Have you ever received a rejection letter in the mail? Been told "no" when you asked for someone's phone number at a bar? Or been told you aren't welcome to join an exclusive club?

Have you ever hung up the phone on a telemarketer mid-sentence? Shut the door on a sales rep who came to your house?  Or walked by a homeless person asking for money and just ignored him?

Whether you are the one being rejected, or doing the rejecting, I think it's safe to say that most people find rejection sucks.

There is probably no group of people more accustomed to rejection than salespeople.  These folks, in my humble opinion, have one of the hardest jobs on the planet.  I am often in awe of  salespeople who deal with the rudest side of humanity and endless rejection, yet still manage to knock on another door or make another cold call with a smile on their face.

Awhile back my business partner and behavioral scientist, Tim Hallbom, and I decided to model out the strategies of some truly amazing sales people - those at the top of their game. We wanted to know, among other things, how these top salespeople stay positive in the face of so much rejection. What do they DO when they get rejected? How do they deal with it?

What we discovered was interesting.  Here it is:  top salespeople don’t believe they are ever rejected.

Here are a few quotes that came out during our interviews with these top salespeople:

“Just because someone chooses not to purchase, it doesn’t mean they won’t buy at some point in the future; one thing you can be sure of is change.  There is really no such things as a ‘no’ answer in sales.  Just ‘No, right now’.”


“That house just didn’t need the service offered.”


“That guy is one of 9 out of 10 who isn’t interested in the product.”


“I’ve been said ‘No’ to about a million times.  It means nothing to me. I just move on to the next person.”


“Ok that’s not the right guy.  Next.”

Read through these quotes again and see if you can detect any patterns in them.  Notice anything in these words?

Tim and I looked at what these top salespeople said and realized there was one thing they all did in common:  they de-personalized rejection.  They reframed rejection in a way that didn’t affect them as people. In a word, they never felt they, personally, were rejected.

We discovered a pattern.  They all used some version of this three-part mental strategy during their sales process when a potential customer said ‘no’:

1. After you get ‘rejected’, change the situation from a person who said ‘no’ to an inanimate object that ‘isn’t interested’. In other words, make it so that you are never rejected by a person, but rather a ‘thing’ isn’t in need of the good/service at this time. Some de-personalization strategies we discovered the top salespeople used are:

  • Make it a numbers game. “That person is just a ratio.  He’s 9 out 10 people who won’t be interested.”
  • Recall something the person is wearing instead of their name or face. “That red shirt isn’t interested.”
  • Recall the location instead of the person: “That house (or that office, that store, etc) isn’t interested.”
  • Make it about the timing being off instead of the person not wanting it. “The timing is just not right for that person.”

These are all strategies for making it so that you aren’t being rejected by a person. Feelings don’t get involved when a ‘red shirt’ or a ‘house’ doesn’t want you.  Feelings do get involved when ‘that really pretty girl Sarah just told me ‘no’ to my face!”

2. Replace the image in your mind of the person with an image of something impersonal. When someone said 'No', the salespeople employed a mental strategy where they replaced the image of a person’s face with an image of some thing.  For example, when one door-to-door cable TV salesperson got the door slammed in his face by a mean person, he would walk away from the house and replace the image in his mind of the cranky guy at the door with an image of the house and then say to himself, “That house didn’t need the service.” He literally made a mental picture of the guy’s face, and then put that “behind” him so he couldn’t see it and replaced the image in his mind of the house. It’ sort of like those old Fisher-Price picture viewers where you click to move one image aside and then see the next one. He moved the picture of the face and clicked over to a picture of a house. With this strategy he remembered that the house didn’t need the service and he didn’t carry the image of the mean guy in his mind.

3. Say “Next” to yourself. Nearly all of the salespeople, once they heard a ‘No’ didn’t dwell on it for more than a second or two.  They depersonalized it and then said to themselves “Next” and got ready for the next person they approached and completely forgot about the last person.  As one salesperson said, “I have a memory like a goldfish.”

By using this strategy, the top salespeople never felt personally rejected. Since they never felt rejected they were able to maintain a really positive mental state throughout the day. It became clear that this positive mental state was probably the single most important factor that catapulted these salespeople to the top, where they made $1M+ a year.  Brilliant.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments!  Where might you use this strategy?