How to Handle Rejection in Sales

Sales techniques7 mins
Jul 16, 2020
dog handling rejection

Have you ever watched an audition episode of the show American Idol? In the span of two minutes you see someone go through the entire range of human emotions right before your eyes. It is mesmerizing.

Everyone enters hopeful, excited, and, probably, a bit nervous. Those who receive a golden ticket are elated, but, sadly, there are those who don’t make it through. In some cases their nerves got the best of them. In others, they just needed more time to develop.

No matter the reason, most are crushed when they hear that “no”. Seeing the American Idol hopefuls try to cope with their rejection in real-time is heart-wrenching. There’s a simple reason for that: we understand their pain.

We all know the feeling of rejection. We experience it in both our personal and professional lives. Though it’s something we all face, we’re not always very well-equipped to handle it. In professions that have high amounts of rejection, like sales, it’s generally assumed you know how to cope, but that may be an assumption we should stop making.

Articles about handling rejection in sales oftentimes lead you to believe that all you really need to do is try harder and “turn that no into a yes!” Though I do not doubt the efficacy of articles titled things like, “Grant Cardone’s 7 Sales Hacks to Drop-Kick Your Prospect’s No in the Face!” they do gloss over one very specific detail: sometimes a no, is just a no.

So, what do you do then?

Be professional

Getting rejected in any scenario is difficult. When coupled with the fact that as a salesperson it’s also tied to your overall job performance, and pay, it gets even more complicated. Your knee-jerk reaction might be to get upset, which is completely valid, but it’s important that you do your best to keep your composure in front of your prospect.

Dr. Becker-Phelps suggests taking a little time before responding after a rejection, if possible. Creating some space helps you get perspective, calm down, and ultimately give a less emotional and more effective response.

Consider having a practiced response ready for any real-time or face-to-face interactions. In those scenarios, you might not have the luxury of time to cool down. Proactively preparing yourself with a rehearsed response means you’re less likely to fire back with something emotional or defensive.

Always remember, just because someone isn’t ready to buy at the moment doesn’t mean they won’t be ready in the future. Even though it’s disappointing, be sure you thank them for their time and also leave the door open for future contact. Responding positively even when disappointed speaks volumes about your character.

Don’t take it personally

During my first year as a salesperson, I had a decently-sized business deal fall through. I’d been working it for a couple months, only to have them choose a competitor at the last minute. I felt completely defeated.

When a deal falls through, it’s really difficult to not feel as though there must’ve been something you personally did wrong to cause things to go sideways. Though that can happen, most of the time it’s something outside your control.

Maybe there was a better price, or feature that you didn’t offer. Or the prospect just liked the competition’s product more. There are a million possibilities.

Whatever the case, do your best to be kind to yourself when those instances inevitably happen. Psychologist Dr. Pam Garcy suggests using positive self-talk exercises when you’re feeling down to help rebound. If you find the idea a little uncomfortable, think about the last time someone you knew faced a difficult situation. What did you do to console them?

You probably reminded them of all the good and did your best to downplay the bad. If you’re willing to do it for someone else, why not be willing to do it for yourself?

Let it hurt

When something bad happens, like getting rejected, we generally want to move on from it as quickly as possible. It makes sense. Pain, either emotional or physical, is unpleasant. In fact, a University of Michigan study found that our brains process physical and emotional pain the same way.

Though you do need to eventually move on, it’s also important that you fully experience the emotions tied to your rejection. If you don’t, you may not get closure from the situation and could prolong the negative effects of being rejected.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you wallow, per se (unless that’s part of your process). What I am suggesting is that you don’t deny yourself the time to fully understand, and reflect on, how you feel. Processing your feelings fully takes time.

How long it takes varies based on the weight of the rejection. Very small business deal? Maybe you take a few minutes to reflect, watch a funny cat video on YouTube, then get back to business. But a bigger deal that you put a lot of work into and that could’ve gotten you a nice bonus? That might take a little longer.

In any case, processing is something you should do deliberately, and the way you process will be specific to you. For example, I like to get outside and go on a walk to try and process how I feel. Others may prefer to sit in a quiet room, or go for a drive. There’s no one right way to do it, but try your best to be sure it happens in some form.

Talk with others

Perspective is hard to gain by yourself. Though we know rationally whatever we’re feeling as a result of getting rejected is something others have felt, in the moment it’s not always easy to make that connection.

Rejection can be isolating. So, it may be very beneficial to process how you feel with someone else. Based on the particular situation, this could be something as simple as a quick vent through Slack with a coworker, or a lengthier conversation with a peer, manager, or friend. Just connecting with someone else who can listen and validate you will do wonders for your mood.

Find the silver-lining

Though it might be a little cliche, there’s usually a lesson in every rejection. Being able to take something positive away from the experience can be useful in recovering from it too. The thing that you need to be most aware of is how narrowly you define what a possible takeaway is.

If you’re looking purely from the standpoint of “how could I have closed the deal better?” then you may come up empty-handed. That said, there are plenty of other positive lessons you can learn that don’t have anything to do with the actual sale.

For example, maybe you learned a new coping technique for when you’re stressed. Perhaps it helped you improve a relationship with a peer or manager. Or, maybe there was something you were able to take away about your approach to the sale.

Or, maybe you realized that having the experience means you can be a resource to someone else in the future. All are positive outcomes. So, be sure you’re keeping an open mind to what constitutes a silver lining.

Keep on keeping on

Rejection is a tricky thing. We all experience it in some ways, so it’s good to know the best ways to approach handling it. Some professions, like sales, don’t always encourage being open about the emotional aspect of rejection, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Being vulnerable is an act of bravery. Plain and simple. With the cultural norm in sales of, “get over it and on to the next deal,” it may not always be easy to reflect on your feelings, but it will pay off in the long run.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to “get over it” faster, learn more from the experience, and feel better about your work. Plus, the more you demonstrate the behavior, the more you influence the overall culture of your group, leading to better outcomes for everyone on your team — and that's a win in our book, even if it did come from a lost deal.