Research Paper By Gemma Gilbert
(Business Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
Many coaches find the idea of selling their coaching services intimidating. Your experience of sales and being sold to can frame beliefs and fears such as ‘I’m not good at sales’, ‘I don’t want to come across as pushy’ or ‘I’m not a salesperson’.
To run a profitable coaching business, sales are a necessity. It is the lifeblood of your business.
The good news – there is a heavy crossover between coaching and sales conversations which ideally positions the trained coach to in fact be a masterful salesperson.
In this paper, I will explore what sales are, the mindset you need to master your sales conversations, and the sales process itself, linking each back to how it relates to the coaching profession.
What Is Sales?
According to Cambridge Dictionary (2020), to sell something is to “give something to someone else in return for money”.
Both parties have intent in this transaction – the seller to sell their goods or services and the buyer to buy the goods or services. In this respect, sales can be a harmonious and joyful exchange.
However, salespeople are often stereotyped as pushy, manipulative, or money-grabbing. Indeed, you may have come across a salesperson who fits this stereotype, thus validating it further.
If you have negative associations and beliefs around sales, this can lead to resistance in selling your services. After all, the characteristics of ‘pushy’ and ‘manipulative’ contrast quite spectacularly to qualities upheld in the coaching profession such as active listening, partnering with the client, and remaining objective.
To master sales (and dare I say learn to love sales), the coach first requires an empowering perspective on what sales are.
Selling vs Serving
Just like coaching requires both a coach and a client, sales requires both a ’seller’ and a ‘buyer’. However, the term ’selling’ can immediately impose a false-passivity on the buyer – as if the buyer will be sold to, regardless of what they want.
A simple re-frame is that selling is a mutual exchange. In return for their money, which they willingly give, your prospect ‘buys’ the transformation they desire. Through selling your services, you are serving your clients with the result they desire.
This transaction does not need to be reached through coercion or underhand tactics. It all starts with a meaningful conversation, just like a coaching session. The coach helps the potential client create awareness around their current situation, goals, and obstacles, serves their service as one potential option forward, and helps the prospect decide as to whether it is a good fit for them.
“The kind of clients you would love to work with are only created in a conversation. And high-performing, high-paying clients are only created in impactful, life-changing coaching conversations.” (Chandler, 2003)
3 mindsets to cultivate to master your sales conversations.
Abundance vs Scarcity
With an abundance mindset, you know there are enough clients and your next ideal client is just around the corner. Knowing this, your intent in each sales call is to serve deeply and help your prospect decide if your coaching services are right for them.
With a scarcity mindset, you feel that there are never enough clients. As a result, each sales conversation feels high-pressured and you feel you ’need the sale’. When you sub-consciously convey this energy, it is very hard to land the sale.
Serving vs Selling
A serving mindset puts the client at the heart of the conversation. You coach deeply, uncover their struggles and desires, and can make an objective decision as to whether your services will serve them. You stay detached from the result and you aim to leave every person you speak to better off than before, regardless of whether they buy your services. You see sales as an ever-flowing process and trust that the result will follow.
With a selling mindset, you are focused on the result. You approach conversations thinking, ‘How can I convince the prospect to work with me?’. You put yourself and the ‘sale’ at the heart of the conversation sometimes at the expense of your potential client.
Growth vs Fixed
With a growth mindset, you see every sales call as a learning experience regardless of the result. You know that receiving a ’no’ teaches you more than a ‘yes’. You celebrate every no as you know it is the gateway to success ((Fenton and Waltz, 2010).
With a fixed mindset, you see a sales conversation that resulted in a ’no’ as a waste of time. You ignore useful learning opportunities and can slip into blaming the prospect or feeling defensive. You connect the ‘no’ to your self-worth and feel the prospect is saying ’no’ to you as a person rather than your services not being right for them for whatever reason.
Just like in a coaching session, having a specific framework for your sales conversations can help you and your prospect navigate easily through the transaction.
The first half of the sales conversation mirrors a coaching session.
“You will find that you close a much higher percentage of sales if you have a good, solid rapport with your prospects”(Holmes and Heald, 2007)
As in a coaching session, the start of a sales conversation should create a trusted space and build rapport. Ask questions to find common ground, create lightness and humor where suitable.
Potential questions could be:
- Where are you from?
- How did you find out about me?
- Reference a common connection or previous meeting
- (and the weather is always a trusty fallback!)
Uncover current situation, goals, and obstacles
- What’s going on for you right now?
- What’s the most frustrating part about that for you?
- Where would you like to be with this, say in 6 months?
- What’s important to you about achieving that?
- What would be the best part of achieving that vision?
- What’s holding you back from achieving that?
- Is there anything else I should know?
- On a scale of 1-10, how big a priority is this for you right now?
Just like in a coaching session, you take on the role of coach. The prospect should be doing the lion’s share of the talking (80%), while you reflect and ask powerful questions to help create awareness and uncover what is holding them back.
It’s important to note two key questions here:
- What’s the most frustrating part about that for you?
- What would be the best part of achieving that vision?
These questions uncover the negative impact of the current situation and the positive impact of achieving their goal. This allows the prospect to connect to their emotional drivers for wanting this change.
This is critical as emotions drive our purchasing behaviors. As Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman (2003) states, “95% of our purchase decision making takes place subconsciously.”
Whilst your prospect might want a new job, a successful business, or a healthier relationship, it is their dissatisfaction with their current state (their feeling and emotions around it) and their perception of how things will be different if they achieved the desired state that drives their decision to buy. We can help our prospects connect to this emotion by asking questions that speak straight to their emotional drivers.
At this part of the sales process, we break away from the role of coach and take on the role of the service provider.
Based on what you’ve heard, at this stage, you can tell the prospect whether you feel your service is a good fit.
- I can’t help: Based on what we’ve discussed, I don’t think my program is the best fit for you. I’m hearing that you’re looking for [enter their desired outcome] the focus of my package is [enter relevant detail]. I’m happy to recommend someone that might be a good fit if you’d find that useful?
- I can help: Great, based on what we’ve discussed, I think we’re a good fit/I think I can help you.
As with coaching, if you feel you can help your prospect always seek permission before making a recommendation. This can be achieved with a simple question such as:
- Would you like to hear a bit about what that would like?
From here, your role is to succinctly describe the value, benefits, and results that can be achieved from working with you, along with the relevant logistics and investment.
Crucial to selling your services is creating a package that solves a very specific problem or achieves a very specific result. This can feel counter-intuitive for a coach who has learned traditional coaching where the path is always client-led. However, to sell your services and create a profitable business, people must buy into the transformation you help them create.
A common mistake coaches make in sales conversations is focussing too heavily on the logistics of the partnership or trying to sell ‘coaching’. For example, discussing the number and duration of sessions, the length of the partnership, or your style of coaching.
Whilst this information is important it should not be the primary focus, as ultimately your prospect wants to solve their problem.
The Ask & Objection Handling
After proposing your service, the first thing you need to know is what your prospect thinks.
- So, what do you think?
- Do you think this is a good fit for you?
From here, the likely response is either a ‘yes’, ’no’, or an objection.
In a sales conversation, objection handling is an important skill that aligns closely with coaching. In the objection handling phase of your conversation, you can step back into the role of coach.
Your aim here is not to convince the prospect to buy your services. Instead, you can partner with the prospect to uncover the true blocks, create awareness, and offer alternative perspectives where relevant.
For example, if a prospect says, “I don’t know if now is the right time”, you might follow up with “What would the right time look like for you?” or “I’m curious, what had you book this call now?”.
By staying in coach mode, we can help the prospect navigate through their thoughts and decide whether they want this, how important it is to them, and financially, whether it’s something they can invest in.
Close The Sale
The final stage of the sales conversation is bringing the conversation to an end.
If the prospect has said ‘yes’ to buying your services, you can move straight into creating excitement to work together and laying out the next steps.
If the prospect is a ’no’, you could choose to point them towards a free resource to support them further.
Finally, if the prospect needs time, the golden rules of sales never leave the call without the next step in place. Book a follow-up call then and there and ideally give them specific action which will help them move forward.
For a coach to confidently and effectively sell their coaching services, re-framing what sales are and shedding limiting beliefs can be an excellent starting point.
From there, embracing the role of the coach in a sales conversation allows you to stay unattached, serve deeply, and do what you do best – coach.
Dictionary.cambridge.org. 2020. Cambridge Dictionary | English Dictionary, Translations & Thesaurus. [online] Available at: <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
Fenton, R., and Waltz, A., 2010. Go For No!. [Vancouver, WA]: CourageCrafters.
Holmes, C., and Heald, A., 2007. The Ultimate Sales Machine. Ashland.
Interview Mahoney &Zaltman, “The Subconscious Mind of the Consumer (And How To Reach It)” Harvard Business Review, Jan 13th, 2003.
Chandler, S., n.d. The Prosperous Coach. Maurice Bassett; Illustrated edition (30 April 2013).