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 for a lifetime. 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 so strange, by the way. Scientific research has shown that social pain (including rejection) has strong similarities with physical pain. When people experience social pain, the same areas of the brain light up as with physical pain. Opioids, a kind of painkiller, are also released in these areas. More resilient people release the most opioids: they suffer least from rejection pain, but they are not immune to rejection either.

The fear of rejection often leads to commercial diving behavior. Sales professionals, for example, avoid situations in which rejection is possible. The result: procrastination in 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 is why it is useful to manage the fear of rejection. And the good news is: you can learn to accept rejection.

How do you tackle that?

1. Make maximum use of your own influence

On some things in sales you have only limited influence. Think about the actions of competitors, social and political developments, reactions to a Coronavirus, the purchasing process of customers, etc.
Other factors you have in your own hand: the preparation for sales meetings, professional knowledge, offer texts, skills, references etc. Put maximum effort into this and make the most of these opportunities.

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


2. Put rejection into perspective
Let's be honest: how bad is it really when a customer says 'no'. Does it give you a serious illness? Does your partner leave you? Or are you ritually stoned in the company restaurant?
Does this "no" mean you will never, ever sell anything to anyone again? Does it mean you're a lousy entrepreneur, consultant or salesperson? Or does it mean you've failed as a human being? Don't get me wrong, this is not a plea for rose-tinted spectacles or for relativism, the interests in commerce are often too great. But a realistic view of the facts helps you to be more resilient in dealing with rejection. This will reduce the effect of rejection on behavior and prevent passivity, hiding and other forms of salessabotage.


3. Limit the impact of the loss
Suppose that every month you just barely manage to achieve your commercial targets. It is always exciting, make or break. Then comes that phone call: "Sorry, thanks for the effort, but we choose your competitor. You hardly believe it. You were secretly counting on this order. And now it's gone. You feel down. You've lost. So now what?
See, this is where rejection comes in...

But now imagine that you receive the same rejection notice while you are running excellently. Commercial targets are being amply met and the outlook is great! The biggest challenge is to manage the flow of orders, set the right priorities and enjoy the success in the meantime. Your reaction to the rejection will probably be different: "Too bad, I feel bad. But this is part of sales. And fortunately there are so many parties who do choose us, that I'd rather 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 you catch with the "yes" of the other. So keep moving, spread your sales opportunities and limit your dependence on occasional hits. You can't always prevent rejection, but a well-stocked sales pipeline is an excellent painkiller.


Rejection and sales go hand in hand. But if you make maximum use of your own influence, are realistic about what a rejection means and continue to create enough opportunities, you limit the impact and maintain your resilience. And that is a crucial quality, especially in these dynamic times.

* For example, check: Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain | PNAS

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