Today we are going to talk about sales rejection and how to help your reps battle the negative emotions it causes.  To do that, I’m going to take you on a journey to Ann Arbor, Michigan where I attended college in the late 1980’s.  I mention the year not so you can calculate my age, but so you’ll forgive me the non-feminist backstory necessary to set up this anecdote. My only defense is that it was a different time.

My sorority house was situated next door to a rustic two-story bar called Dominic’s.  Cheap beers, outdoor decks and marinated peel ‘n eat shrimp.  The remaining adjacent buildings were the University of Michigan Law School and Business School (today it’s known as the Ross School of Business).  Do you see the logistical advantage? Tactically speaking, Dominic’s bar sat in the “kill zone” between 62 giggly undergrads and two highly respected institutions of post-graduate learning.  For all I know, our alums built that bar with the sole purpose of providing a target-rich environment for us to display our considerable charms to future lawyers and business magnates.   9/10’ths of life after all, is opportunity.  

Dominic’s, no slouches of opportunity marketing themselves, ran a genius promotion each year to keep those law and business students coming. Each spring they traded rejection letters for free beer.  Since these students famously applied for tons of jobs with on campus recruiters, they amassed a correspondingly large number of rejection letters.  Dominic’s plastered their walls with rejection letters bartered for beer in an annual spring ritual.  It always packed the house. The letters and their added graffiti comments made for hilarious reading and offered a terrific lesson in life to those paying attention:  You win some, you lose some.  Keep going.

Sales reps can easily get knocked off their game.  Conjure up for a moment the emotional response to receiving a sales rejection.  It snuffs out a tiny candle in your heart.  Your internal self-flagellating monologue begins, “They hated me.  Wait, I’m not being rejected, it’s my product!  Oh no, is there something wrong with my product? Will I ever make another sale?  Should I just not bother and pretend to work while I sit here and look for a new job; something in a safe, rejection-free environment like an ice cream parlor or puppy grooming salon?”  And on it spirals. Sales managers, this is not a healthy way for your reps to spend any part of their prospecting hours, much less a large portion of their work day.

Think about the brilliance behind the Walls of Infamy promo at Dominic’s.  If you received a rejection letter, you’d be briefly disappointed, but then immediately revel in the fact that this was worth a free beer across the street.  You’d get out your red Sharpie and point out the more hilariously brutal aspects of the rejection like having your name misspelled, the fact that you didn’t even apply for that job, the interviewer was in fact your dad’s college roommate and even that didn’t help, or that you were so bad they sent you two letters.  When staring at a rejection in the solitude of your dingy college apartment, it’s the world’s darkest moment.  When staring at it on a wall of hundreds, while sipping down a free brewski, you realize rejection is a rite of passage that brings you one step closer to success. It’s just a matter of perspective.

You can help your reps by celebrating rejection in small ways.  I don’t think a wall of rejection emails is necessarily the way to go (or any negative activity that belittles the client) but here are some more professional ways to help your reps overcome the pain and fear of rejection by bringing it down to size:

  • Once in a while give your reps a “no” quota that wins them a small incentive. It is a fact that you must have a high prospecting total in order to fill a “No Quo.”
  • In a rough time of year (like April?) maybe schedule a Rejection Speed Round where everyone chimes in with their worst rejection of the month and you all vote for the most impressive one.
  • Hold a Rejection Recovery Clinic, where your more senior reps share examples of win’s that began as rejections. Every rep that works their territory long enough has a few of these anecdotes.  Times changes, administrators change, budgets change. It’s important for the recently wounded to bear that in mind.
  • Pick any typical sales week or month and tally the number of sales activities, no thank you’s, and yeses. Fill three jars with representative quantities of different colored M&M’s.  Explain that the fact is, the more activities, the more yeses AND the more no’s.  No’s are in fact a GREAT sign!  Let everyone eat some to prove your point.
  • Share your favorite rejection stories once in a while. Heck, I could probably fill a book with mine. Your good humor and the lesson learned, the pick yourself up resilience, and/or the respect you show that experience as a building block of success will both endear you to your team as one who has been exactly where they are, and will help them process rejection.
  • When you hand your top rep their award at your annual sales meeting, invite them to talk about sales they lost and what it taught them.  It will help inspire everyone to embrace these speed bumps and recover more swiftly.

We should never take a no personally, although it’s a natural reaction to an unnecessarily unfriendly rejection.  A no is just a data point.  It reminds me of a saying that one death is a tragedy but 1000 deaths is a statistic.  Sorry for the dark subject matter, but it applies here.  Let the rejection just become a check box in the CRM, which when tallied with all your stats shows exactly what a great sales rep looks like on paper.  If you focus on one rejection or lost sale it’s easy to become negative or distracted.  If you realize that without the no’s, without the rejection letters that paper Dominic’s walls, without the shots on the net that fire wide, there are also no wins.  So get out there and get some no’s today!!

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