A version of this article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of Pulse Magazine.
Rejection is never easy, whether it’s in your personal life or your professional one. And when you work in sales, it’s unavoidable. No matter how solid your pitch is or how many calls you take, you’re simply not going to win every single deal you’re going after. Rejection is part of the job; what matters is how you handle it.
To really understand rejection and turn it into an opportunity for your company — and your growth as a salesperson — you’ve got to think about it differently. There are plenty of reasons why a sale might not have gone through: Maybe the timing was off, the budget wasn’t there or a competitor of yours came in with a better value proposition. Whatever it was, you have to figure out what happened so you can learn from it.
To help you do exactly that, here are six ways to handle sales rejection:
As we mentioned earlier, there could be any number of reasons why you might have lost a sale — and some of those reasons are beyond your control. The first step in handling rejection is to figure out why the sale was lost, identify the factors you can control and start recognizing trends among those factors outside your control.
One thing our sales team at Influence & Co. always does after a loss is ask our prospects why they decided not to go with us. This helps us gain a deeper understanding of what happened and why, and it gives us the feedback we need to learn and improve for the next sales opportunity that walks through the door.
To guide your team through this process of feedback, reflection and action for next time, think through these questions:
Just because someone can’t or doesn’t want to work with you today doesn’t mean all opportunity is lost. You have the chance to use content to build your industry influence and remain a valuable resource to the partners, prospects and contacts in your network, whether or not they decide to become clients or customers of yours — so take it.
One of the most valuable things our sales team learned at SalesLoft’s Rainmaker 2017 conference was that a rejection should trigger your ask for a referral. If you’ve done your due diligence as a salesperson, even prospects who don’t sign with you can still become advocates for your brand and connect you to others who might be a better fit for your services.
To turn your rejections into advocacy, your first step is to make the ask. This is something that sales teams are often hesitant to do because they don’t see what other value they can derive from a contact who’s rejected them. But that’s the wrong way of looking at it.
Don’t be afraid of the ask. The next time you get a “no,” ask for a referral to someone who might benefit from a conversation with you. And to reinforce the value you offer to your network, establish a partnership referral program to reward those losses-turned-advocates who are helping you out. It can definitely benefit you (and your partners!) in the long run.
And speaking of the long run, don’t let yourself become so consumed with short-term wins and losses that you lose sight of what you’re out to accomplish over the long term. Yes, short-term goals are valuable, but if they’re the only way you’re measuring your success as a salesperson, you’ll find yourself on an emotional roller coaster, riding highs during your good sales months and hitting lows during others.
For example, you could have a terrible month and still end up with a great quarter overall — and that, in turn, could average out to be exactly what you need to hit your year-end goal.
If you became discouraged, lost confidence and quit trying any time someone said “no,” you’d be out of a job pretty quickly — especially when you consider how long sales cycles are in certain industries and how many follow-ups most sales require.
That’s why long-term goals are so important. Keeping long-term goals in mind will help you keep things in perspective because they lift your focus from any immediate losses to the bigger picture of your progress over time.
To help yourself meet those long-term goals you’ve set, it’s crucial to stay top of mind with your contacts — even (and especially) those who’ve said “no” in the past. Consider this: You were rejected by a prospect who decided he or she would rather handle things internally than outsource. What do you have to lose by checking in with him or her every few months to see how things are going, keeping your company top of mind should anything change in the future?
Influence & Co. CEO John Hall actually just wrote a book called “Top of Mind” that speaks to this exact strategy and offers tactical advice on putting it into practice. The idea — behind the book and this sales tactic — is that in order for you to move someone from a prospect to a client, you’ve got to earn his trust and position yourself as a valuable resource for him.
It takes time, but it’s entirely possible. And to do it, you’ve got to use your content to build trust, touch base, help him out, educate him and more so that, when he’s ready, you’re the first person he thinks of.
Depending on your industry and what your company does, you could find yourself on 100 calls with various prospects before you land a sale. Whether your ratio is 50:1 or 1,000:1, knowing how much time you’re putting into your sales — and what that return looks like for yourself and your company — can change your perspective and keep you motivated to reach your goals.
By dividing your average sales commission by the average number of calls and emails it takes you to make a sale, you can assign a dollar amount to your follow-ups. This can help in two major ways: It keeps you from feeling discouraged when you get a “no” because you can see clearly that the call wasn’t a waste of your time; it just means you’re that much closer to getting a “yes” in the future. It also empowers you to help prospects end conversations that clearly aren’t going anywhere, rather than drag out a process that won’t end up benefiting either of you.
You’ll experience countless rejections in your work as a salesperson — but you’ll also land wins that make every rejection feel like a necessary building block. Those sales will demand hard work, and when it pays off, you and your team should absolutely be rewarded and celebrate your successes.
We’ve drummed up quite a few incentives for our own sales team when someone makes a sale: We ring a bell for our team to hear and celebrate, and our sales team leader sends out a message to the entire team to congratulate us. We’ve also rolled out a “Sales Call of the Month” contest to highlight salespeople who do truly awesome work on their calls each month and to learn from each person’s approach.
Knowing what kind of praise, rewards and other incentives motivate you and your fellow salespeople is critical to moving past rejections and focusing on the next opportunity. The better you know the feeling of getting to a “yes,” the more motivated you’ll be to continuously strive for the next one.
Here’s your cheat sheet of points to remember when analyzing your sales rejections and preparing to take on your next challenge:
1. Don’t take it personally. Hold yourself accountable by focusing on the parts of the process you can control.
2. Learn from your mistakes.
3. Uncover the reasons behind each rejection; you might find valuable information to help your team and the company as a whole improve.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask a lead who said “no” to give you a referral to someone else who might be a better fit.
5. Always stay top of mind; you might not be a good fit now, but you could be down the road.
6. Know your numbers and the value of each call, email and touchpoint.
Rejection is a fact of life for every salesperson. And while rejection sounds negative on the surface, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Handling sales rejection is all about looking at the silver lining of each “no” you receive. There’s opportunity all around you — you’ve just got to be in the mindset to see it.
I'm a VP at Influence & Co. I enjoy riding horses, helping entrepreneurs creatively achieve success, and eating chocolate (sometimes simultaneously). My love of coffee helps fuel my passions for continuing education and technology.