It's my experience that many entrepreneurs spend way too long in the pre-rejection phase of their business. They spend a lot of time polishing up their business plan, tweaking the product design or getting just the right wording on their Google ads – putting off as long as possible the day they have to present their pitch to potential buyers, customers or strategic partners.
Avoiding discomfort is a natural human tendency. But you are doing your business no favours if you avoid the judgment of the marketplace. The buyer or customer who turns you down today could put you on the path to success for tomorrow.
This rant was prompted by an entrepreneur I met recently who had lots of wonderful plans. He was going to pitch his products to this big retailer. He was going to suggest a strategic partnership with that prominent business association and seek a media deal with a major broadcast network. As excited as he was about these opportunities, he seemed to prefer having them perpetually on his to-do list rather than actually making the calls – and risk potential rejection.
Entrepreneurs have to learn to look at rejection differently. It's not a cold, hard hammer on the nail of the coffin of your business. It's a part of the process, like getting up in the morning and picking up the phone (still so much better than email when you're trying to establish relationships). Rejection is a pretty much unavoidable part of getting your products or ideas onto the market. Very few people hit the bull's eye first time out. The smart ones approach meetings with buyers not expecting to close a six-figure deal, but merely to begin the process of doing business together. They give the best presentation they can, listen carefully to feedback and ask all the questions they can so that if they're not successful, they can do a better job the next time.
Rejection is only as devastating or final as you decide it will be.
When asked to name the most important character trait for business success, most entrepreneurs say, "Persistence." It's a common word and an easy thing to say, but it goes to the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit and everyone's personal courage and will to succeed. "Persistence" means having the discipline, patience, hard work and emotional maturity required to learn from rejection and, eventually, turn No into Yes.
I think many startup entrepreneurs place too much significance on a single pitch to major potential buyers, distributors or partners. They spend so much time anticipating that one pitch and the benefits it can bring to their business that they come to see it as a one-shot game changer rather than one step in a long, long journey toward market acceptance.
Don't wait for the perfect pitch. Get your ideas out in front of partners, buyers, prospects and customers as early and as often as you can. Listen closely and welcome all feedback, positive or negative.
If the response is No, make the most of it. Ask your future partners what they liked about your idea, what they didn't like, and what you could have done differently. Keep pushing for information. Ask if there is someone else in the organization you should see, or if there are any other businesses or organizations they think would benefit from your product, service or solution. Ask permission to come back and see them when you have the bugs ironed out. Let them know you're in this for the long haul, not a quick buck, and that you look forward to doing business at another time.
Later, when someone asks how the meeting went, don't say, "They turned us down." Say something like, "They gave us a lot of great ideas for when we come and pitch to them next spring." That response may not convince them, but it may help you sell yourself on the idea that rejections are just opportunities you haven't mastered yet. In sales, as in success, attitude is everything.
Who have you been putting off calling? How soon will you get in touch?
Rick Spence is the Toronto-based author of the Canadian Entrepreneur blog and a consultant on marketing, strategy and business growth. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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