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Sleep: A Sales Team’s Biggest Lever for Success

Sales teams everywhere: It’s time for a wake-up call.
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Craig Wortmann CEO, Sales Engine & Founder, Kellogg Sales Institute

There’s one simple lever for sales success too many of us in sales overlook:


In the inaugural episode of The Rise Science Podcast, I caught up with Craig Wortmann, CEO of Sales Engine and Founder of the Kellogg Sales Institute at Northwestern University.

As both a practitioner and educator, Craig boasts uniquely extensive knowledge and experience in the field of sales.

And that experience has helped him see the crucial role sleep plays in sales performance.

What we talked about:

  • Human-centered selling
  • What makes a great salesperson
  • Craig’s number 1 sales productivity tip

Human-centered selling

Craig got his start in sales at IBM over 25 years ago.

At the time, IBM was known for its sales school.

But unlike the misleading stereotypes Craig worries permeate our culture when it comes to sales — that it’s some manipulative art form designed to pick someone’s pocket — IBM had a different outlook on sales.

Craig still holds this view today: Sales is about helping people make progress in their lives.

Much like many of the tech giants today, IBM was laser-focused on investing in promising young talent and training them to be the best in their field.

Above all else, they pushed for human-centered selling.

Which meant IBM made sure their salespeople were good people first, salespeople second.

Essentially, their sales program focused on making its people function well in their lives with the goal that, by doing so, they would become better salespeople.

And this is where sleep comes in for Craig.

"I am not aware of any other lever as simple and clean as sleep having as big of an impact on sales." — Craig Wortmann

Sleep is one of the most — if not the most — important things to have under control if you want to be great at sales.

The traits that make for a great salesperson

But why is sleep so important?

Well, to go back to IBM’s sales school for a moment, great salespeople are like great athletes.

They need practice, for example.

And at IBM, Craig practiced 3 things:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Skill
  3. Discipline

Knowledge is knowing how the microprocessor works; skill is knowing how to convey this to the customer; discipline is doing it over and over again.

This practice meant all of this became muscle memory for Craig, who could then reliably make the basket every shot.

But wait, what does this have to do with sleep?

Glad you asked.

This muscle memory is the foundation for a sales athlete, but it’s not what makes them all-stars.

That comes from being present.

“The greatest among salespeople are the ones who are present.” — Craig Wortmann

Simply put: Salespeople need to be empathetic. They need to be great listeners, they need to be truly present.

Salespeople have to show up as their best selves to every unpredictable game. And they need the stamina to consistently play at such a high level, considering they tackle more meetings than any other profession.

But this is impossible if their circadian rhythm is out of whack or if they get bogged down by sleep debt (the amount of sleep you owe your body relative to your need, calculated over a roughly two-week period).

We’ll take a closer look at these later. Right now, just keep in mind:

If you’re not sleeping right, your performance suffers.

Craig’s performance tip

On The Rise Science Podcast, I’ll be asking all of our guests what they think makes the biggest impact on performance in their lives and careers.

Craig shared the one thing he believes everyone can start doing to deliver the heftiest sales dividends:

Getting up early.

Getting up early has literally changed my life. It's given me everything I have.” — Craig Wortmann

Craig wakes up each day by 5 am and gets outside for some exercise.

He has no trouble falling asleep at a reasonable time, either.

You know why?

We mentioned sleep debt and circadian rhythms and Craig’s emphasis on getting a full night’s sleep in order to wake up early is how he maintains both.

Here’s the science:

First, his routine helps keep his circadian rhythm on-beat. And it does so in a couple of ways.

By waking up and getting outside first thing, the early-morning sun signals to his body that it’s a new day, sending a very strong message to his circadian rhythm and keeping it in sync with the environment.

Second, for the first 90 minutes after we wake up… we’re basically drunk. During this period, our brains are overflowing with adenosine and that’s why we are groggy and irritable. It’s what we in sleep science call sleep inertia.

Exercising during this time masks this feeling while not being very intellectually taxing. By the time your workout is over, you’re in your circadian ramp — moving towards the first energy peak of the day.

For all you early-morning joggers out there, this is a large part of why you feel pumped and ready for the day afterward.

These help you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, which, in turn, prepares you for a good night’s sleep that can help reduce your sleep debt.

Later that night, it will be easy to fall asleep at the right time and avoid the negative impacts irregular and insufficient sleep can have on your sales performance.

Remember when we said being present is what makes a great salesperson? Well, sleep debt is the number one factor affecting your ability to be present.

And this, ultimately, predicts your team's revenue, burnout, and engagement.

So, try waking up early and see if it works for you as well as it does for Craig for maintaining healthy sleep.

But whether you get there by waking up early or not, you owe it to yourself — and your customers, prospects, and sales team — to get a good night’s sleep.

To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Rise Science Podcast here.


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Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

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