Most people don’t like to hear other people say “no,” but in sales it happens all the time. Does the ability to handle rejection have a direct relationship to sales performance? Absolutely! Insensitivity to rejection is one of the most critical attributes of highly successful sales reps.

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Dave Kurlan, a leading authority on sales force development and author of Baseline Selling, suggests that the top 5% of sales performers are not affected by rejection. Kurlan also lists resistance as the number one obstacle most sales pros can’t overcome, explaining why the bottom two-thirds of that same resource pool have difficulty being rejected by customers.

In fact, most industry analysts would agree, identifying fear of rejection as the primary reason most people don’t enjoy sales. Learning to love “no” goes against human nature, and the process of shielding your emotions and separating yourself from the item for sale can cause sleepless nights and physical stress. Soon, selling becomes more chore than passion. The resistance leads to bad habits that can end a sales career before it begins.

Many hiring managers consider a sales professional’s ability to overcome resistance and demonstrate value to potential customers is an innate ability that can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t.

The reality is that there is probably a middle ground, where, over time, someone can become better at dealing with rejection and not take it personally.

A smart recruiter understands that the value of thick skin and will work to test a candidate’s sensitivity to rejection by carefully pushing them during the interview process. Comments such as, “It seems as if you are not the right fit for the role,” or, “I don’t think this is going to work out,” will elicit a fight from candidates who succeed by persevering. Weaker candidates will accept the potential rejection and allow the interview process to end, which effectively disqualifies them.

Next time, we’ll discuss strategies to overcome rejection and how to manage the impact on your sales force. As always, we welcome your comments on how you test candidate’s fear of rejection or how you thicken the skin of your existing reps.


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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