Eight fatal marketing mistakes that executive coaches make

Recently we sent a note to our mailing list — students, alumni, and general subscribers — asking for any interested executive coaches to reply to an opportunity presented to us by a large coaching firm. Priority for these types of opportunities usually goes to our students and alumni, but this time we needed more coaches than we had on hand.

The responses from general subscribers demonstrated, once again, that executive coaches have lots of room to improve the way they present and market themselves.

Because the Center for Executive Coaching focuses on helping students learn best practices in business development (along with how to be a fine executive coach, of course!), this blog entry presents the eight most common marketing mistakes the executive coaches make.

Mistake One: Me, me, me. Many coaches turn prospects off by talking about what they do and their credentials before considering the potential client’s situation and needs: “I am an executive coach…I am certified with XYZ.” Prospects are more interested in your understanding of their problems and proof that you can help them get results. Check your marketing collateral and the way you present yourself to clients and prospects. Do you use the word “you” at least 3X more than you use the word “I”? You should. A good marketing message is essential and needs to describe the problem you solve, the results you get (and how you get them), the benefits of your results, why you are unique and better, and proof that your claims are true.

Mistake Two: Lack of focus. Too many coaches think they can help any executive in any company. This may be true, but your potential clients perceive things differently. In most cases, they prefer an executive coach who knows their language and can help solve their industry-specific problems. If you focus on a targeted market (like an industry, demographic group, specific geography, specific job function, specific situation), you are more likely to set yourself apart.

Mistake Three: Marketing is not a top priority. It’s not fair, but the best executive coach does not always get the job. You can’t wait for the phone to ring or assume that, because of your credentials, prospects will automatically see your value and hire you. To succeed in this competitive business, you must make business development your top priority. Most executive coaches are not willing to dedicate a set amount of time each week, or every day, to marketing — and their pipeline suffers.

Mistake Four: Relying on word of mouth. If you get referrals through word of mouth, good for you; you are doing something right. But you are also losing out on many potential clients and opportunities. Word of mouth is a passive strategy relying on luck and the good will of busy strangers/colleagues. It is not sufficient. You should instead develop proactive systems to have a stream of referrals come your way. To do this, you need to know the right time, conversations, and tactics for systematically generating referrals, and put them into place.

Mistake Five: Using the wrong strategies to get visible (or not using the right strategies enough). You don’t have to spend lots of money on advertising as an executive coach. The way to get visible in your market is through educational marketing. This means writing, speaking, issuing press releases, and conducting simple research/surveys that educate people about their most pressing problems while also establishing your credibility and value. Too many coaches don’t do enough educational marketing.

Mistake Six: A lousy web presence. Most savvy prospects will check out your website before they hire you. Your web presence should be the hub of your business development efforts. It should provide plenty of articles (or a blog), free reports, offers to join a free tele-conference, offers to subscribe to a newsletter or receive a mini-course via email autoresponders. That way, you can collect email addresses from prospects and follow up with them — both personally and automatically via autoresponders. You should also drive traffic to your website by publicizing it and through search engine optimization, which can result in a stream of inquiries from qualified prospects.

Mistake Seven: Poor follow up. Coaching is a relationship-driven business. Just as almost no one gets married after a first meeting at a bar, clients generally don’t hire coaches on the spot. You have to nurture relationships and follow up — both with people who find your website and give you their email address and with more personal relationships. At the same time, many coaches do a poor job following up with existing clients and colleagues to geenrate referrals and additional projects.

Mistake Eight: Fuzzy results. Ultimately executives hire us in order to get results that they consider to be significant (e.g., increase revenues, decrease costs, increase entity value, increase retention of key employees). You need to be able to articulate the kinds of results you get, how you get them, how you track them over time, and then prove that you really do get results via testimonials, glowing references, and case studies. Many coaches can’t articulate the results they get, and so they don’t get as many clients as they otherwise could.

Are you making any of these mistakes?

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