Transactional Analysis: The Key to Self-Awareness in Selling

Jack Prot

My research over the last thirty years suggests that team sales success is significantly influenced by line managers and by the existence of a robust sales process, but what about the individual salesperson? The big mistake many companies make is to concentrate their primary focus the individual salesperson’s personality, skills, and experience. However, as I’ve said hundreds of times in the past, the place to begin is with systematically defining the sales process and ensuring that all salespeople adhere to the process. The latter is achieved by ensuring that line managers are taught how a) monitor implementation of the process and b) coach improvement of the process. Only then do you turn your attention to developing the individual salesperson.

That’s not to underestimate the effort needed to get to this third stage. How to achieve the first two stages has been covered at length in other publications.

It is also worth pointing out that ‘personal development’ means exactly that -development which is personally concentrated upon an individual. It is about taking someone’s performance to the next level. You train someone to implement the sales process; you coach someone to improve; provided that person has already attained a basic level of acceptable performance. The scope of this article is that personal development of the type described here is for people already achieving the minimum standard – and that does not necessarily mean a sales target (an explanation of this will follow in future articles on the topic). Therefore, you will primarily be seeking to develop people who in their own mind may already be successful. And that’s where your problems begin.

What I have found is that there are three key factors which exist in relation to personal success in selling:
1. The manner in which the individual salesperson communicates with customers, colleagues and managers
2. Whether or not the individual is self-motivated enough to take personal responsibility for their actions and behaviours
3. How they perceive themselves to be qualified and able to succeed.

Salespeople need to accept that the way in which they communicate with the customer ultimately determines the outcome of the sale. Effective customer-focussed sales communication involves:
• Establishing common ground with the customer.
• Talking the customer’s language.
• Reading and interpreting customer responses.
• Exploring solutions with the customer.
• Building long-term customer relationships.

If you’ve read my article ‘Transactional Analysis in Sales’, you might already accept that our past relationships with people in authority can often have a dramatic effect on the style of our sales communication with customers who may represent our current authority figures.

Recruitment advertisements for salespeople tend to ask for ‘self-motivated’ individuals. Yet in most management training programmes, motivating employees is a recurring theme. That said, many professionals in the fields of sports and the performing arts appear to be driven to succeed without external motivation – in other words – self-motivated. In motivating themselves other professionals focus on the things which will improve their performance.

Selling has not enjoyed a particularly positive reputation as a professional occupation. Partly because of this most people currently in a sales role would not have chosen sales as a career choice. The premise is that many salespeople lack the level of self-esteem that exists in many other professions. This in itself may appear to many to be at odds with the perceived image of the stereotypical salesperson.

Whilst these are important factors in sales success their existence at the optimum level are often missing due primarily to a lack of feedback about the salesperson’s style of communication, a lack of focus in terms of what they are personally responsible for, and often the existence of self-doubt.

These are all extremely personal factors and any implied criticism that any of these factors may not be operating at an already peak level can engender a negative reaction. You will have heard people say: ‘I don’t mind criticism provided it is constructive’. What they actually mean is: ‘I don’t mind criticism provided it is not personal’. Yet the factors you may have to deal with will inevitably include the three personal factors mentioned, therefore it is highly likely that you will meet resistance – whether overt or covert – the latter being more difficult to deal with. Essentially you are asking people to change. So how can this be facilitated?

Whilst most publications on the topic of change will rightly expound the view that any change is difficult for people, those writers who are enlightened will also say that the key to enabling change is involvement; giving people a reason for the change; and explaining the benefits of changing either working practices or personal behaviour. That’s where transactional analysis can help.

Transactional analysis is essentially a deep understanding of how we relate to other people, and offers suggestions for improvement. It is based upon the premise that people can change if they know why and how. So how do they come to that realisation?

If the key to improvement is Self-Awareness, the tool can be Transactional Analysis, and the locksmith is the Coach.

As I’ve already explained, selling is a macho business and any admission of failings in supposedly ‘soft’ factors such as communication, motivation, and self-esteem are generally swept under the carpet. Exposing people to the theory and application of TA (both salespeople and managers) can facilitate self-awareness and through this a willingness to improve. The key to enabling this and implementing realistic improvement plans is the coach.

How to achieve this is the subject of a future article.

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