Sales: Embrace Being No. 2

by Tim Brown and Dan Streeter


In the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps won the Gold Medal in the Men’s 100-meter butterfly, beating out Milorad Čavić by a mere .01 second. Literally, in 1/30th of the time it takes to blink, Phelps’s dreams were realized and Čavić’s dreams were dashed.

Over the course of a salesperson’s lifetime, it’s inevitable that you will face this same struggle. You will be told no, be rebuffed and even be harshly rejected due to the difference between you and your competitor over what may seem to be a minor or even trivial difference.

The difference is that Čavić at least won the silver medal and has something to place on his mantel for future generations of Čavić family members to view, admire and be awed by. In your struggle to win sales, when you earn second place, you get nothing, nada, the big goose egg, and it’s possible that once that client is locked up with your competing vendor, he may never relinquish that relationship and that relationship may never come up for bid again.

So how do you avoid this harsh reality and always finish first? The truth is, you can’t.

It’s time to build what our colleague, Kendall Colman, calls your “rejection muscle,” because it’s going to happen. In fact, in the sales world, you will likely find that you will be told “no” way more often than not. Even a relatively high closing ratio of 20–30 percent means you are being told “no” 70–80 percent of the time.

Now that you are comfortable with the fact that you are going to be told “no,” it’s time to consider some ways to handle this rejection.

Understand that “no” is not negative; it’s only feedback. Life is neutral. The only one who is placing a label on this event is you.

Labels are sticky. Once a rejection occurs, it’s easy to move the label from the event to then labeling ourselves by saying: “I suck … I am a terrible sales person … I am such a loser … Why would anyone buy from me?” Breathe and stop with the labels. Instead, interrupt that thinking with, “It’s just experience.”

“Reflection” is not just a three-syllable word. Most salespeople make the same mistakes over and over again because they never ask themselves or their customers what they could have done differently. Prospects, when asked, many times will be incredibly open with you about the reasons they chose a competitor.

Embrace being No. 2. We once visited a coffee roaster who said, “Our company likes being No. 2. We know that our competitor’s best clients are just one mistake away from calling us.” Never burn a bridge; keep in contact with them (but avoid the “just checking-in” call), keep visiting with them at networking events and act as their resource broker (see below).

Be a Resource Broker. Want the fastest way to become No. 1? Send your prospect “a trickle” of contacts they need to know either personally or professionally. Almost guaranteed no one else is doing this!

Realize you are not the Godfather. In the movie The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone famously mumbles, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Remember, the workplace is not the mafia. Make friends with your competitors. This may go against every dog-eat-dog, business-world, spidey-sense you have, but remember, your competitors are just like you. At times, they are overwhelmed; not every customer fits their business model; they need the help of outside expertise; and, who knows, they may even be in need of a subcontractor from time to time. And if they don’t know, like and trust you, they won’t call you.

So here’s the point: Remember that when you say “yes” to one customer, you are saying “no” to 10 other possible customers. Yes, there are customers you consider whales or elephants, but ultimately, our global economy is built with literally more possibilities than you could pursue in 100 lifetimes. According to a Dun and Bradstreet article from 2013, there were 235 million companies across 200 countries of the world. Based on the five rejections you received today, you have only 234,999,995 more companies to go. The possibilities are limitless.

Tim Brown and Dan Streeter are the co-authors of Old School with New Tools: The Extra 5% That Takes You to the Top of Your Sales Game and Keeps You There. After carrying a sales bag throughout the world, Brown has grown to become one of the most sought-after business leaders in the country. Streeter is an award-winning educator and workshop designer with a pretty strong sales lineage of his own. Their podcast “Old School with New Tools” is located on iTunes and Stitcher.


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