Overcoming Rejection

Tony Hughes

Overcoming Rejection

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt

Sales is a journey of failing forward, even at the most highly compensated levels. You need to make rejection a game and if you're mistreated, kill them with kindness. People having a bad day may take it out on you but it's never personal. Your attitude is one of the few things that you can control. As Jack Canfield puts it: "New responses create new outcomes."

One of the great challenges in a people-oriented profession is cultivating your love of people. When you interact with so many, you'll often experience the best and worst side of human nature. Seek to love them anyway, always seek to transform their business wholeheartedly. As a sales thought leader recently commented on my post: "Fall in love with your customers." Strong words, I know. It's because it's all about orienting your mind to the positive experiences you're having throughout your selling day.

The human memory is problematic in that what we tend to dwell-on and remember is predominantly trauma and bad luck; things with high emotional resonance. We all have war stories from the field about when everything went wrong. The time we flew to the client and they canceled last minute, we got sick or had a flat tire, or the slide projector melted down and sparked. Maybe the time we hit the send button too early. Ironically, much of humor and the joy of life owes itself to our negative experiences, the backdrop of pain in contrast to joy in the foreground. The opposite of pleasure is not pain, it's actually ennui. So a big part of this post is a call to align your professional purpose to your aspirations and goal setting in sales.

It's a self discipline to focus on the good. I promote that sales people start writing on LinkedIn Publisher and even that's an experience where your writing and viewpoints can be picked apart, dissected, disagreed with and occasionally subject to being trounced. I say this because it's a brave new world of self expression as we become micro-marketers who are sharpening our pen, experimenting with SME content and putting ourselves out there. But keep in mind that for years, you've been sharing your vision and value propositions directly with clients, writing reams of insightful emails, holding discovery calls and leaving thoughtful messages. All you're doing here is transitioning these enablement initiatives to a public forum. Yes, that is daunting! The payoff is so worth it because you can concretely move from servicing demand to creating it.

You may be thinking, how can I develop a thicker skin? We weren't all born at 11, Type A and immune. When management places you under severe revenue pressure, when a key sale in your pipeline goes to a competitor, when a customer doesn't like us and randomly complains or an outcome is suboptimal; my philosophy is that as long as you gave it your all with integrity as you strived for excellence in execution, you can feel good about yourself and your effort. Sleep well knowing that often, it's not you.

"Without courage all other virtues lose their meaning," is how Churchill explained this phenomenon of the valiant living of life to the fullest in all seasons. Maya Angelou explored the concept with: "Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage." And Mandela, "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

I chose the proud brave lion, king of the jungle as the photo for this post and also because of all the controversy in the LinkedIn-osphere lately around whether one should be a LinkedIn Open Networker. Love them or hate them, LIONs are a courageous bunch of trailblazers who have been putting themselves out there unabashedly for years in this forum, which I do respect. I have noticed a sea change from five years ago when executives would respond to an invite with "I only connect with people that I know" to the current state of LinkedIn where by dint of my writings, I pull in dozens of new connections every week. It will be interesting to see where these "open profile" trends take us this year and if some new acronym emerges like LAMA - LinkedIn Ambient Marketing Activator. I digress...

Courageousness and overcoming rejection are what being a successful seller is all about. Top sellers develop the strategic chuckle. This comes under the heading of Guy Kawasaki's "art of beguiling." They shrug it off with a wry smile because they're amused inwardly. They respond to harshness with self-deprecating wit and humble acceptance. Like water off a duck, the vibe they put out is that simple.

It's been said and studied that people buy on emotion and justify with pure logic but it's critical not to allow your passion to override your good sense. Being overly sensitive to friction and noise from the buyer or buying organization can become a severe impediment to positive momentum. There's no room for luggage on the sales superhighway so leave it at the door. If you are fully there and concentrating on them, your problems fall away and you will not accumulate psychological debris or jet-lag from the journey.

Ultimately, in strategic selling you're helping an organization change from the status quo. Change management is very painful so anticipate growing pains. There can often be political machinations and infighting rippling under the surface of the red taped glassy lake that is corporate bureaucracy. Sometimes people in the buying organization feel that they've been shown to be wrong or they've been exposed for a mistake in choosing a specific solution provider. Honestly, executives are frequently trying to cover their own back and not get fired. Many say that the role of procurement is simply to 'prevent a mistake'.

Can you be a loving, caring and empathetic person and still embody the Challenger persona that hiring managers seek? Yes, you can. Because challenging convention and teaching with new insight does not require any erosion of respect and integrity. Harness your inner confidence. Be certain in your solution and intent on helping and serving the customer and you won't go wrong. Even if you slightly miss the mark, that intention shines through. We all know the sellers who sell for monetary gain alone and their tenure is predestined to be short-lived. When you run into noxious or vexatious executives who treat you poorly or their subordinates, take the high road and set the tone of leadership. Integrity in the face of cruelty dissolves it like the sunlight. I would term this as strategic good karma. I read an article once about social aikido in which we're encouraged to harness any available energies and leverage them as a force for good in human interactions to stay Switzerland, above the fray. This supplies a novel definition of "empowerment" in sales strategy as, "drawing from all available power."

No one makes ten calls and closes ten sales. If you close three perhaps you are a hero. Though why not set a more realistic expectation? Enjoy peeling the onion, actively listening and collaboratively solving complex problems. Why not be amused by irritable people who are black clouds in the workplace? Chuckle inwardly at the circus of it all and feel grateful that's not you. If it is you, make the change right now. Take pride in uncovering the true problems lurking beneath the perceived symptoms that everyone is fussing about. Remember the thrilled customer who left you a wonderful testimonial or LinkedIn recommendation. Repeat that in your head as the mantra a hundred times a day. Do it for her! Don't sweat the small stuff or the small minded: we truly must not 'major in the minors'.

In new business development especially, if you're doing it right, you'll almost certainly turn up the volume to such a degree where you get a couple of complaints. An experienced manager will understand this and give you leeway, as long as you're carrying yourself with decorum. You can't just not prospect in order to avoid the inevitable bumping into of misanthropes that hate their job and are ecstatic to recoil and spit venom at you. Rejection is par for the course in B2B selling so embrace it and even learn to thrive on it. Many feel like a bull in a china shop when they are hunting for new business or hunting in named accounts. After decades in the field, it's still the natural order of paradise, creation spiked with destruction. Old ideas need fall away in a controlled burn to make way for the new. Get used to a bit of chaos, be the "solver" and ride that next wave.

A huge reason sales people hate cold calling is the pent up fear of rejection as well as the actual rejection itself. Most executives you call on are relatively gracious or will make sure to screen through an executive assistant. So there really isn't that much to be afraid of. Jack Canfield defines fear as: "Future Events Appearing Real." Much anxiety about nothing! Legend has it that one of Sir Winston Churchill's heroes died an extremely old man, and on his deathbed he divulged: "I didn't need to worry about 99% of the things I worried about because they didn't come to pass."

I can see the argument against cold calling with less than 3% resulting in anything positive; and it's just as bad for cold emailing. But fortune still favors the bold! You're going to need to reach out cold in social media channels if there is no-one in your network to provide a warm introduction. Do this boldly and confidently but with an informed insight that demonstrates you've taken the time to understand an executive's business. Even securing a referral takes courage and is not to be dismissed as 'easy'. Executives are "crazy busy" as Jill Konrath eloquently puts it so you're going to have to make an extremely relevant, compelling business case to even get a warm intro. Reciprocity will help you here - quid pro quo. We must inspire others to make time for us by making time for them.

Fear of rejection is really just a crisis of confidence. I think of the 'Emperor's New Clothes' and many a 'vapor-ware' startup company that really didn't help anyone. I think these folks do have a reason to fear rejection because perhaps they have something to hide, or nothing to really show. Here are four steps to building your confidence bedrock:

  • Step one: Carefully select your employer by picking a solution, company, executive team, board members, and C-Suite you believe in. Hang your hat in an organization that embodies integrity that has a rock-solid engineering culture and places customers first with a world class suite of products you can stand behind fully.
  • Step two: Familiarize yourself with the success stories, case studies and YouTube videos. These testimonials are your armor. Know how to personally tell the stories and bring them to life with passion and conviction. As Mike Weinberg shares in New Sales Simplified: "It's critical to develop your sales story." What I mean by story is not an exaggeration but the truth about how you're helping transform the lives of your customers and even more importantly, their customer. B to B to C! C for customer and C for Compelling. Most importantly, learn to lead with 'why?'
  • Step three: I do believe in the idea of practicing, drilling and rehearsing. We've all sat through endless mind-numbing sales kickoff role-plays and often retained little. An ongoing scenario that does work is to meet with a mentor or colleague and run through a warm email outreach, discovery call, pitch deck or presentation and let them critique you. I've been in several meeting that started with a CXO arriving late, arms crossed alerting me that I have "ten minutes" that have gone on for an hour and a half after practicing active listening and delivering "unexpected value." Repetition is the mother of skill as preparation is the father of execution so being prepared having read their annual report, a book they wrote or watched a set of YouTube videos from conference keynotes they gave, made the difference. The selling experience itself becomes the core differentiator.
  • Step four: Some folks will dive about ten feet deep, it's your opportunity to dive to the bottom of the ocean to know everything about the people you're going to be working with. God gave us two ears and one mouth and I would even endorse talking 25% of the time.

It's difficult to worry about something or feel rejected by it, when you've planned for the full spectrum of eventualities that can occur. Preparation overcomes fear.

We weren't all immaculately conceived as sports stars or born into this world as kings, outgoing and blissfully winning. Many of us are struggling for a seat on the bench. Lord knows many a confident soul is simply masking insecurities, so don't automatically envy number one. We will never know the internal struggle and prejudging people is a dangerous business. Ian Maclaren put it best, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

The best way to become a champion is to get out of your own shell and take positive risks. I guarantee you, changing your attitude is the biggest X factor that can change the rest of your life and improve your chances of a sustainable and successful sales career. There are comments that sting, they sting for life, they ring in your ears... if we allow them to. But search yourself for the grain of truth and love yourself because only you can let those in.

We train and condition our customers how to treat us and we can only be hurt by behavior that we allow to affect us. I'll close in saying that some of the most reclusive, introverted and sensitive people in the world have become top sellers, visionary founders, CEOs and multimillionaires. They drew it out of themselves with sheer will! This whole notion of needing to be "born with it" is balderdash. Give me someone willing to learn with a good attitude and I'll turn them into a sales champion much faster than an eagle who "knows it all."

There's a part in the hero's journey where she goes through a rites of passage, comes into her own and believes in herself. Once you make this transformation silkworm to butterfly, once you truly believe strongly enough in yourself, others will too and you will become an unstoppable life-enhancing force, carving through rock like water to realize your vision. And your vision is realized paradoxically by focusing on the customer's. I call this the Ziglar paradox, "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want." It's a profound secret: selflessness.

You may be selling someone else's vision and that's okay. That is a distinction worthy of calling out. Because some sellers are so incredibly entrepreneurial, they can't stand being number two. If this is the case, I suggest you go start your own company and sell from the helm.

If product ideation is something you're comfortable in handing off to a technical team and you love helping companies build strategic business solutions, leading a sales team or being a part of a high growth sales function may be a fit for you. When helping powerful minds solve pressing problems and diagnosing / prescribing innovative solutions are highly enjoyable facets of the diamond life, welcome to a mission beyond money. Focus on authenticity in your leadership and helping customers; profitable revenue will follow.

I've spoken often in these posts about mastering yourself. Accepting and loving yourself for your strengths, playing to your greatest gifts and focusing on them in your fostering direct reports (as Marcus Buckingham endorses in coaching) requires coming to terms with your weaknesses. Acceptance is a powerful jumping off point for both personal and professional growth. This is how you can make yourself bullet proof in the field from rejection - a super duck swimming up river against the current of mediocrity toward vast hidden opportunities. Public speaking becomes an open door, presentation is facile and political navigation, negotiation and conflict resolution become second nature. Thoreau believed, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." Sun Tzu believed, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized."

So what are you waiting for? Wouldn't right now be a good time to get outside of your comfort zone, carpe diem "seize the day." Go reach out to that contact just out of reach. Here are 13 totally unorthodox out-of-the box ways to "open" with C-Suite executives and get in. Request a referral to penetrate that account that would at last change your stars. Go network at that event where you know you can rub elbows with whom you seek. Perhaps she is seeking you and your solution! If you don't take the risk, how will you ever know? Gretzky it - "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

If it were easy, it would not be rewarding - it all starts and ends with you.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Main image photo by Flickr: Tambako The Jaguar


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