Trust (Not Sales Ability) Is of Massive Importance for Landing Coaching Clients. Here's Why.
Honesty is what clarifies your unique value proposition; and no amount of 'selling' will have equal weight.
Coaching used to be almost exclusively associated with sports, but that’s no longer the case. Today, you’ll find expert coaches in almost every field you can think of who are qualified and ready to help you achieve your goals. And that of course includes business.
So, whether you need help running your company, advice on how to become a better leader or even assistance in becoming more productive in your personal life, chances are there’s a coach who can provide you stellar support.
Sometimes, though, coaches need a little coaching themselves -- especially when it comes to landing new clients. Those coaches might be led astray by focusing on their sales skills or their use of key marketing tactics. But those areas of emphasis don't necessarily work. I learned this when I reached out to several professional coaches. Talking to them, I found that sales ability is only a small part of the equation. What successful coaches really need to gain (and keep) clients is trust -- here’s why:
Honesty clarifies your unique value proposition.
Sales and trust can sometimes seem like two very opposite concepts. Whether it’s deserved or not, the world of sales and marketing has a reputation for being inherently dishonest.
The thing is, coaching is a relationship -- and dishonesty rarely bodes well for any type of long-term relationship. Trust, in fact, is consistently listed as one of the most important aspects of a relationship, with consistency in words and behavior being a key component.
In an email exchange, Bettina Buhr, a personal branding consultant and coach based in Germany, explained to me that, “When meeting with a prospective client, coaches need to clearly and honestly define their unique value.
“You might be able to impress someone with your sales skills up front," Buhr continued, "but if you aren’t honest about what you can truly offer, the facade will quickly fall away once they become your client and you fail to meet [their] expectations. This will erode trust and ruin your potential for retaining clients.”
I have to agree with Buhr because from my experience, what you say and do during the “pitching” process will have a direct impact on what clients expect once you become their coach. Making false promises in an attempt to oversell, rather than focusing on the value you can actually provide, will lead only to disillusionment and canceled contracts.
Going "behind the curtain" highlights transparency.
Each coach -- and each client -- is unique. As such, your coaching style likely won’t be a perfect match for everyone. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, this is part of the unique value proposition you have which will make you the perfect fit for certain clients.
“Clients need to know what working with you will truly be like,” Melissa Demple, a personal-brand photographer who works with countless coaches, explained to to me by phone.
“You have to take them ‘behind the curtain,’ so to speak," Demple said. "You don’t want them to feel like you’re holding something back or hiding information about your process. I visually help coaches do this, but on a more communicative level, coaches should be willing to answer any and all questions a prospective client has so the client can feel like they’re making an informed decision.”
I believe that even when I hire my own coach, coaches should always be transparent about their communication practices and areas of expertise so that potential clients will know what to expect from their working relationship. This will prevent costly miscommunications and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Offering testimonials or references that the client can review on his or her own can prove even more beneficial. Not only will such resources provide additional insights to help guide the decision-making process, but will further emphasize how you aren’t holding anything back in terms of how you manage your coach-client relationships.
Confidentiality makes coaching sessions a safe space.
Coaches will hear about all of their clients’ problems, worries, goals and successes -- but only those clients feel that their best interests won’t be compromised by sharing such personal information. The promise of confidentiality is crucial for building a lasting coaching relationship, especially during the prospecting stage.
For additional perspective on this, I reached out via email to Annabelle Beckwith, creative director at Yara Journeys. “Clients need to feel safe when talking about their issues with a potential coaching partner," Beckwith told me. "They’re still trying to get a feel for whether you’ll be a good fit, and as a result, they may not always be willing to go into full detail regarding their current struggles.
"That’s okay. You can promise and deliver on complete confidentiality, but you shouldn’t try to force them to share more than they want to.”
I believe that establishing this standard early on is crucial in setting the tone for your coaching relationship. Entrepreneurs and others looking for a coach need a safe space where they can voice their concerns and receive honest, impartial advice. The goal should be to create a setting like the one entrepreneur Carol Roth wrote about in Entrepreneur:
“Because my coach is a paid advisor and not a friend, he will call me on the few occasions where I need to be called out," Roth wrote. "On the other side of the coin, I am also brutally honest with my coach, because I know that there is no judgment … but I still feel like I have more liberty to deep-dive into the nitty-gritty of my moods, challenges, etc. because I know that he will help me to work through those.”
At the end of the day, trust will be the ultimate measuring stick that determines whether your coaching business will build lasting relationships with a core set of clients or if it will flounder. By building a trustworthy brand that utilizes other key elements of successful coaching, you will find success in this rewarding career.
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