But if you are like most people in the helping professions, you HATE the notion of selling. Well, if you want to have a successful coaching business, you’ll have to get over it. The ideas in this blog post will take most of the pain out of the process. Give yourself, and selling, a chance.
Recall from the previous post that selling can be defined as a negotiation process in which you and your client organization agree to “Terms of Engagement” that are mutually agreeable and beneficial. Keep that definition in mind as we work through your sales issues.
Attitude: Stop looking down your nose at sales people! (It’s discriminatory at best.) Are there some bad-apple sales people? Sleazy, unethical, greedy, emotionally manipulative? Yes. Are
there bad-apple coaches? Sleazy, unethical, greedy, emotionally manipulative? Yes. That said, we need to recognize that both sales and coaching are essential functions in our society. The vast majority of sales people are honest decent people who perform a needed service, helping us get to things and services that we want or need. You want to be one of those people. Otherwise, no one gets coached.
Anxiety: Once we give up discriminatory attitudes about sales, we get to the real issue. Selling can be scary. Well sure! There are reasons selling is scary to most of us, but they can be dealt with.
- People are usually afraid of doing things that they don’t know how to do. Ethical selling involves a skill set that can be learned. It actually calls on many of the same skills you use in coaching. You’ll see that as you read further.
- No one likes rejection, an almost certain outcome in many sales situations. When someone declines an offer of coaching, it is very tempting to take it personally. It becomes an ego threat. We may say things to ourselves like, “Maybe what I have to offer isn’t worth as much as I thought.” “Maybe I’m not as good as I thought.” “I thought they liked me.”
In reality, there are many, many reasons a potential client would decline your offer, and very few of them have to do with you. It might be the wrong time. It might be that they have different needs. It might be that their resources are already committed elsewhere. It may be that someone higher up in the organization has a relationship with a different coach or has different priorities. We could go on and on. The anxiety you feel over taking it personally may have been appropriate in high school dating situations. It doesn’t fit the reality of sales.
There are two steps that will get you more comfortable with selling –1) reframing, and 2) skill development.
Reframing: Let’s say that you have done effective marketing by using the Six Steps presented in the previous blog post. It worked! Someone wants to meet with you. Yippee! But the closer you get to the meeting, the more you sweat. How would you work with coaching clients who are facing a stressful task? You would probably help them think about the event differently, i.e., you would help them reframe. Do the same for yourself.
You don’t like selling. But I bet you do like having conversations with interesting people. You want to do it for a living. That’s all you have to do in this upcoming meeting, have a conversation. Let go of the performance demand of “closing the deal.” It might happen, though rarely in a first conversation. And it might not happen at all. I’ve had plenty of “sales calls” that didn’t result in a contract. But almost universally, I’ve enjoyed talking with the interesting people in those meetings. They are typically smart and have interesting challenges to discuss. You will learn something. Stop using the term “sales call” in your head, and start using the term “conversation.”
While you are at it, reframe your expectations. No one makes a sale every time. I tell my coaching trainees that it’s like bass fishing. You throw a lure out and reel it back in many times without getting a strike. That doesn’t make you a lousy bass fisher. It is just the nature of the process. If you expect to make a sale every time, your performance anxiety will go through the roof.
Finally, reframe what you expect to happen in the meeting. Most successful coaching contracts require multiple meetings and multiple contacts. Potential customers have to get to know you and trust you before they are going to put the welfare of their leadership in your hands.
Skills: You know more about sales skills than you think. Most are based in Emotional Intelligence (EQ), specifically three EQ skills – Empathy, Reality Testing, and Assertiveness. You probably help your coaching clients use these skills all the time. When you use them with prospective clients, you are likely to create a mutually desirable win/win outcome.
Empathy: Use empathy to develop hypotheses about what your prospect needs, that is, how you can help them and their organization. Before you even go near their office, research their company. Find out as much as you can about their business, their industry, and the people themselves. In the meeting, ask good questions to uncover what they really care about, their issues of urgent concern. For example, you might ask such things as:
- “Tell me about your business.”
- “You’re busy. What led you to feel that getting together might be useful?”
- “What are the key challenges your company faces these days?”
- “If you were to hire a coach, what outcomes would make you feel it was worth the time, effort, and money?”
Reality Testing: The answers to such questions will lead you to develop ideas about what might be useful to your prospect. Now ask questions to test whether your ideas are on target. For example: “I think I’m hearing you say that your middle level leaders keep themselves too busy doing actual work rather than leading the people under them to do the work. You want them to lead more and work less. Is that right?”
Assertiveness: This is the skill needed to ensure that you win also. There are certain conditions that need to be satisfied for this to be a good contract for you. Examples include:
- Will the company give you sufficient time and resources to provide effective services?
- Will the company honor the need for confidentiality?
- Will the company pay you an appropriate fee?
A final skill for us to consider in this limited space is understanding the dynamics of the potential client organization with regard to the buying decision. You will have been brought into initial meetings by someone who is reasonably favorable to a contract. Let’s call that person your sponsor. But they may not be the decision maker. You need to know who the real decision maker is so that you can get in front of that person. Further, decision making may be shared. There may be what is called an economic buyer. That’s the person counting the beans of your proposed project. There may also be a technical buyer. This person brings expertise in assessing the potential impact of your work. For coaching contracts, this is likely to be an HR professional or a Chief Learning Officer (or their designees). You will need to find a way to communicate with each of these individuals.
Entire books are written on selling. As a blog post, we face space limitations. If you have a hot prospect and would like consultation on converting that prospect into a coaching contract, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org