If you lose a big sale, have a bad month, or don’t make quota, what is your typical first response?
For many salespeople, there is a temptation to externalize. Instead of looking inward for the reasons behind a given outcome, we assign responsibility to someone or something that lies outside of ourselves. Externalizing sounds like this:
- “I wish I’d closed that sale … but they bought from the competition. And why? Our main competitor has a great advertising campaign. Corporate needs to advertise more. That’s the problem.”
- “I really wanted that sale, but I know why they didn’t buy. The economy is in the pits; nobody’s buying now.”
- “I don’t get any support from the front office when I ask for discounts. Of course they didn’t buy. Our pricing is too high. Nobody can sell at these prices!”
You may be able to find evidence that seems to back up these statements; repeating that evidence to yourself may give you a feeling of consolation. The problem is that none of those repetitions will put food on your table or pay your bills. When you blame others, you give outside people and events control over your life. On the other hand, when you take personal responsibility, you put yourself in a position to fix the most important thing you can ever fix—yourself.
Taking appropriate responsibility is an important part of Transactional Analysis (TA), a human relations model that can help you improve your interactions with yourself and others. In this model, the personality is seen as consisting of three ego states; each can be thought of as an audio tape that records and plays back at various times in your life. Take a look:
Parent ego state: From the moment of our birth to about age six, our Parent tape recorded all the messages that came in, principally from authority figures: parents, older siblings, pre-school teachers, and the like. These are our how-to’s in life, our shoulds and shouldn’ts, our permissions and non-permissions.
Child ego state: Our Child tape records at the same time our Parent tape is recording, but instead of recording the incoming messages, it records our own emotional responses. The need to be liked comes from the Child state – and with it, the urge to avoid being blamed. The Child ego state is the “feelings” part of our personality. If we feel sad, mad, glad, or scared, or if we are using words such as “I,” “me,” “mine,” “I want,” “I wish,” and “I hope,” then we are in our Child ego state.
Adult ego state: Our Adult tape starts recording at about age ten months and it keeps recording for the rest of our life. Remember Mr. Spock in the original TV show Star Trek? He was always in the Adult state—rational, logical, analytical, and unemotional. Think of the Adult state as “command central.” It is the one state that, when well-developed, appropriately turns the other states on and off. One of the goals of TA is to help you develop your Adult to better command your other ego states.
As you may have gathered by now, when we externalize, we are letting our Child assess the situation for us. That’s not likely to point us toward solutions that improve our status quo. Our Child learned early on to externalize painful situations. When we let that instinct have the last word in our sales, we talk ourselves into believing that someone else is responsible for our outcomes. Actually, it’s always us who is responsible.
Looking inward for solutions, as opposed to externalizing, sounds like this:
- “Looks like advertising isn’t bringing me the leads I need. I’m going to find my own customers; time to hit the phones, work my client list for referrals, and set up some networking opportunities.”
- “Things have changed; with the state of the economy I’m going to need to change my sales activities, be more creative, and stop waiting for business to come to me."
- “When I sell solely on price, I get shot down. I think I need to do a better job of selling on the value delivered, the cost savings achieved, and the time saved by using our product.”
As long we externalize our selling problems, those problems will persist. Our Child typically avoids taking responsibility for our own behavior because doing so is perceived as painful. What can we do? To begin with, we can learn to recognize that some of our old tapes really can sabotage our best sales intentions. With practice, we can develop our Adult as the executive of our personality…and learn to leave our Child in the car.