Sales pain: how do you deal with rejection?

Marcel Hoefman | 01-05-2023

Rejection hurts. Sometimes a little and for a moment. Sometimes heartbreaking and lifelong. What does this have to do with sales? Everything. Sales is about yes and no, about winning and losing, about acceptance and rejection. Fear of rejection is very human and therefore one of the biggest fears of many entrepreneurs, managers and sales professionals.

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Not that strange, by the way. Scientific research shows that social pain (including rejection) has strong similarities with physical pain. When people experience social pain, the same areas in the brain light up as when they experience physical pain. Opioids, a type of painkiller, are also released in those areas. More resilient people release the most opioids: they suffer the least from rejection pain, but they are also not numb to rejection.

The fear of rejection often leads to commercial diving behavior. For example, sales professionals avoid situations where rejection is possible. The result: procrastination when acquiring, not asking for commitment, embracing harmonious-sounding but misleading sales theories, making safe visits to existing relations, quickly drawing the discount card, etc.
Explainable and logical, but disastrous for self-confidence and commercial results. That's why it's useful to manage rejection anxiety. And the good news is: you can learn to collect.

How do you handle that?

1. Make maximum use of your own influence

Some things in sales you have only limited influence on. This includes actions by competitors, social and political developments, responses to a Coronavirus, the purchasing process of customers, etc.
You have control over other factors: preparation for sales meetings, professional knowledge, quotation texts, skills, references, etc. Make maximum use of this and take advantage of these opportunities.

If you do lose, let it happen because of things outside your control. And not because of carelessness, laziness or lack of discipline in yourself.


2. Put rejection into perspective
Let's be honest: how bad is it really when a customer says 'no'. Does that give you a serious illness? Is your partner leaving you? Or are you ritually stoned in the company restaurant?
Does this “no” mean that you will never sell anything to anyone again? Does it mean you are a lousy entrepreneur, consultant or salesperson? Or does it mean that you have failed as a human being? Don't get me wrong, this is not a plea for rose-colored glasses or ruthless putting into perspective, the interests in commerce are often too great for that. But a realistic view of the facts helps you deal with rejection more resiliently. This reduces the effect of rejection on behavior and prevents passivity, ducking behavior and other forms of sales sabotage.


3. Limit the impact of the loss
Suppose that every month you succeed or fail to achieve your commercial objectives. It is always exciting, make or break. Then the phone call comes: “Unfortunately, thanks for your effort, but we choose your competitor.” You hardly believe it. Secretly you were already counting on this order. And now he's gone. You feel down. You lost. What now?
Look, this is where rejection hits hard...

But now suppose you receive the same rejection message even though you are doing very well. Commercial objectives are amply achieved and the prospects are great! The biggest challenge is to manage the order flow properly, continue to set the right priorities and enjoy success in the meantime. Your reaction to the rejection will probably be different: “Too bad, I'm disappointed about it. But this is part of sales. And fortunately there are so many parties that choose us that I prefer to focus my time and energy on them.”

The difference? Not the rejection, but the context is different. If you ensure a structural supply of good, new ideas, agreements, introductions, propositions and activities, there is little to worry about. The “no” of one person is met with the “yes” of the other. So keep moving, spread your sales opportunities and limit your dependence on occasional direct hits. You can't always avoid rejection, but a well-filled sales pipeline is an excellent painkiller.


Rejection and sales go together. But if you maximize your own influence, are realistic about what rejection means and continue to create sufficient opportunities, you will limit the impact and maintain your resilience. And especially in these dynamic times, that is a crucial quality.

* Check for example: Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain | PNAS

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