10 suggested business development core competencies for coaches

Is there a professional coaching association that provides a set of core competencies for business development for coaches? I don’t think so, but every professional association should provide such a list. A coach can’t get to the point of practicing the core coaching competencies – whether as an internal or external coach – without knowing how to do everything required to win engagements and develop long-term relationships with clients.

With that in mind, here is a list of suggested business development competencies. After you read them, please let me know what you might change or add. Note that these competencies also apply to internal coaches in part, because internal coaches also have to establish credibility and attract clients.

ONE: Building a portfolio of long-term relationships. Many coaches worry so much about getting their next new client and engagement that they have a myopic view of business development. It is not about engagements so much as developing strong relationships with clients. Engagements are a lower order outcome of having these relationships.

TWO: Choosing a profitable niche(s) as a coach. Niches can focus on any number of areas: industry, function, geography, demographic, and psychographic (people with similar values or hobbies). The generalist coach had better have an amazing network of trusted relationships who will hire him or her even without a focus. Otherwise, having a niche improves conversion rates. There are ways for coaches to have a niche without putting all of their eggs in one basket. For instance, I teach the 70/30 rule: Focus 70% of your time on up to two niches, and leave the remaining 30% of your time to what you attract. That 30% could become your next niche!

THREE: Crafting compelling marketing messages. There is an art and science to crafting messages that compel people to want to learn more. Fortunately, templates exist. Unfortunately, many coaches make big mistakes, including talking too much about themselves or the latest fad in coaching, instead of talking about problems that prospective clients care about.

FOUR: Creating initial rapport with prospective clients in a way that creates favorable interest and curiosity. Coaches need to know how to introduce themselves and describe what they do in ways that create instant interest.

FIVE: Coaching a prospective client through the sales process. Selling doesn’t have to feel like one needs a tacky script or formula. We can coach a client through the process. Following are behaviors that are part of this competency:

  1. Qualifying that there is a real opportunity.
  2. Qualifying that the money is there and that you are talking to someone who can spend it.
  3. Getting all stakeholders on board.
  4. Developing a solution that the client agrees brings value and solve his or her problem.
  5. Pricing your services.
  6. Confirming value.
  7. Handling objections.
  8. Closing engagements.

SIX: Ramping up an engagement and keeping it on track. This competency overlaps with some of the core competencies promoted by coaching organizations. However, I believe that coaches can go further by presenting a clear coaching plan to clients so that the client is on board and confident that they have hired the right professional. This is the equivalent of project management training that other professionals practice.

SEVEN: Handling scope creep. Many coaches struggle with what to do when the client requests work outside the contract. There are three options, and the coach must know when to use each:

    1. Do the work at no cost in order to strengthen the relationship.
    2. Add scope to the existing contract and get paid.
    3. Start a new contract, because the work is sufficiently different from current scope.

EIGHT: Identifying new opportunities to serve the client, in order to keep bringing value. Many coaches are “one and done,” meaning that they don’t keep clients for more than one engagement. Professionals in other fields, like consulting, have methodologies to learn about client needs and keep assisting them. Coaches need to do the same.

NINE: Balancing coaching with other forms of professional services, if appropriate. The top coaches are not just coaches. For instance, Marshall Goldsmith, the granddaddy of them all, coaches, trains, speaks, facilitates, and more. Our aspiration should be to become trusted advisors to our clients, and this requires going beyond traditional, almost union-like definitions of what a coach does and doesn’t do. As long as we are explicit about our role and avoid conflicts, we can navigate different roles and bring more value to our clients.

TEN: Choosing a business model that maximizes profit and leverage over the coach’s time. Finally, coaches need to understand different business models that can maximize their profits and time. That way, coaches choose the model that is right for them, instead of following the hourly-rate model that keep most coaches trading their time for dollars in a never-ending treadmill.


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