Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Learning from Rejection

As the parent of a high school senior, we are in our own version of March Madness. The end of March is typically the deadline for college acceptance letters… or, rejection letters. The rule of thumb is: big envelope good, small envelope bad. If you’ve even had a teenager anxiously waiting for a big envelope from The Perfect College of His / Her Dreams, you know what we’re going through.

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal knows. Her article about rejection is dead on. She profiles some of the biggest names in business and entertainment – Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw to name a few, who were rejected by their first choice. Their look back at the rejection and what it taught them should be required reading for every first semester high school senior (first semester because in the second semester their brains turn to mush and Senioritis is out of control).

Listen to what the Oracle of Omaha says: “The truth is, everything that has happened in my life…that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.” He went on to say ”You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity.”

In business, you’ve got to face rejection. If you’re in sales, you face it daily. If you’re not facing rejection, you’re not pushing hard enough. As the leader of a small professional services firm, I hate being told “no” by a prospect. But sometimes getting a “no” is better than getting “maybe” or getting silence. “No” gives you direction. It can help you know what’s working and what’s not. And sometimes, a “no” from The Perfect Customer I Have Always Wanted to Get is a good thing.

Early in my practice, I chased after a prospect who I thought would accelerate my fledgling business. He decided not to use me for his big plans. Eight months later the firm he did choose was fighting him over unpaid invoices, unrealistic expectations, and a Titanic case of scope-creep.

In business, as in college, a rejection can be the best thing you could ask for. Good things often come disguised in small envelopes.