In the past I shared some tips when you are cold-calling a customer. Cold-calling gets a bad rap. But it can be effective – if it’s done well, targeted and you do your homework beforehand. I also find that cold-calling can be made more effective when you send an email first to warm-up your prospect beforehand.

But even when you do that, rejection is bound to happen. In the event that you have the
right contact info, your prospect is still there and you happen to catch him, he might still flat-out reject you.

So today I want to talk about what sales people can do when they get rejected. I won’t get credit for this – I just witnessed this in a call from Ian, with Vidyard, a company specializing in on-line video. So thank you, Ian, for the inspiration. Interestingly enough, Ian doesn’t sport a “sales” title. But after all, we’re all in sales, aren’t we?

Before I talk about how he handled it, let me talk about how others have handled rejection, in a sub-standard way. Let me focus primarily on email communications here (the most common form of cold-selling these days), but the learnings can be applied to other situations.

These are the top three ways in which most sales people deal with rejection from cold-calling/emailing:

Ignore and Move-On (Don’t Do This)
This is kind of rude. If I took the time to respond to your sales email, to acknowledge it, and to give you very useful information (that I’m not interested!), I expect at least a “Thank you for letting me know Rodrigo – have a good day”. As I’ve said before, I try to reply to most cold-selling efforts (especially email), out of professional courtesy even when I’m not interested. But sometimes I don’t hear back from reps at all – they just go dark. I understand everyone’s busy, but remember to always say “Please” and “Thank You”.

Pretend The Target Is Interested – And Carry Along (Don’t Do This)
Oh, I have a good story about this that I’ll share sometime. But basically, I told a well-known company rep that I wasn’t interested. Then he kept contacting me, and sending me stuff. Again. And again. And again. I then told him that we had gone with the competition, and he finally left me alone. If someone is telling you they are not interested – why would you do this? I’m sure you’ll get an extra 1 or 2 sales, but I don’t think it’s worth the bad reputation you -and your company- will get as a result of it.

Keep Us In Mind (Don’t Do This Either)
This is the most common. Most times, after rejecting some sales effort, I get a nice, polite email back thanking me for letting them know and asking that I “keep them on my radar should things change”. If it was something that I might be interested in later on – most times I am – I just save the email for future reference when we’re looking for someone that can help us in that area. Some other times the sales person tells me that they’ll follow-up with me in “X” time. Depending on the area we’re talking about, that might be too soon, too late, or not appropriate at all, if I was really not interested.

Do This Instead
Now let’s see what the best approach is that I’ve seen so far. After I rejected the first offer and showed no interest, Ian sent me a polite and short email back, asking me a simple question and three options:

The question was: “Would you like me to…?” And the three options were:
a) Explain to you briefly what we do (5 minutes)
b) Circle back at a later time
c) Never contact you again

I liked the approach so much that I changed my mind and took his call. After a brief conversation, he found out what my pain was, and was able to find out a benefit, among all things they offer, that might be able to help us after all. I’m still not sure we’ll buy, but I sent it to our video team and they’ll decide. That’s certainly much better than getting a straight-out “no!”.

Now, don’t kid yourself – that same question is not going to work for you just because. Those are not magic words. Here’s why it worked in this case:

Ian had done his homework well before contacting me. He knows we have a bunch of Zoho videos in YouTube.
Because of the homework, it was a very targeted outreach. Like I said, cold-selling can work if you do it targeted and specific.
He offered me a really quick alternative – 5 minutes. That’s a very low time commitment.
He gave me a way out (do you never want to hear from us again?). That’s very direct, but also very helpful for them and us.
And also because I thought it was a very nice way of approaching the rejection problem. It’s the first time I’ve seen it and I reject sales pitches left and right every day.

  1. brad


    Thanks for your article. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it very helpful. Your suggested “Do This Instead” isn’t really relevant to a rejection email. Instead, it’s more relevant to a situation where a prospect is undecided or rejects you outright without considering your product.

    If the prospect has reviewed your product and has said “no” and given you a reason, then don’t you think a “Keep us in mind” email may be the best?