How to Handle Rejection to Improve Your Sales Game

UPDATED: May 6, 2024
PUBLISHED: July 28, 2021
How to Handle Rejection to Improve Your Sales Game

When Rebecca Parry was 18, she sold spots for the Yellow Pages in Australia. She heard no more times than she could count. She recalls throwing her pen in her cubicle and walking outside in order to calm down after unsuccessful sales calls.

The constant rejection was exhausting, but she knew all of her pent-up anger wasn’t getting her anywhere. Instead of wallowing, she decided to turn her frustration into motivation. “The rejection made me more determined to persist and turn a no into a yes,” she says.

Now, Parry is the head of sales for the Los Angeles outpost of Moxion, an entertainment startup. She says the constant rejection she faced early in her sales career prepared her to succeed in a high-level sales role in which deals often take two years to close. “It made me much more resilient,” she says.

Being told no is an inevitable part of sales, and growing comfortable with it is crucial, says Jacob Clendenning, a business coach and managing broker for a real estate company based in Livermore, Colorado. “Embracing rejection is the most important thing in sales,” he says.

It’s In Our DNA

Clendenning believes most of us struggle with rejection because it’s intertwined with our self-worth. Eli Schaugh—a SUCCESS-certified coach based in the Los Angeles area—agrees.

“I think the people who have the easiest time dealing with rejection are the ones who have the most self-respect and self-esteem,” says Schaugh, who is also a practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a method for helping people adjust their mindset. “It’s less a matter of experience and more a matter of emotional fortitude.”

Although fear of failure is a driving force behind our discomfort with being rejected, another seemingly paradoxical reason is fear of success.

“Fear of success can be paralyzing, because it means your life is going to change and you’re getting outside of your comfort zone,” Schaugh says. “And everyone wants to hold onto that for dear life.”

Five Steps Toward Growth

Some people are better at facing rejection than others because their role models demonstrated appropriate behavior during that person’s formative years, Clendenning says.

“It’s the same as our relationship with money,” he says. “If you grew up in a household that was paycheck to paycheck, you’re likely going to live paycheck to paycheck. The same is true of rejection: If they didn’t handle it well, you’re not going to handle it well either.”

If you struggle with rejection, here are five steps to help you master this area of your life so you hear yes more often than you hear no.

Step 1: Change your inner circle.

One way to change your relationship with rejection, Clendenning says, is to change who you spend most of your time with. 

If you wanted to quit smoking, you wouldn’t hang out with a bunch of smokers all day. The same applies here: If you want to succeed in sales, there’s no point spending all of your time with people who fear failure. Instead, focus on those who use it as leverage to move forward

Step 2: Be more prepared. 

A basic, often overlooked strategy is simply to be more prepared. Learn how to be nimble, study and perfect your sales scripts, and practice on as many prospective clients as possible. 

“Sales is 100% preparation,” Clendenning says. “If you’re only practicing at 50%, you’re only going to be 50% as good. You’re going to set yourself up for failure by not being prepared.”

Step 3: Learn from your no’s. 

One of Schaugh’s favorite sayings is that there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback. “As long as you’re learning, you’re growing,” he says. Instead of being embarrassed when you lose a sale, it’s important to take time to understand why you didn’t succeed. 

“The people who have the most success are those who can learn from their mistakes,” he says. “As long as you can learn from the mistake, grow from that and be able to use it differently the next time, then the failure actually becomes a success.”

Step 4: Look inward. 

Although you might be tempted to study the best of the best in sales in order to perfect your craft, the ideal person to study is yourself. 

“You can study everyone else all day long,” Schaugh says. “But if you can’t learn from your own failures, getting to their successes is probably not going to happen. The best class you can take for your own continued success is studying your own development.”

Step 5: Adopt an optimistic outlook. 

Let’s say you’re going through a rough patch—you’re hearing no after no to the point where it feels like you’ll never hear yes again. Before going into a new sale, borrow a tried-and-true NLP strategy: Don’t think about what can go wrong, but rather what can go right.

“Lock your mind around the idea that you will do the right thing in order to make the right result happen,” Schaugh says. “Focus all of your energy on how to make that happen rather than thinking about how you can start planning for obstacles. Because when you do that, it’s going to make more of them appear.”

Make It Personal

One of the hardest parts about working in sales is learning to cope with the inevitable rejection you will face. There’s a reason sales isn’t for everyone. But one valuable part of thriving in this industry is that you’ll have more emotional fortitude in your personal life.

When Parry, the former Yellow Pages salesperson, was in her 30s, she decided to pursue a longtime passion of hers: becoming a jazz singer. She knew it was late in the game for her to attempt to break into the jazz world, but she took a leap of faith anyways.

“I eventually broke into established jazz music circles, setting up a jazz band that I sang in and managed alongside my day job,” she says. “I think facing rejection in sales definitely helped me be a little more resilient and have more perseverance in my personal life.” 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by @DimaBerlin/Twenty20

Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.