Burnout Prevention

5 Questions with Quinn Underwood

😫 Burnout Prevention

Sometimes, it feels like burnout is inevitable – especially for SDRs. The role is just too demanding to sustain a positive and healthy mindset. Our guest, Quinn Underwood, takes issue with that idea.

We chat about what burnout really is and why preventing it in the first place is so much more crucial than combatting it after the fact.

It’s no secret – the SDR job is a grind. You can optimize it all you want and tout the wins, but behind the curtain, it’s full of rejection. 

And eventually, that catches up to even the best reps.

That’s right folks, we’re talking burnout. 

There are TONS of articles online that tell you how to combat burnout, but most of the time anyone looking those articles up is currently in the middle of burning out. 

And while it’s helpful to have the resources out there, the goal is to get them in the hands of reps BEFORE they start to feel burnout take hold.

We sit down with Quinn Underwood to get his take. He’s all about preventing and combatting burnout at Autumn, an AI platform that can help measure well-being and burnout risk and identify the early stages of unsustainable stress and anxiety.

We’ll cover what burnout really is, how to prevent it from happening on a personal and company level, and what to do if it rears its ugly head.

Our Guest

What He Does: Quinn is the CEO and Co-Founder at Autumn

How to Connect: Quinn’s LinkedIn | Quinn’s Email | Autumn’s LinkedIn | Autumn’s Website

There are TONS of articles online that tell you how to combat burnout, but most of the time anyone looking those articles up is currently in the middle of burning out.

And while it’s helpful to have the resources out there, the goal is to get them in the hands of reps BEFORE they start to feel burnout take hold.

We sit down with Quinn Underwood to get his take. He’s all about preventing and combatting burnout at Autumn, an AI platform that can help measure well-being and burnout risk and identify the early stages of unsustainable stress and anxiety.

Play Video

Key Takeaways

  1. What’s the problem here? What impact does burnout have on individual reps? On their companies?

  2. What are some of the major contributing factors to burnout? Where do these come from?

  3. How can you work to combat these factors on an individual level? How have you done that yourself?

  4. What can companies do to limit SDR burnout? More than just the “band-aids” we see teams tout online.

  5. What does the future of this role look like? After we make it through this period of change, will the SDR role be the same as it always was?

Highlights, Notes, and Resources

Biggest Takeaways

📊 Burnout has always been difficult to measure. It’s not numbers-based, it’s feelings-based. It’s hard to be practical about something that’s fully intangible. And because of that, it hasn’t been as discussed as it should be.

Now, companies like Autumn are working at better identifying what burnout really is and what it means to be “burnt out.” Research has identified 3 major contributing factors:

  1. Fatigue/Exhaustion

  2. Cynicism

  3. Lack of Professional Efficacy

Burnout happens when you have exhaustion & cynicism concurrently – not just exhaustion like most people assume. It often starts with exhaustion, but that leads to cynicism which leads to professional inefficacy.

More info on that & the corresponding research can be found here: Maslach Burnout Inventory.

🛑 Preventing burnout is more important than combatting it. Why? Well for one, you limit the chances your reps have at indirectly sabotaging the rest of their team. But mainly, it’s because once you reach a clinical level of burnout it takes a minimum of 11 weeks to recover from that.

That’s almost 25% of the YEAR. And in those 11 weeks, reps are 260% more likely to leave their job and 50% less likely to bring up conversations around performance.

And it’s only 11 weeks if you return to a “normal” threshold of the 3 measures mentioned above right away. Chances are it’ll be longer.

🪞 Transparency is so unbelievably important when talking about burnout. Giving reps clarity around cause & effect is a strong burnout prevention method. And it can be as simple as having regular conversations with your team to keep them apprised of what’s happening throughout the organization.

On the flip side, having that open communication means reps should feel comfortable coming to you with issues and challenges. You have to meet your team halfway. If they don’t feel comfortable coming to you for help, you won’t know the root cause of their frustration – it could be fatigue, cynicism, or a feeling of inefficacy. And if you don’t know that root cause, you won’t be able to solve it.

Conversation Highlights

Note: Timestamps correspond to the YouTube video

(3:04) In April, 2022, searches for “burnout” on Google hit an all-time high. The discourse around this has never been higher, even relative to the beginning of the global pandemic ~2 years ago. And if that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what will.

(6:23) A lot of people look at burnout as “just” fatigue, and that means the typical fixes don’t actually solve the root issue. You can solve for fatigue by taking a vacation, but it won’t alleviate cynicism or feelings of professional inefficacy.

And if you don’t properly address the root cause of burnout, it can have a significant ripple effect on the organization. One bad apple has the potential to ruin the whole bunch, so stopping burnout early is imperative.

(7:58) It’s been a bit “doom and gloom” so far, so here’s some good news: Burnout, in most cases, is entirely preventable. Even better, the person who has the most power to prevent it is a team lead (aka manager of some kind).

And are you ready for something crazy? Your manager has a great effect on your ultimate health than your family doctor. 🤯

That means SDR <> Manager alignment is crucial – not just for the health of your business, but your rep’s health overall. Get some tips on how to manage that relationship here.

(12:05) One of the biggest factors of exhaustion for SDRs is not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. And that can be brought on by feeling inadequate about your results, a lack of transparency around your impact on the organization, or not having the opportunity to reflect on the work you’ve already done.

It’s really easy to lose sight of the forest in the trees.

(14:46) This time of year (Q2) is particularly difficult for SDRs. A strong push in Q1 is often met with a slate-cleaning Q2, and it can feel like the hard work you put in just disappeared. It’s easy to get cynical about the role when you look at it that way.

(17:30) A lot of the research around burnout has illuminated the universal language of cost to team leaders. Knowing how much time/money/resources you burn through by not addressing the issue is a compelling reason to start taking it seriously.

We’ve done a ton of research into this. The true cost of hiring an SDR goes beyond the salary you pay them, it involves a myriad of other variables (tenure chief among them) when talking about your total investment.

Plus, burnout has a much larger ripple effect on the organization as a whole.

That’s why combatting it is incredibly difficult, and preventing it is super important.

(19:50) Some interesting info about Calm & Headspace here. It’s easy for a company to slap a band-aid on issues with burnout, but to really address it at the root cause you need to exert a bit more effort.

(22:11) Some great tips on how to prevent burnout on your team:

  1. Regularly communicating with SDRs about the impact their work has on the organization as a whole. You can even go as far as setting up time with the AE who worked the deal to deliver feedback on qualification, fit, messaging, etc.

  2. Give SDRs a kickback on closed-won opportunities they source. And make it more than just a simple monetary pat on the back – involve the rep in the celebration. Really emphasize that it was a team win, and they’re part of that team.

  3. Talk about burnout. Dedicate time during the week to check in on the well being of your team beyond their numbers. Just having that conversation is a huge step towards preventing future burnout.

(27:37) Related to burnout, Psychological Safety is hugely important for a team to function properly. In short, it means you feel comfortable enough to ask questions or have difficult conversations with members of your team without fear of reprisal.

Eric mentioned something similar in his UNSUBSCRIBE episode. Gautam did the same in his episode. One of the biggest growth avenues for a new rep is question asking. If your team hasn’t built up psychological safety, then that avenue is cut off.

(28:20) Let’s tie some numbers in. Google did an incredible study on the impact psychological safety had on the performance of sales teams.

✅ Teams that had psychological safety surpassed quota on average by 17%

❌ Teams that lacked psychological safety missed quota on average by 19%

That’s incredibly telling. The ability to ask questions without fear of reprisal and have difficult conversations with your team correlates to surpassing quota. So if you don’t feel like your team has psychological safety, this is as good a reason as ever to start working towards it.

(31:05) Building psychological safety is one of the few things you actually have control over as a manager. You need to take advantage of that.

(33:06) Great example from the medical field (where burnout is expectedly rampant) around how you can stave off burnout by doing things you actually enjoy. It’s incredibly applicable to the SDR role, and it all starts with having those open and honest conversations.

On her UNSUBSCRIBE episode, Chelsey talked about some of the additional responsibilities an SDR can tackle if they want to move up and out of the role. It’s a great way to help them build that 80/20 split of tasks they have to do vs. tasks they want to do.

(36:17) Ever heard of self-determination theory? It finds that across all cultures, there are 3 basic needs that all humans have: Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. When you have all 3, you are considered in a state of well-being or fulfillment. And that leads to high levels of performance.

SDT can serve as a great benchmark for team leaders who are considering the burnout levels of their reps. If you can help them fill one of their basic needs, you’re getting them closer to fulfillment and a higher level of performance.

Maybe not so coincidentally, the 3 components of SDT are closely related to the core values we have at demandDrive.

Additional Resources

The good people at Lusha put together an article on why SDRs tend to burn out after ~15 months. It covers a lot of what we talked about above + some actionable advice on how to reduce churn.

If you’re looking for tips & insight on how to keep your reps around for as long as possible, their article is a good read!

📰 Why Outbound SDRs Burn Out in 15 Months

Our very own AJ Alonzo wrote a piece for SDRevolution calling for a review of three critical SDR systems: Ramp, Reward, and Recognition.

Those contribute heavily to decreased SDR tenures, and when paired with burn out they can cause some serious infrastructure woes. Is it time to revisit and revolutionize these systems? We think so.

📰 It’s Time for a Sales Development Revolution

What do Pokemon and Dungeons & Dragons have to do with the sales development role? Glad you asked.

AJ Alonzo (hey, that’s me!) dives into his personal burnout story during Sales Hacker’s Beyond Quota event. He touches on finding a solid work-life balance and how to use the skills and talents you cultivate outside of work to take your sales game to new heights!

📺 How Dungeons & Dragons and Pokemon Moved Me Up and Out of My SDR Role

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