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Coach’s Diary: When Less is More


Olivia Stefanino turns her attention this week to helping a fellow coach hone his business skills.

One of the traps many therapists and coaches fall into is telling potential clients how they do what they do – rather than focusing on how what they do can benefit the client. Learn from John, a highly experienced salesman with more than 20 years’ experience who was finding things less easy than he’d expected.

John’s passion, he told me over a mug of coffee, was helping others realise their dreams. Having invested a substantial amount of time and money in honing his coaching skills, John knew that he was in a great position to make a success of his new venture – not least because of his own considerable sales experience.

However, his initial enthusiasm a year ago was now being tempered by frustration at his own lack of success. He smiled at the irony that as a coach who had helped others in the past, he was unable to work his magic on his own enterprise.

John’s difficulty was signing up new clients. A highly energetic and charismatic man, his enthusiasm was infectious - and most prospective clients with whom he spoke expressed an interest in signing up with his coaching practice. However, in spite of their promises, John found that most people didn’t follow up their initial commitment – and he was at a loss to know why.

I smiled in recognition of John’s dilemma – for it was a problem that I too had encountered. I asked John to role-play a sales conversation with me, so that I could see whether he had fallen into the same trap as me.

Immediately, John launched into his presentation – in which he told me how he would go about helping me fulfil my ambitions. As he warmed to his theme, John started to tell me about the different methodologies that he would use to ensure my success. He told me all about his studies – and his fascination and enthusiasm for his subject was both clear and contagious.

I stopped him mid-flow and gently told him that he was getting carried away with the content of what he had to offer – rather than the benefits his clients would receive.

As we chatted, we agreed that to be a successful sales person, you really need to believe in your product or service. However, a deep love of the subject, John was beginning to see, could sometimes get in the way of the sales process.

While John had believed in everything that he sold during his successful career in the financial services sector, he hadn’t been so enthusiastic about the subject that he’d gone into unnecessary detail about the history and methodology behind each product with his clients.

“Most of your potential coaching clients – while professing an interest in what you do, really don’t care how you help them achieve their goals, they just want to know that you can help them achieve success,” I said.

John nodded as I continued: “Most people feel more comfortable knowing that there’s a process that you’ll apply to their coaching programme – and that there will be a beginning and end to the relationship. Equally, while you may expand their comfort zones when you’re working with them, your prospective clients need to feel that they’re safe with you before they sign up.”

Seeing clearly where he’d been going wrong, John’s relief was palpable. By using his old sales skills to “sell the sizzle and not the sausage”, John’s new business venture would soon be firmly on the road to success.

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power” at


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