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Why Transactional Analysis Can Improve Your Sales

7 min read
Why Transactional Analysis Can Improve Your Sales

Transactional Analysis (TA) was developed back in the 1950s by Dr. Eric Berne. Berne developed this break- through approach to human psychology while working with a patient who was an attorney. The two were discussing something the attorney had done, but regretted doing. Berne asked, “Well, why did you do it?” The attorney explained that, although part of him hadn’t wanted to do what he’d done, “… the child inside me compelled me to do it anyways”.

Berne was intrigued. Out of this conversation he developed the psychological model we now know as Transactional Analysis, or TA for short. In this model, Berne theorizes that people have three ego states: the Parent, the Child, and the Adult. Let’s look at each of these egos in-depth and see how we can use TA to help in sales.


What Berne labeled as the Parent ego state, acts like an audio recorder. It starts imprinting messages from authority figures in people’s minds at birth and then, when they are about six years old, it shuts off. This ego state includes two halves: the Nurturing Parent and the Critical Parent. The Nurturing Parent, for example, teaches things like, “You can be anything you want to be,” “You’re special,” and “You’ll always get credit for trying”. This is the part of the personality that puts bandages on children’s knees after they fall and feeds them chicken soup when they are sick. Then, you have the Critical Parent. That’s the part of the personality that teaches things like, “Look both ways before you cross the street,” “Don’t talk to strangers,” “Finish all the food on your plate,” and “Don’t be late”.

While the Critical Parent might be looking out for a person’s best interests, it is a worrier and can prevent the person from stepping beyond his comfort zones. Many of the Critical Parent messages were useful in youth, but can work against adults, especialls those who are in sales. For instance: “Don’t talk to strangers”. This causes many of us to be very reluctant when it comes to making cold calls to prospects we don’t know.


Next there is the Child ego state, which is also a recorder that turns on at birth and shuts off at about age six. Here resides all the feelings that ever festered about archaic Parent recordings. If you’ve dealt with teenagers, you’ve probably met the Rebellious Child state, which takes what the Critical Parent says and flips it backwards. For example, if you were to tell a teenager, “Be home by 10 p.m.,” the Rebellious Child might compel the teen to come home at 10:05, just because you said 10:00.

Fortunately, the Rebellious Child is not alone. Other aspects of the Child include, the Natural Child, the fun-loving part of the personality that likes cars, jewelry, vacations, and funny stories. Then you have the Adaptive Child, who yearns to please the Parent recordings, and is always seeking approval. Finally, you have the Little Professor. This is the part of the personality that compels people to educate and enlighten others. This ego state shows up on a sales call when the salesperson starts listing features and benefits.

In essence, the Child is that little six-year-old in everyone that is constantly, or at least on a regular basis, trying to “be OK”.

You may see this desire express itself in many different ways. Perhaps your Natural Child tells a funny story on a sales call, or maybe your Adaptive Child comes out when you try to please the prospect by giving a quote with no commitment for a decision. Believe it or not, you may even express your need to feel OK through your Rebellious Child. I once heard about a salesperson who showed up late to a sales call. When the prospect asked, “How’d you get here?”, the salesperson, who had been fighting traffic, sweating the whole time, just blurted out, “I drove”. How’s that supposed to build a bond? That’s a good way to get a free wipe-out! In other words, the salesperson got his frustration off his chest, but then lost the sale and made no commission. He said what he wanted, but he blew the sale doing so. As you read more, you’ll see why it’s important to leave your Child ego in the car when you go on a sales call.


The Adult ego state should be the principal navigator through a sales call. Adult ego helps salespeople bond and build rapport throughout the entire sales process. The Adult recorder is different from the other two egos. It turns on when a person is about 11 months old and stays on for the rest of their life. It’s the logical part of the personality; for instance, it’s where all of that useful product knowledge is stored. There are two aspects to the Adult: the Updated Parent and the Updated Child.

The Updated Parent allows people to alter the warnings they heard in childhood from the Critical Parent, warnings like, “Don’t talk to strangers”. As we’ve seen, this particular recording comes out in adulthood as call reluctance. The Child part of the personality, the Adaptive Child specifically, makes salespeople feel very uncomfortable making cold calls. Why? Because they were taught through the Critical Parent that they shouldn’t talk to strangers. Whenever you make a cold call, you’re talking to a stranger, and thus contradicting the Critical Parent. This is what makes the Adaptive Child very uncomfortable. Through the Updated Parent, you can update those belief systems and change the way you think about things. The Updated Parent is stored in the Adult ego state. It can be used to update archaic parent beliefs. Similarly, the Updated Child allows you to update the way you feel about things throughout life, starting from 11 months old.


When you apply TA to selling, 70% of your selling should come from the Nurturing Parent. The remaining 30% should come from the Adult. Zero percent should come from Critical Parent or the Child. Think of it this way: If it ever makes sense for you to tell a prospect a funny story (and maybe it does), the Adult (the logical part of your personality) needs to be in charge. The Adult can navigate so that if it ever does make sense to turn the Child on, so to speak, the Adult can decide when and where that happens. This is extremely important. The logical, knowledgeable Adult needs to make all the decisions for you and direct all the other aspects of your personality, so you don’t offend or upset a prospect.

The main thing you need to keep in mind throughout the sales cycle is “nurture, nurture, nurture”, especially talking over the phone. However, in your communications with prospects and customers, you also want to use some Adult when it’s appropriate. You should never, ever come from the Critical Parent, and doubly so, the Child ego state.

As you become more successful at uncovering pain, you may have meetings where prospects not only share their pain, but also take responsibility for it and then proceed to verbally “beat themselves up” for whatever caused the pain to be created. In those instances, it’s important to use your Nurturing Parent skills to pick prospects up and put them back on their feet.

For example you might say:

I think you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Your role is to steer the ship and no one can be an expert at all things. You’ve made the right decision to call in an expert in meeting with me. So, let’s look ahead at how we can fix the room delegating work to the engine room, so to speak, to someone who does that sort of work all the time. I have to say you’re in better shape right now than a lot of potential clients when I first meet with them. You’ve actually done a good job as captain, and it’s like things have grown to a point in the engine room where the situation is sapping too much of your valuable time as the leader. So, you’ve made the right move in striving to see how the problem can be addressed.”

Can you see the statements from Nurturing Parent in the example? Can you see the statements from the Adult in the example? The portions that are mostly Nurturing Parent statements are italicized; the portions that are mostly Adult statements are underlined. The portion that is about equal in both is both italicized and underlined.

The psychological models we’ve discussed in recent blogs, like NLP, DISC, and TA, are staples in the Sandler Sales Process, and will be instrumental in helping you establish bonding and rapport. In order to relieve pain, you must get your prospects to relive it. You can only do that if you’ve bonded with the person. The three models I’ve shared with you, DISC, NLP, and TA, will help you do that, so you can start uncovering the underlying elements of your prospects’ pain.

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