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September 12, 2023

6 Steps to Self Reflection in Sales

sales reflection about selling products

Self reflection is the gateway to learning from sales experience, for both sales professionals and the people responsible for coaching them. The tricky part is finding the time to invest in self reflection, but also—and this could be the real reason it happens less in sales—having a reliable way to do it.

Sales self reflection takes learning from experience to a whole new level, extracting the real gems from a sales interaction and developing valuable skills that can be refined and applied in other situations.

In this article, we’ll share a model for sales self reflection from Learning by Doing by Professor Graham Gibbs, head of the Oxford Centre for Staff Learning and Development. This is a model that salespeople and sales coaches can easily implement today, whether you’re using it by yourself or with those you manage.

The model has six, easy-to-follow steps, and it can have a major impact on performance. What’s not to like?

Those six steps are:

  1. Description – What happened?
  2. Feelings – What were your thoughts and feelings?
  3. Evaluation – What was good and bad about the situation?
  4. Analysis – What sense can you now make of the situation?
  5. Conclusions – What else might you have done?
  6. Action Plan – What would you do next time?

Applying the model to self reflection in selling products

You can use the Gibbs’ Cycle to frame and implement a sales coaching session. Simply identify the situation you plan to analyze and reflect upon, then work through each of the following stages:

Stage 1 – Description

At the outset, the task is just to gather a detailed description of the situation from the person you wish to coach. This could be a discovery call, online demo, or face-to-face sales meeting. For now, there’s no need to draw any conclusions from what happened.

Here are some prompt questions to get the juices flowing:

  • Where and when did this occur?
  • Why were you there?
  • Who else was present?
  • What happened on this occasion?
  • What action did you take?
  • What action did other people take?
  • What was the outcome?

Advice: Gather enough background information to set the context, but aim to keep things concise and relevant. Try and keep to the point. Extra detail will just obscure things, making it more difficult for the person you’re coaching (or you) to learn from the experience.

Stage 2 – The ‘F’ word – Feelings

Now prompt the person you are coaching to talk through the thoughts and feelings they had during the experience. For now, try to keep the contributions focused and relevant while avoiding making any comment about the emotions.

The following series of questions, or something similar, can be used to structure the conversation:

  • How were you feeling before this situation occurred?
  • How did you feel while this situation was ongoing?
  • How do you think the others present were feeling during this situation?
  • How did you feel immediately afterwards?
  • What are your thoughts about the situation right now?
  • How do you believe the other people now feel about the situation?

Advice: Personal feelings invariably influence a situation, and some people will find it tricky to talk openly and honestly about their feelings. Always make an effort to understand how they see things and, where necessary, use those honed listening skills to establish and maintain trust.

Note: The neurolinguistics “perceptual positions” technique (outlined below) is a helpful way to support people to look at the situation from different points of view.

Stage 3 – Evaluation

Next, encourage the colleague you’re supporting to look at what happened with an open mind and consider which approaches worked and which ones seemed ineffective.

Some useful prompts:

  • Can you identify what was positive about this situation?
  • Can you identify what was negative?
  • What do you believe went well?
  • What do you think went less well?
  • How did you react or contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?
  • How did the other people react or contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?

Advice: When the time is right, probe with a series of “why questions” to guide the person to discover the root cause of the problem.

Stage 4 – Analysis

During this stage, encourage your colleague to link what actually happened to past experiences, training, and/or their existing knowledge of established best practice.

You could encourage reflection on what actually happened by asking:

  • What choices did you make?
  • What effect did those choices have?
  • What things did you do that helped the situation?
  • What things did you do that hindered the situation?
  • How was this situation like your previous experiences?
  • How was this situation different from your previous experiences?

Advice: This stage is a vital coaching moment. It’s a chance to make stronger links between theory and practice by helping your colleague to really reflect on what happened and, therefore, convert learning and knowledge into action. Reflection like this identifies what they know (but may need support to apply), as well as what they don’t know (which may indicate training or further coaching is needed).

Stage 5 – Conclusions

Once the analysis is complete, you can guide your colleague towards drawing some conclusions about what took place. This process involves encouraging them to review the event in light of all the information that has been jointly gathered.

This could involve questions such as:

  • What might have made this a more positive experience for all those involved?
  • What would you do differently if you found yourself facing the same situation in the future?
  • So you can handle this kind of situation better next time, what specific skills will you need to acquire or develop?

Advice: It’s very unlikely this will be a wholly negative experience. So, in addition to discussing what your colleague may need to do to change, it’s equally important to give credit for positive actions and reinforce behaviors and strategies that can be repeated to ensure future positive outcomes.

Stage 6 – Action Plan

By now you should be able to identify some possible strategies your colleague could employ to deal with similar events more effectively when they arise in the future. So, use this final stage to develop an action plan that addresses how they can make these changes.

Any plan should be able to answer the following question: If a similar situation arose again, what would you do?

Advice: Having identified the changes that need to be put in place, get your colleague to formally commit to making these improvements. This should include agreeing to a future date for a joint review of progress or future coaching.

Extra tips for the self reflection process:

Neurolinguistic Perceptual Positions: These are handy when encouraging different perspectives.

There are three main perceptual viewpoints:

  1. First position: adopting your own perspective
  2. Second position: adopting the perspective of others in the situation
  3. Third position: adopting a detached onlooker’s perspective

Considering the alternative perspectives of other participants and a detached onlooker helps to expand your understanding.

First position

The “I” and “me” mode. This is used when a person wishes to say what they want. So, it’s an assertive mode driven by personal feelings and used to achieve personal goals.

While this is an important dimension, it would be insensitive to always operate from this position alone.

Second position

The “walking in someone else’s shoes” mode. You walk through the event seeing it through the other person’s eyes. Importantly, this must include seeing your own actions from their point of view. So, try to temporarily abandon your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

This perspective brings new information into consideration: You develop empathy for an alternative view, you see your own actions in another light, and you get to understand what it feels like to be subjected to your behavior.

Third position

This is “CCTV” mode. We experience the event from the perspective of a detached witness. Standing back in this way helps to understand the relationship in progress between yourself and others. This viewpoint can generate insights that are likely to be more analytical in nature.

This approach can be extremely valuable, especially where an event involves “charged” moments and can be enormously helpful for encouraging shifts in thinking and behavior.

So, there you have it: an overview of a model that can be used to excavate key coachable moments from a sales conversation, whether it’s your own or someone you are coaching.

With Conversation Intelligence, this type of sales coaching is a breeze. You can record and analyze a particular sales call, surfacing key insights and encouraging the person being coached to record their new response based on your coaching.

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