Perhaps the greatest difficulty in choosing a career in sales, is dealing with the rejection that happens on a daily basis. Order takers aside, most sales people deal with a healthy dose of rejection both at the proposal and the prospecting stages of the sales pipeline.
While “No” is the first spoken word most of us learn as babies, it is also a word most of us do not enjoy hearing when it is thrown in our direction. Be it an actor at an audition, a suitor trying to get a date or a sales person prospecting, “No” can hurt! The associated pain with being pelted with “No’s” regularly easily morphs into a self-protection instinct of not asking at all, also known as call avoidance.
Dig deeper into the psychology of the pain associated with a no and you find that it comes down to one dominating concept. We tend to take a no personally. It is our default setting to interpret rejection as something aimed at who we are and not at the specific situation or product we are selling.
Think of the classic movie scene of the angst filled young man asking out a seemingly perfect woman. He gets turned down, and immediately interprets that rejection as a judgment on his value as a person. More likely of an explanation for the rejection is that the woman he asked out rejected him for her reasons, not his. She might be married. She might be gay. She might have just walked out of the hospital after losing a close relative. There are countless explanations for the rejection that have no value judgment on him but his default reaction is to take it personally, because he has built her up to be perfect and possesses no information to paint a more complete picture.
NFL Super Bowl winning QB Trent Dilfer once posted on Linkedin that ESPN had laid him off. He did so in a super classy way, mentioning the 9 years of great people and great support and his gratitude for the opportunity. A clear example of championship attitude of understanding that ESPN isn’t saying he is a bad person, they are just saying that his product (football commentary) is no longer a fit for them. That does not mean it might not be a fit somewhere else, and it certainly does not mean his commentary is bad. His perspective changes the meaning of the event (getting let go) which professionally speaking is one of the rougher experiences a person goes through.
My performing arts experience as a student and into my twenties has provided me an helpful tactic for separating professional rejection from personal rejection. Earning my theatre degree, I learned to embrace the purposeful wearing of masks. I wholly accepted the idea that I wasn’t playing me on stage. I was playing a character. While aspects of my personality and my physicality impacted the final product of my performance, the character wasn’t me, and I wasn’t the character.
This is a greatly effective tactic to embrace in your daily activity as a sales person. Imagine yourself putting on a mask, getting into a character and deliver the performance based on that. This character has the same name as you do, but does not represent who you are as a person. The mask can change from function to function (as in from prospecting to negotiating a final contract) and also can change from prospect to prospect. The mask can be more confident than you, or it can be more amiable than you if the situation requires it. Most importantly, the mask has no connection to your ego or personal confidence. It is simply a mask, one of the many tools in your tool belt.
You will hear some naysayers state that this is somehow dishonest, and not genuine. I would respond to that by stating that in one way or another we all wear masks in our daily lives, if only in the clothing we choose, the haircut we have and the kind of car we buy. We do all those things because we want to project an identity to the world. That is a mask. I will also restate that the single best advice I ever got on sales is the statement “Sales is a Broadway play performed by a psychiatrist.” No performance is “genuine”. This is business, not therapy. Trying to be completely open is as effective in a business setting as it is on a first date. No one really wants full disclosure of your personal stuff. They want an ethical and honest business interaction.
Pick your masks, own them and wear them effectively, and in doing so, confine rejection to being about the fit of your solution, and not the quality of your personhood.