A simple way to discern between SERVICE and SELLING in a coaching business is whether the interest is focused on you, or on the client. I’ve walked many coaches along the path from selling to service, and there are a couple common phases that they pass through along the way:
Many marketing teachers and struggling coaches treat coaching like a commodity. They see coaching as a competitive market where there are a bunch of pre-existing ‘clients’ out there, and there’s competition amongst coaches for market share. In this world, it makes sense to do a lot of marketing. It makes sense to have a niche. It makes sense to not give away coaching up-front and to focus your efforts on a lot of people knowing which kind of coaching you do, and talking about how good your coaching is (instead of showing them).
This is the model where “it’s a numbers game” and “if they don’t say yes it’s a failed sales call–toss them away and move on” and “don’t solve their problem until they’ve paid you”. It’s a model that makes sense for many businesses. But… it falls flat for coaching. In fact, it comes across as creepy, has people running away, and is giving the industry a bad name.
Coaching is not a commodity. Coaching is a relationship business! The more intimate the business, the more intimate the marketing.
Yet, this is what most coaches are taught, and where most of them are stuck. They might be able to get a lot of clients by keeping their prices low, but they face a lot of resistance to charging more (no matter how powerful the coaching) because they are merely selling the concept. They need to ‘trick’ clients into hiring them, before they experience the coaching. And that’s going to hurt the coaching relationship, even after they get past the nastiness of selling.
A more subtle variation of ‘getting’ clients is ‘attracting’ clients. Instead of pursuing clients, the idea is that clients should be pursuing you. This doubles down on the cult of personality, marketing, and “getting the word out.” It’s all about being known and liked and having a wide-spread audience. The key is to spend even more time marketing, and less time in conversations.
Many coaches who on the surface look like they’re wildly successful are actually just really good at looking successful. Behind any popular coach’s social media persona it’s invisible whether they have a prosperous practice or if they have zero clients and are on the verge of calling it quits.
In way, this strategy is less creepy, but more needy. Instead of aggressively pursuing individual people, it’s about passive aggressively pursuing groups of people. It’s even more of a numbers game. And, most telling when compared to service, the game of ‘attracting clients’ is even more about you, and even less about them.
One of the biggest reasons ‘getting’ and ‘attracting’ doesn’t work is because there are almost no pre-existing ‘clients’ out in the world. Instead there people. People with problems and opportunities. Billions of them. People who are not looking for coaching, but when one of them begins to experience coaching, that’s start to become a client. I.e. clients must be CREATED in this business.
This is why selling the experience, not the concept, is so essential. This is why slowing down and focusing on one relationship at a time is so powerful. Coaching for this person might address completely different issues, use completely different approaches, and have completely different results than for the next person.
To the coach that thinks they are selling a commodity, this sounds like a terrible waste of time. Why focus on so few people, including gifting coaching to people you’re absolutely sure won’t hire you? But the intimacy of this approach is what allows you to spend your time powerfully coaching people, instead of marketing. And the generosity of this approach makes it easy for the people who’ve experienced your coaching to refer others to you. The extra trust and space that’s create also makes it more natural to charge rates that match the value of the coaching, and makes room for more creative and higher-end offerings.
‘Creating’ clients acknowledges the uniqueness of each client relationship, but over the years I’ve noticed there’s a subtle form of objectification that often creeps in: Service as a ‘technique’.
This is when the coach is focused on the tactics more than the relationship. They gift conversations. They serve. They resist selling. They find out what the potential client really wants, and what might be possible with ongoing coaching. But their attention is on the tactics, not the person. They get annoyed if after two gifted conversations the potential client is waffling about something. They’re still secretly hoping to ‘get’ the client. They’re serving, but they’re serving at the person.
Creating Clients from the Inside-Out
The course-correction out of service-as-tactic is to be truly unattached to them hiring you. In a way, it’s none of your business if this person hires you. You job is simply to serve profoundly and generously, to uncover potential and make paid coaching available if they want more.
When you truly drop service as a tactic, and truly serve for the sake of service, you get to drop your personal agenda and step into the client’s world. You start serving your potential clients just as deeply as you serve your paid clients. You are happily serving way more than you are getting paid for. And the clients who want more will happily pay you for it.
This is a more profound version “creating a client.” You are creating this person as a client in your mind. You see them as a client, and treat them as a client. You’re not just giving them an experience of coaching; you are giving them the experience of being your client.
When you start to get this, you’ll start to “see clients”. Everywhere. Almost none of them are looking for coaching, and you don’t have permission to coach them, but there is a potential client inside of everyone.
When you get to this stage, it becomes amusing and eventually confusing to hear other coaches bemoan that they don’t know where or how to find people to offer coaching to. They’re looking for people holding up “Coach Wanted” signs, instead of looking inside the people for the potential client within.
This is why if there’s someone you’re truly interested in helping, that client inside can be developed, no matter how long it takes. This is why the most random encounter can suddenly create a client. This is how you can ‘choose’ your clients. This is where you get to be radically generous in your service, and selective in which clients you take on.
And this is where client creation clicks into a sense of abundance. Clients truly are everywhere, when you’re willing to drop the selling and to be a coach.
Michael McDonald, Transformational Coach
P.S. Want to bring your business to the next level through intimacy and impact instead of marketing and sales? Through loving service instead of people-pleasing or manipulating? The Coaching with Integrity 6-month coaching business school is currently enrolling.