Unless you are a time-served, battle-hardened sales person, there is a good chance you will have struggled at various points in time, to overcome your fear of rejection when it comes to sales meetings.

It might be difficult to admit, but there are plenty of times when ‘us small business professionals’ allow sales opportunities to slip away, because we’d rather move past any potential awkwardness and get ready to tackle a new challenge somewhere else.

Tough at the top

And this isn’t just a problem for small business operators or entrepreneurs.

In fact, I know from my own experience working with the people who pioneered executive coaching in the UK, that top executives often have a profound lack of confidence and terrible fear of rejection when it comes to the sale process.

In some cases, even top executives at FTSE 100 companies have been completely unwilling to pick up the phone to pursue a prospect, because they’ve been fearful that their suggestions will be rebuffed.

Blame your brain

Although it might often prove to be unhelpful in a variety of business-related situations, the fear of rejection is actually a perfectly natural reaction to certain circumstances. Indeed, it all comes down to the way our brains work and our tendency to lose confidence and become a little overwhelmed if we’re too focussed on potentially negative outcomes.

There are essentially two networks working away in the pre-frontal cortex of our brains. The first helps us figure out what value a potential outcome might have i.e. risk vs reward, and the second keeps us in check and helps us focus on trying to secure the outcome we’re after.

In certain situations, like a business meeting for example, we find ourselves relying more on the second network. This can lead to a frame of mind where we end up more compelled by the fear of rejection or embarrassment, than by the chance to seize the moment and earn ourselves a sale.

No pain, no gain

Fearing rejection feels like a weakness and from a purely business perspective it can be.

But we should also give ourselves a break, because research has shown that experiencing rejection, functions in the brain in much the same way as experiencing physical pain.

And we don’t blame people for wanting to avoid physical pain, in fact, it’s generally regarded as being a perfectly sensible approach (unless you’re a regular gym-goer – in which case pain and gain can be looked at rather differently).

So fearing rejection isn’t anything to give ourselves a hard time about, but it is something which we should be aiming to overcome if we want to maximise the potential business opportunities that cross our path.


Generally speaking, some of us are more sensitive to the anxieties associated with fear of rejection than others. Experienced sales professionals will generally have managed to set those feelings to one side and they’ll usually be prepared to ask the tough questions and lay their cards on the table in no uncertain terms.

For the rest of us, who are often obliged to engage in sales activity by virtue of being the leader of our own business operations, our natural instincts to avoid awkward sales pitches and potential rejection can kick in at crucial moments. All of which is perfectly normal and natural but can also be counterproductive.

Asking the right questions

In practical terms, as a representative of your own business, you should be aiming to ask the right questions, at the right moments, in order to secure a sale when the opportunity is there for you to take.

However, this doesn’t need to be an awfully awkward process and you can use the following phrases to guide conversations with potential clients in the right direction:

  • How do you feel about this?
  • What do you think?
  • What are your thoughts at this point?

You’ll know by asking these kinds of questions whether you are close to a sale or you’re still some way off.

If you’re hearing clear objections or issues at this point, then you should look to resolve and overcome them as best you can and then return to asking the same sorts of questions as listed above.

If there aren’t any objections or problems being raised by your prospective client in a meeting, whatever the situation, then you should be ready to take the plunge and actually ask the questions that will enable you to close a sale.

Again, this doesn’t have to be a huge moment on which the whole process stands or falls. You can just phrase you enquiry as follows to give yourself a good chance of success, without staking too much in the process:

How would you like to proceed?

Following up

It isn’t often that sales or business meetings will quickly and seamlessly lead to significant sales.

These things generally take some persistence and people like to consider all their options carefully before making a commitment.

This doesn’t necessarily reflect in any way on your sales technique or your services. However, it is vital to do all and any follow-up work that helps maximise your prospects of winning the sale that you want.

Asking for referrals

Similarly, asking for referrals should become an automatic part of the way you do business and liaise with clients. Of course, you don’t want to test your existing relationships too much or expect anyone else to do your sales work for you. But you should certainly be looking to get out of the habit of leaving money on the table by failing to ask for referrals when there are easy introductions to be had.

The truth is, that we all (in most situations) would prefer to work or do business with people who have been recommended to us through personal relationships. So gaining a referral from the right person can be priceless in terms of opening up doors to important new opportunities.

Getting the job done

Very often, the more you care about your services and your products, the more you will fear rejection in the context of a sales meeting. But the bare facts are that you will always need to secure sales for your business to really thrive and achieve your potential.

So it’s time to start setting your sales inhibitions to one side and to be ready to ask the right questions whenever good sales or referral opportunities present themselves.

What do you think? Do you struggle with the fear of rejection? Let me know in the comments below!

photo credit: bigstockphoto.com

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