How any coach can make business development conversations feel natural — not awkward or even terrifying

The one challenge that almost kept me from starting my own coaching practice was fear of selling. To me, selling was something that used car salesmen did. At the same time, I thought there was some kind of magical script or formula that would magically convince someone who didn’t want to buy, to buy anyway – and I couldn’t find that script.

It took me a while to figure things out. All I had to do to make selling natural was learn how to coach the prospective client through the sales process. Now I coach. I don’t sell at all.

Following are six topics that you have to coach a prospect through in order to confirm fit and win an engagement -- or realize that you are wasting your time and move on.

First, after a brief editor’s note, there are four rules to follow in any business development conversation…

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Back to the four rules to follow:

Rule One: Never, ever coach the prospect to solve his or her problem for free. When I work with other coaches on the conversations below, I notice that often they change the conversation from talking about fit to acting like they have already been hired. They start coaching the prospective client on their actual issue, working together to solve it. This is no way to close an engagement. Why would someone hire you if you coach them for free?

Rule Two: Be on equal footing, with the same coaching presence you have when you are coaching a true client. If you get the idea that the prospect doesn’t have a big enough problem for coaching, doesn’t see value in hiring you, or doesn’t have the money, call him on it – just like you would if the client had a perceptual or behavioral blind spot. Don’t waste your time on prospects that are never going to buy. In my case, I have learned to let the client do the work, coming from the perspective that they need to convince me that there is a fit.

Rule Three: Don’t take a “no” personally. Of course, we want to hear “yes” every time. But many prospects will never hire you. They don’t have a big enough issue, or they don’t have the money. The faster you can get a “no” the faster you can stop wasting your time and move onto a prospect that has a better chance of saying “yes.” One key to successful sales is being efficient. If a prospective client doesn’t see value, doesn’t have the money, or seems to be hemming and hawing, move on or ask a question to find out what they need to do to decide once and for all. The prospective client who keeps saying, “I need to think about it” is far more costly than the prospect who says “no,” because prospects who stay on the fence take a lot of our time.

Rule Four: Be willing to walk away. Don’t act desperate, even if you are. Never chase a prospect. Chasing a prospect or seeming desperate will only cause the prospect to lose respect for you. Act like an already-successful coach who would be delighted to work with the prospect, but certainly has a busy practice if the prospect decides that the fit is not there.  

With those rules in mind, here are the six coaching conversations to have with prospects:

1.     Coach the prospect to discover that he has a problem that is big enough to require a coach. Ask probing questions to determine what the problem is costing the prospect. If the prospect doesn’t have a big enough problem, he isn’t going to hire you. Politely tell him that, and focus your efforts on prospects that recognize that they do have a big problem.

2.     Coach the prospect to discover that he sees value in hiring you. After exploring costs, explore how much it would be worth to solve his problem. I don’t take on clients unless I can confirm that they will receive at least 5 – 10 times my fees in value. Value can come in the form of both logical, tangible business results as well as the intangible results like eliminating stress, feeling more confident, having more time to spend with family, or having clarity about a tough decision. Often, the intangible benefits are priceless.

3.     Coach the prospect to confirm he has access to funds to pay your fees. Be willing to ask about budget, how big a check he can sign, and who else has to be involved (and then coach the prospect on how to persuade these decision makers to get on board). Otherwise, you will be spinning your wheels. Money is always there, in the background. Coach your prospective client on how to get it. Here, you can be creative. For a while, I made a good living finding managers who could sign checks for up to $20,000 without approval from anyone else, and designing coaching programs around their budget.

4.     Coach the prospect to design the best solution and scope. This is an ICF core coaching competency, and so I assume you know how to do this with a prospective client. Before you are hired, let the client design the engagement with you. Don’t offer to write a proposal until you and the client agree on terms.

5.     Coach the prospect through objections. Don’t be afraid of objections! Let the prospect resolve them by asking them powerful questions to understand the reasons behind objection. Then have a dialogue to resolve the objection if possible, or move on if the objection is a deal breaker. For instance, if the prospect tells you that your fees are too high, ask how you might design a scope at a lower price (for instance, by doing group coaching, or coaching every other week instead of weekly). Let the prospect solve the problem. If he is serious enough about hiring you, he will help you.

6.     Coach the prospect to decide to move forward, or not. The best close in the world is a coaching question: “What would you like to do next?” Let the prospect close for you! If the prospect isn’t ready to close or raises an objection, coach him through it. If he seems to be wavering, call him on that and suggest he isn’t really that interested in hiring a coach or in solving his challenge. Again, a “no” is better than a client who refuses to decide.

I hope the above approach helps you to make selling less of a grind, and more like the coaching conversations that we all love to have!


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