A simple two-letter word that stops us in our tracks. “No.”
Today I want to talk about rejection. In the context of sales, but also the larger context of business, and life.
We all hate getting rejected. You, me, everyone you’ve ever met. It’s human nature. Hard-wired right into our brains.
🧠fMRI studies reveal that getting rejected triggers the same neurological pathways in your brain that light up when you experience physical pain.
💊Taking painkillers actually soothes the pain of rejection. (But that’s not a healthy long-term strategy.)
My ability to handle rejection—without painkillers—has without a doubt been one of my most valuable skills in life. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half of what I did if I had allowed rejection to get between me and my goals.
What Happens When We Get Rejected
Scientists have studied what happens when we face rejection, and it’s not pretty. A Frontiers study from earlier this year found that rejection causes negative affect (a bad mood) and aggression. This happens both when we get rejected by friends and strangers. Previous studies have shown that it happens in both men and women. And my own experience tells me that it happens to every salesperson—except maybe the occasional psychopath in sales. Which, as far as I’m aware, is pretty rare.
There’s a lot of other research out there showing that rejection is painful and that it has much in common with physical pain. Studies have shown that some people have higher rejection sensitivity, which can lead to increased jealousy and aggression.
Another study found that how we explain rejection to ourselves has a big impact on performance. People who were able to explain rejection with optimism were productive and stayed in their jobs longer. It’s really that big of a deal. If you’re better at dealing with rejection, you’ll be a better salesperson. Even beyond that, you’ll be a better employee. You’ll probably be happier with your life in general, too.
We’ll talk about how to get better at dealing with rejection. But first, let’s talk about why that’s so difficult.
Why Rejection Is So Hard To Deal With
To understand how to deal with rejection, you have to understand why it hurts so much in the first place. In short, it’s an evolutionary survival mechanism. Way back in the day, when we lived in hunter-gatherer tribes, getting kicked out of the group was the worst thing that could happen. People didn’t last long on their own.
So our brains developed a response that warned us to be very afraid of rejection. And even though we’re no longer in those tribes, we still have that response. Getting rejected really hurts, and it’s built into our psyche. Our brains are fighting against us. Thanks, brain.
Once you understand that rejection hurts so much because of things that happened hundreds of thousands of years ago, you can start to contextualize it in your life. Yes, it hurts. No one likes to be rejected. But when you’re feeling rejected, remember that the reason it sucks so much actually isn’t around anymore.
Don’t try to stop that pain. You’ll always feel it, and that’s okay. I’ve been getting sales rejections for years, and it still hurts. But it no longer slows me down. That’s the secret of great salespeople: we still hate getting rejected, but we don’t let it throw us off track.
What Rejection Means In Sales
You can see why rejection sucks so much. We’re hardwired to be extremely uncomfortable with it, we experience real pain when we feel it, and our brains automatically go into a negative mode when it happens.
Sounds like we’re fighting an uphill battle, doesn’t it?
That’s why the best salespeople know how to deal with rejection and handle objections. They don’t work against it—they work with it to grow and measure their progress. Because they understand what rejections in sales really mean.
Take a second to think about your first thought when you get a “no” on a sales call. You probably think that you didn’t do a good job of selling. Or you might be irritated that the prospect wasted your time.
If you keep thinking like that, you’re going to keep fearing rejection. Because getting a “no” doesn’t mean that you screwed up. It means that you’re pushing yourself and going for the sale.
When a prospect rejects your pitch, it’s because you’re stretching outside of your comfort zone to get the sale. And that’s what the best salespeople in the business do. They don’t have success rates of 90%—they know that high success rates mean you’re only going for the sure bets. Instead, they push themselves outside of their comfort zone to try to get deals
Reward Yourself For Rejection
Now that we know why rejection sucks so much, we can talk about how to deal with it in sales. The first thing you need to do happens long before you get rejected on a sales call. It’s all about reframing rejection as good instead of bad.
I realize that sounds counterproductive. But hear me out.
Focusing only on success has some serious drawbacks. Think of it this way. Say you set a quota for your sales team that says once they’ve closed three deals, they’ve met their daily quota. Most days, that will take all day. They’ll get a lot of rejections along the way.
But what if a salesperson gets lucky and closes deals on the first three calls?
They’ll check out. They may not actually leave the building, but they’ll take it a lot easier for the rest of the day.
Rewarding for rejection changes that. Now that salesperson has to keep making calls to get to their “rejection” quota for the day. Let’s say it’s seven. After closing those three deals, that salesperson has to have at least seven more conversations. And there’s a good chance they’ll close another deal or two along the way.
That salesperson’s success rate will almost certainly go down. But their performance will be more consistent day-to-day. And a lower success rate isn’t necessarily bad. If you’re closing 90% of your deals, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not stretching and challenging yourself.
Changing the focus from success to rejection can be a game-changer. It can change the atmosphere for everyone working on your sales floor. Imagine salespeople high-fiving each other when they both got rejected. Seems weird, doesn’t it? But it lightens the mood and gets people to relax.
Change Your Thinking To Deal With Rejection In Sales
Completely changing how you think about something is a big task. It doesn’t happen overnight. And you’ll have times when you fall back into your old thought patterns. Tough days will get you down. That’s okay—it happens. I still struggle with staying positive in the face of rejection, even though I’ve been dealing with sales rejections for years.
With practice, you can learn to not only deal with rejection, but to appreciate it. You’ll never stop feeling the pain of rejection, but that’s not the point. The point is to not let that pain slow you down. That might seem like a big stretch right now, but trust me. Stick with it, and you’ll become a significantly better salesperson because of your rejection-handling skills.