Smart Sales: How to Cope with Sales Rejection

Any sales person, business or organization that is involved with any form of sales, whether they are services or products, must understand and learn how to cope with sales rejection. An inability to cope with sales rejection results in defeatism, failure and loss. Developing an ability to cope in the face of sales rejection, results in hardiness, persistence, success and profit. Thus, it is important to understand how to cope with sales rejection. In order to cope with sales rejection, it is needful for sales persons to understand the psychological principles of self-concept, social acceptance, and sales rejection.


Self-Concept, Social Acceptance, and Sales Rejection

The opposite of rejection is acceptance. The need for social acceptance is an innate human drive which Vohs (2008) compared to an analogy of a hungry man. When food is denied to a person, the desire and search for food is intensified. In the same manner, the drive for social acceptance when is lacking, limited or rejected will intensified the need for it. This explains the psychologies of moderately positive and confident persons who are constantly hungry for more social acceptance. Any service or product that can fulfill or satisfy this hunger for social acceptance has a huge market of innately acceptable clients. Besides these, what else do we know about social acceptance? Reese (1961) research found that:

Acceptance was related to the psychological principle of self-concept. Self-concept is what we think about ourselves or the kind of image we have of ourselves. Considering oneself to be an aristocrat with a taste for anything opulent is an example. One of the motivations of such a person would be to own and utilize branded stuff which to the individual represents his / her aristocratic opulent image. That is why certain products that are made in some backyard sweatshop in a third world country but branded with a first world label can be sold for atrociously high prices to brand-conscious consumers globally.

Those with a moderate self-concept had the highest need for social acceptance, while those with a low self-concept had the lowest need for social acceptance. It would be foolish to try to sell a Rolex to vagabond who is worrying about his next meal. It will be equally foolish to try to sell a wooden boat to a billionaire. And yet as I observe some media advertisements in certain countries, this is exactly how they advertise. It only goes to show that many traditional HR departments of many companies are still using worn-out and out-dated criterias to recruit out-dated marketing professionals who produce out-dated advertisements. The service or product must match the status of the client. Thus, social acceptance in this context refers to an acceptance by peers or superiors, whether they are persons, norms, cultural practices or even individual perceptions. Have you ever wondered why certain staffs are required by certain establishments to wear a complete suite and tie and stand in a blistering hot weather with no air-conditioning to welcome clients? It is because in the organizational culture and belief that dressing represents the organizational image of professionalism. And this culture and belief is accepted by their equally image-conscious clientele. Logic, commonsense or the wellbeing of staffs is sometimes over-ridden by the need for clientele social acceptance. In the case of businesses, such behavior is basically motivated by the need for approval by their clientele that affects the organizational profit.

The need for social acceptance was not significantly different in ether gender or status. Social acceptance that affects self-image, pride, and ego has no borders even in relation to gender or status. Is it possible for an ordinary wage earner who lives from hand-to-mouth to be status conscious? Well, the answer can be seen in everyday life. Just observe the number of fake or counterfeit items that are sold to and purchased by the average wage earner who is image-conscious but can’t afford the real branded stuffs. It doesn’t matter to their self-image even if they are aware that people around them know that they using counterfeit brands. Social acceptance is so powerful that if one can’t afford the real stuff that represents a perceived self-concept even an illusion of it will do.

Acceptance by strangers was considered more important than acceptance by close friends. Have you wondered why a person would pay, listen and accept an advice given by a “professional” while rejecting the same advice given freely by his / her friend or family member? This demonstrates the need for an approval by a stranger rather someone known. We shall see reasons for it later. Let me now extract and emphasis further the four key concepts from the findings of Reese (1961).

What do these findings mean for the business world? It is imperative for the business community and business persons to understand that sales and profit is directly related to people’s perception of their self-concept, social acceptance and sales rejection. A service or product that can create, enhance or magnify the perception of an individual’s self-concept would generate an innate acceptance of it across gender and status. It simply means that any service or product must be designed, tailored and packaged differently to fit the self-concept of different categories of persons. When a person can identify his / her self-concept with a service or product, it automatically and innately generates a tendency of acceptance. If any service or product does not establish this connection to the buyer’s self-concept, that service or product would be innately rejected even before the sales presentation is complete. This is the first key concept in understanding people’s self-concept, social acceptance, and sales rejection.

Business community and business persons must understand that not all persons have an identical self-concept. Those persons with moderate self-concept have the highest need for social acceptance. In terms of sales, these are the type or category of persons that are the ripest sales fruits for harvest, because they have the highest need for social acceptance. When we talk about a moderate self-concept, it includes any average persons who are socially conscious of themselves in terms of image or status. This includes young and newly graduated working adults who due to their newly acquired economic purchasing power become more status conscious. The rich, super-rich, the stars and the celebrities spend lavishly on anything that they perceive as enhancing or magnifying their self-concept in terms of importance, comfort, significance or greatness. The rich and famous are not just interested in money. They also desire universal recognition and power as form of social acceptance. So they way you design and package a service or product for the average image-conscious person and for the rich or super-rich has to be very different. You have to create and built-in a perception of challenge, exclusivity, comfort, universal recognition and power in your services and products to sell to the rich and super-rich. And by the way, most of what you project to the rich and super-rich must be largely real or you will find yourself being sued. This is the second key concept in understanding people’s self-concept, social acceptance, and sales rejection.

I disagree that selling to strangers are more difficult in comparison to selling to friends. Research indicates that people prefer the social acceptance of strangers more than their friends. The reason is very simple. Most people are routinely exposed to the social acceptance of their friends and family members. This creates a psychological satiation in terms of social acceptance. It is like trying to feed a person who just had an eight course meal. Thus, people prefer the social acceptance of strangers as something new, more attractive and desirable. This explains why people prefer imported products over their local ones which can be equally good. It also explains the use of foreign sounding labels and names for products, services and business establishments even in a country where the majority of the population don’t understand basic English and more so a foreign language. Local consumer cultures in many instances believe in the myth that anything perceived as foreign is equated with quality, status and reliability. In these days of out-sourcing, the use of the term myth in relation to certain consumer products is justified. However, from a business point of view, this myth must be capitalized by venturing into new markets globally which are not yet psychologically satiated with certain services or products. Remember that people are in search of social acceptance more from strangers than friends or families. So, be that new person, business, organization, foreign label or foreign establishment to give them the social acceptance through your services and products that have a local twist. If you want to know how to give a local twist psychologically, wait for my next article. This is the third key concept in understanding people’s self-concept, social acceptance, and sales rejection.

Before we look at sales rejection and coping, it is imperative to understand that the psychology of social acceptance is similar across gender and status. In other words, the three preceding concepts are largely applicable to all gender and status. This is the fourth key concept in understanding people’s self-concept, social acceptance, and sales rejection.


Sales Rejections and Coping

If the sales of a service or product have been rejected by a client(s), there will be definite reasons for it. The rejection of a service or product by a client does not constitute a defeat or failure of a sales person or business. It only indicates that the client(s) does not identify with or see a need for the service or product. Sales persons or businesses are defeated because they consider themselves defeated or having failed. It is their admission and weakness. The clients’ rejection has nothing to do with any feelings or reality of defeat or failure. So how does a sales person or business cope with sales rejections? The following is a guide to coping with sales rejection.

  1. Identify the reason(s) why the client rejected the service or product? You can directly try to elicit the reason(s) from the clients themselves. If not possible, than a definite sales post-mortem has to be conducted either individually or as a group to appraise the possible reasons for rejections. One can start by previewing whether the above four key concepts have been considered or practiced. The next thing to do is to consider one’s reaction to sales rejection.

  2. Royce (2002) talked about two different kinds of reactions to sales rejection. He called the first as “rejection affection, (RAs).” The RAs kind of reaction results in the sales persons and business re-examining and redoubling their efforts to succeed. Sales persons and businesses that practice rejection affection reactions will move on and eventually succeed. The second reaction was termed as “rejection defections (RDs).” The RDs kind of reactions causes sales persons and businesses to be injured psychologically and physically to such an extent that, they tend to avoid facing situations of rejection, give-up (reason for high rate of turnover), lose productivity and eventually fail. I reiterate that sales rejection does not cause defeat or failure. It is the kind of reactions that one decides to exercise in the face of sales rejection that determines failure or success. So, how does one inculcate a RAs type of reactions to sales rejection?

  3. The research done by Lefcourt (1966), Rotter (1966) and Feather (1968) have given us the following lessons on how to inculcate RAs type of reactions to sales rejection. It is in the awareness and practice of the internal locus of control. Locus of control refers to how we determine any event as being under our control (internal) or out-of-our control (external). If we routinely consider the sales process as still being under our control (internal), we will be practicing the RAs type of reactions in the face of sales rejection. Why? The reasons are simple. If one still perceives of having control over himself and his business even in seeming defeat, it innately creates a hope to find alternative solutions to overcome sales problems. If we routinely consider the sales process as not being under our control (external), we will be practicing the RDs type of reactions. Why? It is because once a person perceives he has lost control of himself or his business, it innately creates a tendency to give-in to hopelessness and defeat. Those who practice an internal locus of control will have a higher self-esteem (confidence) and would maintain a vibrant fighting spirit even in the face of sales rejection than those who practice an external locus of control. As such, those who practice the RAs type of reactions with an internal locus of control will not give-in to defeat or failure easily.

In concluding this article, I would like to encourage businesses and organizations to develop regular in-house seminars that would assist their sales force and staff to develop the four key concepts plus the RAs reactions together with the deliberate development of the internal locus of control. If you want to know how to go about it, wait for the next article. Businesses and sales persons must always understand the basics of human psychology when dealing with their clients. Any sales methods, strategies or techniques that do not include built-in psychological principles of human nature, will not have an optimum success or profit. Understanding the psychology of sales and clients is the route to a successful sales process. So the next time you face a sales rejection, don’t be an idiot who blames the client or external situations. Instead, become a student of human and sales psychology. That would be a wiser reaction that might still make you into a dynamic sales person. The same goes for business organizations.

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About the Author

Thesigan Nadarajan

Counseling Psychologist

Th.Dip. (MTBI); Th. B. (MBTS); MSCP (AU)

Winner of Rectors Award, (AU 2010)


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