In 1999, I was encouraged by some friends to take a class about personal growth and transformation. During the class, I couldn’t help but notice when a certain gorgeous woman stood up to share something.
During one of the breakout sessions, I ended up sitting next to this particular woman. Normally I have no problem thinking up things to say, even regarding topics that I know very little about. However, under the extreme pressure of sitting next to such an attractive woman, I was rendered speechless. The only thing I could think of saying was, “Did you know that your pager is going off in your purse?”
The little common sense I had remaining told me that that line wasn’t going to win the day. So the session ended with me not saying a single word to her.
To make a long story short, that gorgeous woman ultimately became my wife. We have been happily married for the past 13 years and have two rambunctious young boys who are teaching us a lot about being grown-ups.
After our first son was born, I was telling a friend—one of the friends who had encouraged me to register for the class to start with—about how I had sat next to Denise during the second day of class but didn’t have anything slick or suave to say to her.
Retrospection being highly accurate, he suggested that I should have said something like, “I know you don’t know me, but how would you like to have kids together?”
Hmmm… Single guys out there reading this, don’t try this one out. At least, if you do, don’t blame me for your dismal results!
The other day, I was speaking with a colleague about the challenges of getting clients. She shared an experience she had had earlier in the day: Someone she had just met had immediately started a sales pitch. To my colleague, it felt like an attempt to pressure her into buying something. My colleague has a lot of past experience with sales and immediately knew what was going on.
Another misguided attempt to “close” a buyer without taking time to build rapport.
Her story reminded me about my experience of meeting Denise.
I still shake my head in disbelief when I see so many entrepreneurs out there trying to go back and close a sale almost literally after the first handshake. That’s the business equivalent of saying:
I know we just met, but how would you like to get married and have kids together?
I’m not saying you have to take things slow as molasses, but I do recommend that you take whatever time is necessary to get into the other person’s world. Learn about them. Ask questions and listen for problems, issues, challenges, and frustrations. Listen for ways you might be able to provide suggestions or resources, or otherwise provide something of value in an unimposing, nonthreatening, nonsalesy way.
Over the years, I’ve come across a number of people who teach how to get clients by offering a complimentary strategy session, with the primary aim of having the client work with you or otherwise buy something from you.
This approach can certainly work. I used it for the first two years of my coaching practice. But I found it incredibly inefficient, as I wasted a lot of time doing these complimentary strategy sessions with people who I just wasn’t going to be able to work with effectively.
“If only I had a way to screen these people out!” I lamented.
I started tinkering with my approach to the early phases of engaging with potential clients.
Along the way, I wondered why so many coaches, consultants, and therapists just jump right in to working with their clients without so much as a plan, other than: “Let’s get started right away. We can schedule our first session next week.”
Instead of leaping from “just met you” to “let’s jump in bed together,” I teach all my coaching clients to offer a planning session as the next step after the initial “getting to know you” session.
Here’s the common approach:
Informal conversation => complimentary strategy session (a disguised sales session) => sign up client
Now, here’s the approach I recommend:
Informal conversation => screening questionnaire => complimentary discovery session => complimentary (or paid) strategic planning session
While there’s an extra step in the sequence I recommend, I’ve found in my own experience and that of my clients that taking this added step is going to increase your conversion rates significantly when it comes to longer-term, higher-paying clients. And it’s a more natural progression for your clients, making it easier for them to say yes.