SalesWorks Blog

Pressure vs stress in sales

When you work in sales, pressure and stress come with the job. But what do we mean when we say these words? Let’s find out more.


Right now is an even more challenging time to be in the sales profession. Take everything you typically have to deal with – targets, tricky customers etc. – and add that we’re all working from home, protecting ourselves from Coronavirus, negotiating our way through a business landscape that is changing faster than ever. How is the current situation making you feel? Are you thriving on the pressure, or weighed down by stress?

Last week, I attended a workshop hosted by SNP Communications and the Revenue Collective about managing stress and difficult emotions. In this article, I want to go a bit deeper into the things we talked about.

Pressure and stress

The speakers started by defining the difference between pressure and stress. Did you know that these two terms are different? I think we use the words pressure and stress interchangeably, but actually, they’re not the same at all. 

Because they’re different, they need alternative diagnostics. If you’re under pressure, your mind and body will react differently to when it is stressed. So, it’s essential to understand the difference. 

I like the way the psychologist Hendrie Weisinger defines it in his book, How To Perform Under Pressure.

  • Pressure is when you feel that need to perform in a certain way because something essential is at stake.
  • Stress is when there is an excess of demands on you, but not enough time, money or energy to fulfil them.

A footballer taking a penalty in a World Cup shoot-out will feel pressure. The outcome of the game and their team’s progress in the tournament depends on what they are about to do. 

Meanwhile, someone running a company may be sat in a meeting that is overrunning meaning they’ll be late for the next one, with their phone going crazy in their pocket with the number of emails arriving, while worrying about how they’re going to make payroll this month because that important deal fell through – they’re feeling stress.

Do you see the difference?

Pressure in sales

How many of us tell our family and friends who don’t work in sales that they ‘work in a high-pressure environment’ or that ‘sales is really stressful’? What do we actually mean when we say that?

In sales, the feeling of pressure is an energiser that typically moves us to action. Think of the pressure you feel at the end of the quarter when the target is in your sights. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a feeling that now’s the time to perform, give it your all, do or die. And, if you perform and you hit that target, you get the rewards that come with it.

Stress in sales

On the other hand, stress is a mixture of feelings – physical, emotional and mental. 

You could feel stress in sales when you’re on a run of bad results and you don’t know what to change to get out of it. You know your manager has noticed and is about to take action. Meanwhile, you’re not sleeping because you’re worried about what is going to happen next. 

This spiral of feelings is what contributes to stress.

Why this is important

Knowing the difference between pressure and stress is essential because while pressure can drive you on to better things, stress literally makes you ill. You need to know what you are dealing with at any given moment so that you can take action.

We all have our ways of dealing with stress, but we need to know when to take a break, or do whatever you do. 

On the other hand, knowing how to deal with pressure in short, sharp bursts can make us more effective salespeople. After all, we would all rather be the footballer who steps up and scores that game-winning penalty rather than the one who hides away. Wouldn’t you like to be the one who nails that call at the end of the quarter when the chips are down?