Editor’s Note: For those of you who are coaches, here’s an article about “closing the deal” using your knowledge of the Enneagram.
From Chapter 12 of Mary Bast and Clarence Thomson’s Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram, 4th Edition, soon to appear at Amazon.com in paperback and digital formats.
You’re about to complete your introductory meeting with a potential client and it’s time to “close the sale.” Right? No. Getting someone to pay for your work is not your primary goal in a good coaching session. You’re more authentic and useful to your clients when you fully engage with them. Whether you’re seeking commitment in the first coaching call or hoping to renew their coaching contract, your goal is to build a compelling relationship.
People will contract for coaching because they experience you as competent and caring, and – most important – because you take a step in the very first session to open up their inner universe. They’ll continue to renew because you mirror their patterns and co-create fieldwork that changes the way they view their world. In this article, we concentrate on how to open a relationship so potent, potential clients will convince themselves they want to hire you.
In an introductory meeting you want to get the facts, highlight their needs, imply some solutions, and communicate in a way that assures a positive response:
- Answer their questions about your coaching experience and style if necessary, but make sure they experience being coached by you.
- Be fully present, ask questions, and listen closely. Draw out their description of a problem until it’s specific. Heighten their awareness of the problem, then lead them to a shift in perspective, an “aha” moment.
- Mirror back a shift of any degree (“That was a long pause and a sigh… something got to you there?”), then refer back to it as the call comes to a close. (“I’ve noticed a couple of times that something hit home for you – realizing you sometimes haven’t stood up for yourself, some new thoughts on what’s triggered your anger.”)
- Use open-ended questions that assume they will work with you. (“How do you see yourself benefiting from continued coaching?”)
- If they haven’t convinced themselves within the allotted time, but they’re close, extend the call a bit. People naturally fear change and may wait to bring up a key issue until they think there won’t be time to deal with it.
Mary’s client, Bill, got to the crux of an issue with only five minutes left on the initial call – anger toward the people who’d bought his company. Mary deepened his experience of anger by asking, “Give me an example of the most recent time you felt angry. What was that anger like for you?” She broadened his awareness by asking, “What other situations have triggered your anger? How has it shown up differently with different people?” She then showed Bill how to work with his feelings in a healthy way instead of stifling them or blowing up. When Mary asked, “How shall we move forward from here?” (a positive expectation) he paid for three months in advance.
Think of your initial meeting with a client as an invitation to grow. You do this by laying the groundwork, unearthing fertile soil, and sowing the seeds of change.
Get the Facts
Ask questions that will give you answers about their situation. Go deep enough to identify opportunities for growth. For example, Clarence probed for more facts from a client we’ll call Derek: “You mentioned in your e-mail that your goal is to be the kind of person who appears on Oprah Winfrey. Describe that kind of person. How are you different?”
Derek replied, “I think of somebody who’s a great motivational speaker, like Stephen Covey. I have great thoughts, too, but there’s a block that keeps me from bringing my intelligence forward.”
What Derek stated as “a block” points out an unmet desire. Sometimes clients describe their coaching need as a problem, as Lesley did when she told Mary, “I need to get more business in the next two months or I’m going to go bankrupt.”
Mary thought, Ouch. That’s not much time to help her do what’s necessary. But she trusted if she listened well she’d be able to help. Seeking more facts, she asked, “What do you see as your challenges?”
Lesley responded, “In other markets I’ve been successful in turning cold calls into leads. But this market is based on whom you know, so I’ve had trouble even getting in the door to make my pitch.” Lesley’s perception of the problem was a good start, but Mary kept asking questions until she saw Lesley’s Enneagram pattern more clearly.
Clients may know their Enneagram style. If so, you can ask, “How have those patterns shown up for you?” Keep in mind the low side of their style as the source of possible problems, and what resources their high side offers. You can also use the Enneagram to guide your work if they don’t know their style, or even if they aren’t interested in the Enneagram.
Derek, for example, didn’t know the Enneagram. But he said he hoped to be on the Oprah show and described someone he envied (he didn’t say he was envious; Clarence sensed it from his words and the tone of his voice), so Clarence suspected Derek was a more introverted or withdrawing style, probably style Four (envy is central to Four patterns), but possibly style Nine or Five. Clarence dug a little deeper: “Tell me more about that.”
Derek said, “I have so many ideas, but I seem to be a little out of phase with the world, and I get tired of trying.” This was another clue that he might be style Four – they often feel they’re from another planet.
Clarence considered Four as a working hypothesis and continued unearthing facts: “Have you held your ideas back assuming people weren’t ready for them, or have you offered your ideas and found no one’s interested, or has it been something else?”
Lesley, who was having trouble getting in the door to market her business, knew of the Enneagram but said she was “confounded by her test results.” She thought she might be either style Five or Eight. She added, “My vision was that I could get enough business by force of intention.”
Mary listened to Lesley’s language. “Force of intention” sounded Eight-like. But “confounded” is a word more likely to be used by style Five. She further considered tone of voice, pauses, and pace of speech as Lesley continued, “In the longer run I want to have the option not to work, to get more into my spiritual practice.”
Two points to consider: First, style Eights – who fear being vulnerable – wouldn’t readily discuss their spirituality during an initial call, though it’s possible if they’re very self-aware. Second, Lesley’s statement completely separated spiritual practice from work, which points to style Five’s tendency to compartmentalize. Her words were thoughtful. She paused at some length to think through answers to Mary’s questions. At this point it seemed more likely to Mary that Lesley might be style Five. She didn’t pour this in concrete. She simply operated from it as a possibility.
Notice how we ask open-ended questions to encourage elaboration. If you were operating from a sales mentality, you’d gear all questions to get one answer – the answer you want. In contrast, all the questions we suggest to invite a coaching relationship are open-ended.
In Lesley’s case, the question, “Do you have a mission statement?” would be closed. “Tell me about your mission statement” would be more open, though it could still get a short answer, especially if Lesley didn’t have a mission statement or didn’t yet see the value of having one. We’ve heard clients say, “I never bothered to write it down,” or “I put mine in the drawer a year ago and forgot about it.”
Mary said, instead, “Tell me what you think your business contributes in your industry.” Lesley answered this open-ended statement in detail with facts needed to understand her situation.
Once you’ve identified a problem area, you want to heighten clients’ perception of their need. We’re not suggesting you make them feel worse; rather, to slant your fact-gathering a little to make sure you – and they – are aware of the extent of their needs you might help resolve. Their greater awareness creates more options for both of you. Also, you’ll begin to see glimmers of solutions coaching could offer. But it’s not yet time to share your insights. Continue asking questions that deepen and broaden the areas of potential coaching.
Derek, who wanted to be more like Covey, said, “I have so many great ideas, but they’re not embraced and then I get tired and drop them, switch to something else before I reach success.”
Clarence’s deepening questions included, “When people haven’t embraced your ideas, what have you thought the rejection was based on?” And, “Describe your experience of having been tired.” Clarence also asked a broadening question, “How has feeling tired affected the rest of your life?” And even broader, “In what other ways have you felt blocked?”
With Lesley, whose business was in danger of going bankrupt, Mary asked this deepening question: “Tell me more about the trouble you’ve had getting in the door to talk to clients,” and a broadening question, “How else has your business been jeopardized?” Then, a very broad question: “What else has been going on in your life and work that you’d like to talk about?”
In Chapter 13 of Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram we elaborate on how to focus on solutions, but the short version is this: Speak of problems in the past, solutions in the present and future.
Notice the past tense in, “Describe your experience of having been tired,” “Tell me more about the trouble you’ve had getting in the door to talk to clients,” “What was that anger like for you?”
Once you have the facts and have heightened needs that coaching can satisfy, begin to imply solutions. For example, note the italicized phrases in Bill’s answers to Mary’s questions about his goals for change: “I’d like to go in and make my case in a non-emotional way. When people think, ‘You’re a raving maniac,’ they don’t give me credibility.”
As Mary dug for more facts, deepened and broadened Bill’s perception of need, he added the following: “I can be very expressive and may be over the top in my enthusiasm. My optimistic side has enabled me to bring people along with my ideas, but sometimes I’m overly harsh in my criticism. I’m particularly likely to get angry with people I don’t respect.”
The phrases in italics above contained the seeds of Bill’s wish to change. Mary reflected in a way that implied a solution for him: “So, when you’re enthusiastic without being angry or critical – even with people you don’t respect – you’ll be more credible, better able to make your case, and bring people along with your ideas.” Notice the present and future-oriented language in the implied solution.
Reinforce Signs of Breakthrough
Think of your initial conversation as a process, not a linear, sequential set of steps. You may go back and forth between getting the facts, highlighting needs, and implying solutions. It’s especially important to reinforce signs of breakthrough as they happen.
In person-to-person coaching, you’ll see signs of a shift: their body might relax, they may sit up and look at you more directly, or smile, or look confused. On the phone, you can hear verbal and nonverbal signs. In both cases the client may tell you clearly, “That’s a good question,” meaning, “I’ve never asked myself that question,” or, “I’ve never thought of it that way.” A small shift.
Respond in a way to reflect the possibilities working with you offers: “So that’s a new insight for you.”
The most frequent signal of an “aha” moment over the phone is a perceptible pause in response to a question, often accompanied by a sigh. Sometimes the client’s voice gets noticeably quieter or slower. Or maybe they laugh. Appropriate laughter is often a sign of insight you can reinforce. Inappropriate laughter is also a good cue. Perhaps the person laughs bitterly while talking about feeling discouraged. That opens an opportunity to do some brief coaching then and there. If you’re not sure what’s going on, ask.
In response to Mary’s questions about his anger, Bill relived a recent meeting. As he went further into detail, she could hear him breathing harder into the phone. After mirroring back the thoughts and feelings he described, she joked, “Now let’s stop and talk about your heavy breathing.”
He laughed. “Was it that obvious?” He then shared his sudden realization of how frightened he was of his own anger. Both his laughter and his insight were signs of a breakthrough, and an opportunity to do some on-the-spot coaching. Of all the ground they’d covered, working with his anger and fear seemed most likely to bear some fruit and help him experience Mary’s coaching style.
She said, “Sometimes in coaching, you’ll discover things about yourself that might otherwise remain hidden.” Mary asked him to keep breathing raggedly, to find the place in his body where he most experienced the fear, and to name it.
“It’s in my stomach,” he said, “like a balloon that’s expanding gradually, about to explode.”
“Make it expand a little,” she suggested, “then watch it begin to deflate. Tell me when you feel that shift.”
Presuppose Positive Outcomes
In the previous example, notice Mary’s language: “Sometimes in coaching, you’ll discover things about yourself that might otherwise remain hidden.” She reinforced his discovery and at the same time spoke in a way that implied he would continue with coaching, a presupposition. This is highly influential language. When harnessed, presuppositions create a self-fulfilling expectation of change.
For example, Mary suggested that Bill make the balloon in his stomach “expand a little, then watch it begin to deflate.” She added, “Tell me when you experience that shift.” When, not if. Of course he did experience a physical shift as she suggested he would.
While an immediate outcome of an interaction this powerful may be the decision to hire you, this valuable gift of positive expectation has set the client on a course of change, without or without you, and won’t be forgotten.
It will be easier to refrain from “asking for the sale” if you see yourself and your potential clients as co-creating outcomes with mutual advantage. Offer honest appreciation for what they’ve added to your day, such as, “Thank you for being willing to try that exercise. I feel touched by your reactions.” Or, “Wow, I’m impressed with your readiness to dive in.” Then review what they’ve gained from your time together.
Mary summarized to Bill, “You’ve had some insights about the fear behind your anger, and a chance to experience a shift in your feelings from working with me today.” Most often, clients will agree with this kind of specific observation, as Bill did: “I had no idea we could get this far in a single session.”
Then you can suggest (not ask) that the client continue. Do this with a presuppositional question, one that embeds a positive expectation, however subtle: “How shall we move forward?” or, “What else would help you decide to work with me?”
Respond Creatively to Concerns
If clients aren’t ready to decide at this point, they’ll raise concerns. Factors outside their experience of you as a coach may influence their decision to continue or not, but there are solid practices to relieve their concerns and increase the chances they’ll hire you.
Your knowledge of the Enneagram can help.
- Some styles have trouble making decisions on the spot. In-the-box Nines are notorious for this – they won’t know what they want; so you could summarize what you’ve heard that seem like fruitful goals.
- Style Fives typically want time to think it over; if you’ve guessed the person might have Five patterns, you could suggest a short follow-up session in a few days at no extra charge.
- Style Sixes may set their self-opposition in motion and be unable to trust they’re making the right decision; it could work in your favor to help them get in touch with their gut instinct.
- Style Ones might want assurance the sessions will have enough structure.
- Or Threes might decide more easily if you speak in terms of results.
You can also use a simple creativity technique when potential clients raise concerns:
- Clarify the facts, even broaden and deepen their concern (this takes faith on your part, because their concern is now about hiring you).
A potential client named Shelly told Clarence, “I’ve gotten a lot out of this session and I’d like to work with you, but my children are home for the summer and I know I won’t have time. Besides, I like to relax with them, take the summer off. I’d rather start with you in the Fall.”
- A generic “box” is either/or thinking. In an interior monologue, shift into both/and
Clarence thought, Shelly’s assuming either she has time for coaching or time with her children. Actually, it’s possible to both have her children at home and find time for coaching.
- As you confirm the client’s thoughts and feelings, roll concerns into a statement of possibility. Think of “X” as the problem and “Y” as the possibility. Ask, “How can you do both X and Y?”
Clarence asked Shelly, “How can you sustain the momentum you gained in this session while still relaxing with your kids?”
The example above illustrates a common barrier: other demands on a client’s time. Financial concerns are another reason people balk at committing to coaching. If they bring up cost as an issue, one of two scenarios is probably in operation:
- They had financial constraints coming in but hoped the session would be of such value, they’d find the money somehow – perhaps rethinking their budget.
If this is the case, then raising money as a barrier could be an excuse to avoid saying your process didn’t match their expectations. You can check this out by asking an open-ended question: “Tell me two things you wanted in this session that haven’t yet happened.”
No matter how good you are, it simply isn’t possible to always meet everyone’s needs. If they’re disappointed but don’t say so, they aren’t ready to tell the truth and may not be coachable at this point. Be willing to let go.
- They really want to work with you but don’t think they can afford it.
You can presume a positive outcome by saying something like this: “You feel good about some significant insights and you’d like my coaching to help build your business, but you’re feeling a financial pinch. So let’s think together how we can move forward in a way that makes coaching a value to your business.” Notice we don’t recommend saying, “What will be the losses to you if you don’t invest in coaching?” Keep your emphasis on possibilities.
If your instinct tells you they’re just too broke, suggest free services you know about for business development, some possible barter opportunities, or other resources in their own community. This is honorable, and will be appreciated. You never know how this good deed will circle back to you. We’ve also on occasion tailored our services to offer options that fit a variety of budgets.
At any rate, all you can do is give them the best coaching experience you’re able to give, offer your honest opinion about what can be accomplished with you, and then be willing to let go if it’s not the right time or the right match.