3 Seasoned Sales Pros Share Tips for Handling Rejection

Rejection is painful. These three Los Angeles sales leaders have advice on how to handle and grow from it.

Written by Michael Hines
Published on Jun. 07, 2023
3 Seasoned Sales Pros Share Tips for Handling Rejection
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Cultivating the thick skin required to deal with frequent rejection is easier said than done.

The success of a salesperson depends as much on their tenacity, specifically the ability to recover from rejection, as it does on the number of deals they close. Getting hung up on, being ghosted during an email exchange or having a client no-show to a meeting all sap morale. 

However, these are also physically draining experiences, with researchers from UCLA and the University of Michigan finding that the brain responds to social rejection in much the same way it does to physical pain. 

Handling rejection, and occasionally being able to turn a “no” into a “yes,” is key to building a long and successful sales career. Case in point: Richard Lea, director of business development for commercial vehicles at autonomous vehicle sensor company Spartan

Lea’s first job out of college involved cold calling people at home in a time before cellphones. After weeks of incredibly hurtful rejections, a co-worker advised Lea to think about the motivation behind the rejections he received, to think beyond himself and what he was selling.

“The rejection wasn’t about me: It was about potentially dozens of other things like a bad day at work, a sick child or an angry spouse,” Lea said. “Learning this lesson about empathy went a long way for me. I was able to put myself in my customers’ shoes and it offered me a whole new perspective and also made me much better at my job.”

Lea has since built a sales career spanning more than 20 years. He and two other seasoned Los Angeles sales professionals offered their advice to Built In on how to handle rejections as well as how these strategies have helped them rescue deals that once seemed doomed.

 

Shelby Anders
Sr. Territory Manager, Team Lead • ChowNow

Restaurants use ChowNow’s technology to enable online ordering across multiple platforms — including the company’s own — and to better market themselves.

 

Tell us about your personal journey dealing with rejection as a sales professional. How did you handle rejection at the beginning of your career? How do you handle it now?

I have had a fair share of experience with rejection. Rejection is never easy, but in sales, it is something we encounter regularly. At the beginning of my career, I felt disappointed and discouraged because I genuinely believed I was trying to make a positive impact on a business that was denying my help. However, I quickly realized that rejection is not a reflection of my own abilities or the value of the product. It’s merely a part of the sales process, and it’s important to handle it with resilience and a growth mindset.

To overcome these setbacks, I began to take a moment to reflect on the meeting and the objections raised. I would use this feedback to improve my pitch for future meetings, addressing their concerns and refining my approach. I also reached out to my colleagues and leadership for support, seeking advice on how to handle similar situations in the future. Furthermore, I now always tell myself that rejection is never personal. Each potential client has unique circumstances, preferences and priorities. The goal is to build a trusting, mutual relationship.
 

Rejection is merely a part of the sales process, and it’s important to handle it with resilience and a growth mindset.”


What are some key strategies you’ve developed to cope with rejection? Do you have any rituals, mottos or inspiration that keep you motivated when you’re feeling down?

You must learn to celebrate the small wins, even if they are not directly related to closing deals. Doing so can help maintain the motivation you need to wake up, get out there and do it all over again. Acknowledge and reward yourself for every milestone: set up a promising meeting, overcome an objection, secure a positive referral … the list goes on. This strategy keeps you motivated during tough times and makes each “yes” a little sweeter. Mark Cuban once said, “Every no gets me closer to a yes,” and I have to agree with him.

Also, set realistic expectations. It’s essential that you understand that rejection is a normal part of the process and not every prospect will convert into a customer. When you set realistic goals, you can better manage your expectations. I remind myself every day that the worst thing anyone can say to you is no, so go for that deal you think could never happen, introduce yourself to the prospect who opened your emails and never responded, and stop in one last spot to say hello. In sales and also life, your own mind is either your greatest obstacle or biggest ally.

 

Tell us about a time when you were able to turn a “no” into a “yes.” What was the secret to your success?

I received a firm no once that shocked me as I thought the prospect was ready for the next steps. In that moment I recognized the chance to reframe our solutions for them. I always do my best to stay calm and attentive. The goal is to match their energy but also set the temperature. The second time around, I was seeking to understand their concerns. I empathized with his hesitations and just kept asking questions to dive deeper to uncover the root of the no. With some sheer determination and active listening, I realized the primary concern was embracing change. Ultimately, he didn’t want to scare off his loyal customers with a new service. 

I pivoted my approach and focused on simplifying the customer experience and exactly what we could do to ensure our solution was as easy-to-use as possible. I did my best to highlight the customer journey again, our reliable support and the exciting tools his customers were missing out on. This was a partnership focused on mutual trust and support. Ultimately, with effective communication, genuine empathy and the reassurance that I was in it with them, his hard no softened and became an enthusiastic and optimistic yes.

 

Richard Lea
Director of Business Development, Commercial Vehicles • Spartan

Spartan develops smart sensors designed to improve the performance and safety of autonomous vehicles.

 

Tell us about your personal journey dealing with rejection as a sales professional. How did you handle rejection at the beginning of your career? How do you handle it now?

I was fresh out of college when I started in sales and my first job was cold calling for stock brokers, which forced me to call people at all hours of the day, particularly during dinner. Keep in mind this was a long time ago and we were calling a house phone. When people would answer they would often say horrible things to me because, after all, I was interrupting their family dinner. At the end of each shift, I would trudge home and my roommates would eagerly ask about all the awful things people said before they hung up on me. To them, it was a lot of fun and a good way to get a laugh. But to me, it was something more. 

For a while I took it personally — after all, it was me being rejected. After about six weeks of this, one of the brokers that I was calling for pulled me aside and gave me some great advice: The rejection wasn’t about me. It was about potentially dozens of other things like a bad day at work, a sick child or an angry spouse. Learning this lesson about empathy went a long way for me. I was able to put myself in my customers’ shoes and it offered me a whole new perspective and also made me much better at my job.
 

Building a support network can provide encouragement, new perspectives and strategies for coping with rejection.”


What are some key strategies you’ve developed to cope with rejection? Do you have any rituals, mottos or inspiration that keep you motivated when you’re feeling down?

Here are my top tips. First, reframe rejection. Instead of viewing rejection as a personal failure, reframe it as an opportunity to learn and improve. Second, take the time to analyze and learn from rejection, identifying any patterns or common reasons you’ve received. Third, focus on the positive. Don’t let rejection overshadow your successes and maintain a positive mindset. Fourth, embrace resilience by developing a resilient mindset that allows you to bounce back from rejection quickly. Fifth, seek feedback, which is a big one. Reach out to prospects or clients who rejected your offer and ask for feedback. 

Sixth, practice self-care. Rejection can be emotionally draining and it’s crucial to take care of yourself. Seventh, stay motivated. Sometimes it’s hard to be motivated after being rejected but it’s important to set goals and objectives for yourself, both in the short term and long term. Remind yourself why you chose a sales career and the rewards that it can bring. Eighth, seek support. Connect with other sales professionals or join sales communities where you can share experiences, seek advice and learn from others. Building a support network can provide encouragement, new perspectives and strategies for coping with rejection.

 

Tell us about a time when you were able to turn a “no” into a “yes.” What was the secret to your success?

Years ago I was selling a safety product that was actually much better than the competition’s. I was cold-calling different companies when I came across one that was using my competitor’s services. When I heard this I quickly launched into my spiel about how we were better and the things we could do that the competitor could not. I was flying through my list of reasons to switch with great confidence when, all of a sudden, the person at the other end of the phone said, “You may be right, but I don’t like the way you are putting your competition down. I might be willing to listen but not to someone who takes this approach,” and hung up. 

At first, I was just going to go on and call the next number on the list, but something stopped me. I decided that the person I spoke to was correct; I went about convincing him of his poor decision to purchase from my competition the wrong way. That afternoon I wrote a personal letter to the man acknowledging that he was correct about my approach and asked if he would be willing to speak with me again, and he agreed! From there we sat down and discussed the good things my product could do for him and he moved over to us.

 

Travis Miller
VP, West • PureSpectrum

PureSpectrum’s platform enables market researchers to build, launch and analyze surveys filled out by people of all ages across the globe.

 

Tell us about your personal journey dealing with rejection as a sales professional. How did you handle rejection at the beginning of your career? How do you handle it now?

One of the best lessons I was ever taught, luckily earlier in my sales career, was to check your ego at the office door before you go to your desk. With this advice, I’ve never seen rejection as a bad thing. In fact, if you are not being told no or getting hung up on at least once daily, you may not be pushing hard enough in your prospecting. What I have found is if you do find yourself being rejected, be polite to the prospect, do not keep pushing a sale and simply mark it as a no and move on. 

After a month or two, do a bit more research on the prospects who rejected you. Learn more about their business, build out an org chart and reevaluate if what you are selling fits into their business or even if they are going to be a worthwhile customer for your business. If it matches, reach out again with an approach that’s more personal and customized to what they do. If it does not seem like a fit a couple of months later, move on.
 

If you do find yourself being rejected, be polite to the prospect, do not keep pushing a sale and simply mark it as a no and move on.”


What are some key strategies you’ve developed to cope with rejection? Do you have any rituals, mottos or inspiration that keep you motivated when you’re feeling down?

Trust the process. The best sales professionals I have learned from are constantly evaluating their approach and track key KPIs like calls, emails and meetings and then looking for ways to improve their contact-to-close ratio. This is a process every sales professional should have established. If you understand what has made your best client relationships successful and are able to make adjustments to build upon them, then all you have to do is trust the process and keep moving forward. If you have closed a deal, you can close another one. If you have not yet closed a deal, keep working. Rejection never stops, so neither should you.

 

Tell us about a time when you were able to turn a “no” into a “yes.” What was the secret to your success?

The selling starts when you hear the word “no,” which can be said in many forms. Sometimes it is direct and sometimes it is just the wrong time for the product you are offering. When I am told no, I stay polite and calm and mark it down to return and reevaluate.

A lot of my success, especially with larger enterprise-size deals, is understanding my prospect’s business and staying persistent in adjusting my outreach when I sense I am being rejected. Some prospects may take years to develop into partnerships and sometimes it never happens. If you feel you have a great prospect that could benefit from your offering but is showing signs of rejection, take time to understand their business, job function and decision-making process to turn that rejection into curiosity and later an opportunity to possibly discuss what a deal could look like.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos via featured companies and Shutterstock.

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