I worked on detaching from the outcome, and focusing only on what I could control: revenue-generating activities. I made a daily list of top priorities, and took things one task at a time. 

Customers started responding, and deals were advancing. I felt productive and could sleep well at night knowing I was doing all I could to get the results I wanted. 

To improve outcomes, we have to improve our daily output. Think about your top priorities for the day, the steps you can take to move your biggest deals forward, the difficult conversations you can have that you’ve been avoiding. Those are the things you can control and take action on. 

Tip 2: Be competent, not perfect

One of the biggest struggles my coaching clients have is perfectionism. They avoid taking action because they think their work isn’t good enough, or they don’t feel prepared enough. This snowballs and they end up feeling overwhelmed, because they’re frozen with inaction and their tasks pile up. They end up feeling shame and stress from not taking the right actions.

I had one client who was just promoted to enterprise sales and was speaking with C-level executives for the first time. She clammed up in meetings, intimidated by the titles in the room, fearing that even the tiniest slip — a wrong word, a pregnant pause — would spell disaster.

My advice to her is my advice to you: There’s no such thing as perfect. Aim for competence instead. What’s most important is that she focuses on helping and serving her customers. I told her that the only way she’d learn to command a high-stakes room was from experience and practice. That’s true of anything. We have to learn by doing, whether it’s writing emails, giving presentations, or negotiating. Done now beats perfect later. (Or more likely: perfect never.) 

Tip 3: Improve your mental health at home, not work

The root cause of mental health will be found in your personal life, not your professional life. When I emerged from my rock bottom, it was because I learned that I had to go to the source. I had to work on myself before I could work on my career.

I had a bad relationship with my quota, and was pinning my self-worth to it. The worst part? I was doomed either way. If I hit it, I felt great for a day, and then I had to start over. If things didn’t go well, I felt awful.  

This is a vicious roller-coaster. I escaped with a mantra: “I am not my number.” I withdrew my self-worth from my quota and set out to find joy and fulfillment outside of work. For example, I now spend an hour every day eating lunch with my wife and son, no matter what else is going on. I stop work by 6 p.m. every evening, and spend the nights and weekends with my family. 

My advice is to set personal, rewarding goals outside of work. Make more phone calls to family, volunteer for your community, or take up a hobby. Daily exercise, meditation, walks, sunshine, and time with loved ones go a long way. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and it’s important to do the things you love to keep your cup full. 

Tip 4: Get help

If you’re having concerns with your mental health, don’t try to address it alone. Seek help. There are professionals, communities (like Salesblazer), and resources (UNCrushed, a mental health awareness organization, has a list here). Go plug in. 

Get better to sell better

When we feel bad, our performance suffers. Sellers who rated their mental health the best were also two-and-a-half times more likely to rate their sales performance the best it could possibly be, according to the recent State of Mental Health in Sales Report.

The message is clear: If you’re having mental health concerns, then focus on you, not your sales targets. Find help to find your bliss. Hitting quota is a great short-term goal. Being happy while you do it is the long-term dream.

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Ian Koniak
Ian Koniak CEO of Ian Koniak Sales Coaching

Ian is a former #1 enterprise account executive at Salesforce with over $100 million in career sales. Today, he is a sales coach helping AEs perform to their fullest potential at work, while also finding joy and fulfillment outside of work. He lives with his wife and two sons in El Segundo, CA, and is passionate about spending time with his family, running, and traveling.

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