In the start of the second quarter, many manager discussions with underperforming salespeople are about to backfire – because they will begin with messages like:
- Bill, it’s time for you to start thinking about how you’re going to hit your numbers.
- I warned you about this, Bill. You’re way behind where you ought to be – you don’t want to run out of time.
- Bill, how many times have I told you to do A, B, or C?
- (And so on.)
In such messages, the manager is communicating from what Transactional Analysis (TA) would call the “Critical Parent” ego state. When David Sandler developed the Sandler Selling System, he used TA as his human-relations model to back up his reasoning for why buyers and sellers – and salespeople and sales managers – act the way they do. TA assumes that humans operate out of three ego states.
- The Parent ego state contains unedited recordings of what you saw our mother, father, and other authority figures do and what we heard them say during our first six years of life. Sometimes, Parent messages were critical, judgmental, and/or prejudicial. Sometimes they were more nurturing.
- The Adult ego state acts much like a computer, processing data supplied by the other two ego states, as well as data it collects. The Adult is logical, rational, and analytical. Like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, the Adult solves problems and reckons probability.
- The Child ego state is where many of our decisions originate – not just buying decisions, but all kinds of decisions. The Child is that little six-year-old in us who, feeling a particular emotion at a particular time, says, “I want this,” and “I want to do that.” Or perhaps: “I don’t want this,” and “I don’t want to do that.”
Most managers go into massive “critical parent” mode when they realize, too late, that a salesperson has a lot of ground to make up the remainder of the year. They say things like, “You need to sort yourself out and get back on track...” and they think it’s going to work! The truth is it never works… although a salesperson sometimes produces good results in spite of what the manager says.
The end of the first quarter is the perfect time for managers to put TA into practice as a productivity tool. TA works because it helps us use our Nurturing Parent and Adult ego states to connect with each other. Here’s how that might sound:
Stroke: (Validation that Bill will recognize as authentic): “Bill, I can tell that you’re going for it 100% and really giving the job your all every single day here, and I really admire that.” (Nurturing Parent)
(Bill says something along the lines of): “Thanks, I appreciate you saying that.”
Check that Bill’s OK: “I hope you don’t mind me giving you some feedback?” (Adult)
(Bill says he’s fine with that.)
Set an up-front contract for the discussion: “Great. I wanted to ask how you’d feel about spending maybe fifteen minutes together talking about what you’d like to achieve by the end of the year… then going through your pipeline so we can figure out what the highest priorities should be for you over the next month, so you can have a strong start to Q2. Would that make sense?” (Adult)
A conversation that opens in this way sets the salesperson up for success, generates better information, and allows the manager to serve as a positive example for the individual salesperson and for the team. As you close out Q1, consider looking for ways to co-create solutions with a salesperson – by operating exclusively from the Nurturing Parent and Adult ego states.