Traditional Sales Calls Don’t Work for Coaches, But What Does? By Kerri Salls

In classic sales training, we learn that there are five simple steps to selling. If you follow the steps, you get the sale. They are:

  • Opening the call
  • Investigating needs
  • Giving benefits
  • Handling objections
  • Closing the sale

But as some coaches have been so vocal to bemoan, they aren't getting sales using this approach. So what's happening? If coaches are selling a big ticket item, like an executive coaching program or an assessment program for a corporate management team, the selling cycle no longer fits the traditional model.

The selling cycle for business coaching has four characteristics that make traditional selling techniques ineffective:

  1. Length of Selling Cycle
    The selling cycle may require many calls or connections. Multiple sales calls have a completely different psychology from a simple single-call product sale.
  2. Size of Customer Commitment
    Large purchases involve bigger decisions. This alters the psychology of the sale. As the size of the sale increases, successful salespeople must build the perceived value of the service.
  3. Relationships
    Most large sales involve an ongoing relationship with the customer. This is where multiple offerings that represent different pricing levels, what some call your "marketing funnel," come in handy. Why? They must get to know, like and trust you before they will invest greater time and money in your offer.
  4. Risk/Return/Resistance
    In small sales, customers can afford to take more risks and try something new on the spot. Consider offering something of value, like an e-book or teleclass, for less than $50 on your Web site. The consequence of that risk is relatively low. Each larger purchase represents a bigger decision and a more significant risk. The perceived value of a $250 program package and the pain it will solve must be more explicit, it must be targeted and it must promise greater results. When you expand that to a $999 package or a contracted fee for $5,000 to $10,000, the customer becomes more cautious with each increase in the size of the decision you are asking them to make.

You Need Different Selling Skills For Major Coaching Sales

There are four distinct stages of a sales call when dealing with the large sale. This simple model was developed by Neil Rackham in the book SPIN Selling and became the foundation for the Huthwaite Corporation's research and training services.

In large sales, preliminaries do NOT have the influence on success that they do in small sales. The more senior the people you are selling your coaching to, the more they feel their time is at a premium. So your objective in the preliminaries is simply to get the customer's permission to move to the next stage.

This involves asking lots of questions, collecting data, uncovering needs, and understanding the customer and their organization. In fact, for higher value selling, investigating is the most important of all selling skills and can increase the overall sales volume by more than 20%.

Success in larger sales like coaching depends on how you handle this stage. Successful calls entail asking a lot more questions than we were trained to ask in traditional selling. Uncovering implicit and explicit needs is the sole objective of the Investigating stage of the call. This is where you build the relationship before the sale is made.

Demonstrating Capability
There is no surprise here--you must demonstrate to each prospect that you have something worthwhile to offer. You must prove that your solution will address each customer's unique problems. Selling a solution is not the same as rattling off a list of features and benefits. Connect with their pain and offer a solution that makes you exceptionally qualified to meet their need.

Obtaining Commitment
Obtaining commitment is not the same as your classic closing script. Remember, the bigger the decision and the more sophisticated the buyer, the more negatively they generally react to pressure and closing techniques.

In larger sales, there may be a whole range of other commitments you must obtain before you reach the order stage for your coaching program. Your call objective may be to get the customer's agreement to attend a teleclass or workshop. Larger sales contain a number of intermediate steps. Rackham calls these steps "Advances": they advance the customer's commitment toward the final decision.

Next Steps to Get it Right

What I've described is only theory until you put it into practice. Here are four rules for learning any new sales skills:

  1. Practice Only One Behavior at a Time
    Focus on one new thing at a time.
    For example, work on asking more and better questions of prospects.
  2. Try the New Behavior at Least Three Times
    Never judge whether a new behavior is effective until you've tried it at least three times.
    For example, focus on a specific Advance (e.g., subscribing to your newsletter, attending a teleclass, working with a specific assessment tool) you want as an outcome from your calls.
  3. Quantity before Quality
    When you are practicing, concentrate on quantity and you'll get the results you're looking for. Use a lot of the new behavior. Don't worry about how smooth it is; use it often enough and the quality will look after itself.
    For example, if you are learning to connect with the client's pain to offer a solution you may get tongue-tied as you develop the conversation down new unscripted paths. Do it anyway.
  4. Practice in Safe Situations
    Always try out new behaviors in safe situations until they feel comfortable. Don't use important prospects to practice new skills.

Try just one of these ideas and see if it improves your prospecting results and lead conversion for your high end offerings. My experience has been that if you apply this unique selling cycle strategy in your coaching practice, you will see more doors open and more clients moving deeper into your marketing funnel.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Spring Issue 2005, Volume 1, Issue 3). Copyright 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.


Lee, Andrea. Multiple Streams of Coaching Income. (2005).

Rackham, Neil. SPIN Selling. (1988). McGraw-Hill.
Kerri Salls, MBA, founded Breakthrough Business Enterprise to train, consult, and coach business owners, CEOs and sole proprietors on how to create more profit in less time. She publishes Breakthrough Success, a weekly e-zine that provides tips, tools and ideas for leadership. Kerri may be reached by email at kerri@breakthrough-business-school.com.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

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