Rejection in sales: it’s not me… it’s you!

Rejection in sales isn’t new. The search for the miracle “get past the gatekeepers, talk to decision makers rather than chat to their answer phone, and not be fobbed off in the first minute of the conversation” wonder drug is still being hunted by millions of recruiters and their managers.

With technology rapidly growing, it’s easier for clients/candidates to hide from sales calls. “How very dare they” you may be thinking “I have a genuine reason to call them” you cry, and “I have the perfect solution for them” you grumble.

Bottom line – it’s down to the recruiter to motivate the clients/candidates to listen. With time being a premium people will be thinking “why should I listen to you”… actually that’s a fib; their first thoughts are maybe “not another sales call”. After they have answered the telephone and they are greeted with a high pitched fast speaking person at the end of the phone letting them know “it’s just a quick call” and asking “how are you today?” before the recruiter has even introduced themselves, the listener can get a tad defensive and suspicious. Straight away their sales person force field is activated.


After 18 years of making B2B outbound unsolicited sales calls to unsuspecting potential clients/candidates, I have fallen foul to most of the pitfalls, errors, mistakes, and general cock-ups that most recruiters fall into. The one that stands out in my mind was choking on air just as the person answered the phone and commenced coughing and spluttering in their ear for a minute before they put the phone down. I was naturally touched by the persons concern for my wellbeing… not!

When receiving sales calls in any industry, the person picking up the phone will have made up their mind to whether they will entertain the sales person within the first 20-60 seconds. Therefore it is essential that recruiters motivates clients/candidates to listen and encourage a conversation. Get them interested in what is being said. If the client/candidate is interested and thinking about what is being said, they are less likely to be objecting and rejecting the recruiter.

Recruiters need to plan their calls from the client/candidates perspective rather than what they need. When planning calls I always put the client/candidates in the centre of my notebook. I write the following:


Of course a recruiter making high volume calls per day, this time planning luxury may not be an option. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of focusing on the quality not just quantity of calls. If conversations are of quality, this leads the recruiter closer to a sale. The necessity for volume can then diminish. That being said, before meaningful conversations can happen the sales person has to make it past the first sixty seconds.

Each industry will have topics of interest specific to them – however, the human being at the end of the phone usually needs to be treated the same. Offer them something of interest to listen to!

Below are some top tips for motivating the client/candidate to listen. Please note: the following are not miracle cures, but examples of what has worked well for myself and thousands of other recruiters:

  • Call objective – It isn’t what the recruiter needs from the call. It is all about the listener. Having a clear defined reason for calling the client/candidate is imperative. Call number 98 of a 100 call per week/day target isn’t a call objective!!! What do you want to gain from the call that is also of interest for the client/candidate?
  • Are you sure? – Once the call objective is set. Review it to ensure it is realistic!! Setting an objective of making a sale on the first call to a prospective client/candidates isn’t realistic.
  • Is the objective measureable? – How will the recruiter know how to celebrate when the call objective is achieved?
  • So what? – What is your reason for calling? Do you have a concrete reason for disturbing them? One that will motivate the client/candidates into a conversation and minimises the “sales person force field” from being triggered.
  • Like what? – Using industry specific changes in legislation can be a useful one to use; “With the changes in XXX policy what impacts could this potentially trigger for you?”
  • Credibility – Demonstrating market knowledge can make for a credible call “I know with the growth and development of XXX this has brought more business opportunity to companies like yours. Tell me, what are you plans to capitalise on this?”
  • Changes to their organisation “I have been following the changes to your organisation on Twitter and LinkedIn. The merger has opened up exciting new business opportunities, tell me…..”
  • Name dropper – Whenever possible I try to engage with the highest decision maker possible.
    • A: because it makes good business and time sense to try and engage with the purse string owners. If others in the company are decision makers but have to get the finances signed off with those above, valuable time can be wasted…go above and make a connection to help influence the decision.
    • B: More often than not the highest person possible will advise me they’re not the most suitable person to talk to and share the name of the person who is. Being an ethical person I will always advise the decision maker that I will call the person they have suggested shortly and explain that I have been advised to talk with them directly. I can then honestly say “I’ve spoken to XXX and they asked me to call you directly”. In my experience the person on the phone tends to listen longer once they’ve heard the name of someone more senior than them.
  • Voice – When people are nervous, tension around the neck and shoulders is common. Imagine what happens to the voice box muscles when they are constricted by tension! The ability to use tone ranges is limited and it can cause the pitch to come out higher than normal which can suggest nerves by the listener. By doing some simple shoulder rolls, shoulder shrugs, and deep breathing you can calm down nerves and reduce tension, allowing the voice box to perform better. Nothing sets off the “sales person force field” to be activated more than a sales person who sounds like Mickey Mouse on helium.
  • Equal partners – By having the mindset of equal importance and partnership between the recruiter and the client/candidate, confidence can be heard in the recruiters tone and their ability to think logically. By apologising for calling the person and a mindset that the client/candidate is more important and doesn’t need the recruiter, insecurities, nerves and fears of rejection can flood the recruiters mind which can trigger emotional thinking. Emotional thinking can reduce the ability to think on the spot and hear buying signals.
  • Be prepared! – Prior to the call, it’s worth going over potential client/candidates objections and what questions are more effective to explore and overcome. Objections are not to be feared — they can open doors to other conversation lines. When using effective questioning structures such as TED (Tell me about, Explain to me, Describe the process), objections can help move the recruiter closer to understanding business drivers. Three cheers for objections… just me then!

Recruiters can be their own worst enemy. A few technique tweaks here and there can make huge differences to quality and call success.


Sarah Church

Sarah Church is a Managing Director at Fifth Element Solutions and manages the Learning and Development service line. Her highly motivational down-to-earth training approach means participants are easily able to apply the learning to their unique environment. Using real life practical methodology it maximises the participants and their organisations time and money investment. Sarah has been in the recruitment world for over 17 years’. She started her career developing highly successful Contract/Temporary and Permanent desks and was quickly promoted to Sales and Development Manager where key responsibilities included developing long-term business relationships with new key clients. During her experience Sarah was tasked with turning around underperforming recruitment business making a financial loss into profit making centres. Reviewing, coaching, mentoring, and advising managers and their staff on how to adapt best practice and processes to ensure the avoided closure. Her philosophy in business is “If things don’t go right, turn left”.

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1 reply
  1. Myles Allan
    Myles Allan says:

    Good article. I’ve shared this with my colleagues as it reinforces almost exactly what we discussed at a team meeting this week!

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