You know that feeling when you realize someone approaching you is about to sell something?
Your fists clinch. You grit your teeth. You’re angry about the whole situation because now you have to do the awkward thing almost no one enjoys doing – figure out how to say no and get out of this situation. (and reassess your whole friendship)
So now when it comes to offering your own services as a coach, you find yourself stuck between the place of wanting to enroll clients…but not wanting to be the jerkhead salesly person.
A lot of coaches face this problem…and a lot of marketers claim to have the answer.
They’ll teach you how to conduct these talks, anticipate rejections, respond to money fears, bypass someone’s first (second and third) no…and to do it in a way that you’re supposedly helping someone overcome their mindset and say yes to themselves.
So it’s like coaching, right?
In fact, most advice you’re going to get is still closer to sleaze and SHAME based marketing.
We’ve all most likely experienced it done TO us and have possibly taken part in it as coaches.
But it’s important to have some context, so today I have a story…
FIRST, don’t discard the following DISCLAIMER:
Check yourself if you find you’re simply judging and distancing from ever being capable of what I’m about to share…or ever finding yourself in such a situation.
Notice where you feel better knowing your marketing strategies are at least not that bad.
Or where it seems so ridiculous, you’re beyond this.
There’s a lesson in here for everyone offering any kind of service online or offline…but I’m particularly talking to health coaches, because that’s who I spend most of my time with.
Alix and I attended a vacation package presentation we (apparently) won at a Pride festival. Apparently, because I’m 90 percent positive that “wheel of fortune” was rigged.
But it said we won, we’d get the 3 nights stay in a fancy resort, and all we had to do was go to … a meeting
We knew what it was, but call us curious.
Yes, going in, this was likely going to be an annoyingly aggressive sales pitch in an attempt to get us to buy their bigger thing…we were absolutely prepared for some silliness.
I mean…these are not the kind of people who promise a free vacation without a catch.
We also wanted to see how they’d approach selling their “couple’s package” to us.
Seemed worth a handful of nights in a decent hotel.
They BEYOND met our expectations, on the over the top sales presentation.
Off. The. Charts.
And the following story with be fun for you.
It may lead to the urge to also throw things…so maybe move away from any dangerous objects.
The Day of…
From the moment we walked in the building, people, smiles, loud music, and non-stop talking and questioning were launched our way. We were still trying to process the fact that each salesperson we met looked dressed for a beach vacation, while they’re actually preparing for a day of sales in an air conditioned building.
They needed to sell that vacation feeling. So I guess they do it by going with the whole “I’m trying to be a cool dad who tells embarrassing dad jokes to every server in a restaurant while my kids look for a hiding place of shame under the table” look.
Not judging at all (maybe a little). . . but they were basically my dad 15 years ago in an untucked button down flowery shirt that they just can’t figure out how to tuck in, wrinkled khakis, and white socks pulled way too high. Picture it?
It didn’t take long to figure out that Alix and I were the only (obviously) queer couple in a room full of couples. As an interracial, same-sex couple, when we walk into a new room full of people we don’t know, we instinctively approach the setting with caution (especially with out and proud white supremacists groups taking to the streets in that area more recently). We may or may not feel comfortable holding hands or kissing. We also do NOT perform affection.
It’s not about fear of disapproval or our internalized shame. It’s about safety, first and foremost. Vancouver also happens to be the home of a pretty large group of so-called proud boys (racists and nazis)…so yeah…safety first. Like, are we safe here or is someone going to follow us out to the parking lot?
So knowing that, we’re always a little bit on edge when we walk into a new room.
Now, here comes the “sales attack.”
Sales strategy attack number one: Make us think we aren’t a happy couple
Our “lack of affection” was pointed out to us right away by the salesperson assigned to sit at our table.
Her: Ooooh, look at you two, so cute. But look how far away you’re sitting from each other. Oh, Gary (her boss) is going to notice that and give you a hard time about it. He reads body language you know. He can tell how happy a couple is just by reading their body language.
Us: (blank stares)
Her angle: imply we are an unhappy couple because, therefore, it will validate their sales pitch about vacation packages solving relationship slumps or woes. We would hear much more about this later.
After she brought it up a few more times, and then called over Gary to get him to badger us about the same damn thing, I finally said…
“We’re a queer couple who has learned to feel out a room before we’re openly affectionate. We don’t know people here.” Their unsolicited analysis on the status of our relationship wasn’t exactly inviting us to relax.
That should’ve been the end of that. That should’ve been all she needed to hear. I was basically giving her an out on this sleazy sales pitch where they already made up the objections before talking to us. We could’ve opened the table for some honest talk.
She launched a counter offensive…(or whatever it’s called. I don’t know how to use war lingo)
In response to the information I gave about affection and our comfort level in that room, she, well, she didn’t respond.
Nope. She just kept on talking.
By this time, Alix has her arms crossed, her body leaned as far away from the table as possible, and zero interest shown. Supposed body language experts though, right?
She’d ask one question “how many kids do you have?”
Then, “how old are they?” “girls?” “awwwwww”
and then before we could get into that topic, she’d follow with
“where did you drive from?” “wow so far”
“how long have you been together?” “oh wow, just that long, you should be all over each other then.”
“how often do you travel?”
“who pays for your travel?”
“what do you do?”
We got it. She was gleaning information to set up her “pitch.”
But her shallow level of speed questioning only left us dizzy and irritated and gave her no insight into who we really are, what we care about, and why we would be interested in being in this room to learn about vacation packages in the first place.
Sales strategy attack number three: Flattery and division
At some point, this salesperson made what seemed a conscious decision to focus on just me. Here’s the outrageous part: Alix is the one in the relationship who is the most passionate about travel, vacations, and staying in really cool places. (If they had slowed down to talk WITH us, they would’ve figured this out) ALSO – If they had had an amazing presentation on just vacations alone and talked with BOTH of us, they have no idea how easy this conversation could’ve been.
But there was no conversation. She continued talking at me and tossing in awkward compliments here and there.
She was now ignoring Alix, who has equal say in our decisions about something like this. The music is playing LOUDLY in the background, and other sales people are talking 100 mph at their couples, my head was spinning. I knew to expect some sleaze, but this felt like psychological warfare.
At this point, we were holding hands under the table as more of a “we will get out of this room alive” gesture.
Sales strategy attack number four: Seem really generous and important
It was now time for the official presentation by bossman Gary. If you could take the outrageous in-your-face energy of every sales person in that room and bottle it up, that’s what Gary drank before turning on his Powerpoint.
Here is a rough recap of his intro:
“Alright, let’s do this! Now I normally give a 90 minute presentation folks, but if we do this right and you participate loudly, I can get you out of here in TWENTY MINUTES (LIIIIES). That’s right. You see, my head is already on the fancy hotel I’m about to fly off to right after this presentation. I actually own this very vacation package I’m going to tell you about and, woooweeee, I’m off on another vacation” (something like that.)
But there’s more: “now, I’m going to make sure you leave this room with something because, what do they call me??” And together all the sales folks shout in unison “GIVEAWAY GARY!!”
I almost lost my coffee all over table. Now Alix and I are writing notes back and forth to each other about this whole thing because it’s just so silly.
So here’s his story: vacation packages fixed his marriage, people without vacation packages have crappy marriages.
Here’s another layer to the story: any other kind of travel or getting any kind of help is less than and only cool, superior people have vacation packages. (he had a lot to say against Airbnb…)
I’m going to circle back to that, so it’s important to note that Giveaway Gary (or #GG as our business coach, Lena West, brilliantly named him) first planted that seed with everyone in the room.
He told us a story about how he gave his son and his son’s new wife some points to use for their honeymoon, to go on a dream vacation.
His son comes back and says “dad, we ended up buying into our own package!”
Stunned, his supposed son responded, “dad, it will only take us 5 years to pay it off and own it ourselves AND we feel better knowing it’s something we put our OWN money into!”
What a great (fictional?) son.
Moral of the story: only happy couples travel, only vacation packages give them the incentive to do that more often, and only good people buy their own (because we all want to be good folks).
The sad thing is, the actual package itself sounded alright. It wasn’t a high price tag for what it was, and the concept of it made sense. The sales strategy turned us off more than the actual product.
But I also know it was working and that it was effective, because the couple two tables to our left had already bought theirs, and, I understood. They were teachers who wanted to make more time for travel and each other.
But we couldn’t shake off the feeling that our actual desires and needs as a couple were unimportant from the moment they focused in on our lack of performing affection, something we do not struggle with.
Sales strategy attack number five: Disorient with fancy paperwork and non-stop talking
Our speed talking salesperson returned from what seemed out of nowhere and planted herself right across from us. She launched into her pitch about how she was going to make sure we were the first couple to sign up and pour the champagne.
I LOVE champagne, but not like this.
She just started talking. And talking. And talking. And grabbing bits and pieces of information about us that she had fished from her basic level interview before the presentation.
She also asked “who makes the financial decisions in the relationship?” I wondered to myself if we had been a heterosexual couple, if she would’ve just focused in on the man. #bias
….my guess is she was regretting being assigned to this “gender not normal” couple (as Hannah Gadsby would say). How else could she leverage gender roles and bias to make this pitch?
Now, let me say again, the vacation package itself sounded A-okay. They just had to rub a layer of slime all over it and devalue something that may have had value for us if they would’ve just approached this as a conversation…not a battle.
I had some questions for her about taxes and prices and I could tell she wasn’t used to so much time not being the one talking.
….so of course, she grabbed Giveaway Gary.
Every time I had a question, they found a side route around it. How could these body language experts not feel the tension?
At this point, we were asking them to give us my ID back, and their sideways strategy of answering that simple request with more stalling, more loud noises, more distractions, had exhausted our patience.
I agreed to step out to call my mom with a few questions. I was having a deja vu feeling about the name of this vacation package…which was validated when she reminded me that she and my dad went to this very meeting and actually purchased a membership AND PUT OUR NAMES ON IT!
I think, this is it. They’ll hand back our ID’s, stop pressing us on all the reasons that we need this thing, give us our free nights in the hotel they promised, and we’d be out of there in no time.
Sales strategy attack number six: Isolate so the customer feels wrong (and everyone else thinks they are)
I come back from this phone call and Alix is gone. So are Giveaway Gary and our salesperson. A new salesperson finds me and directs me to a back room.
A BACK ROOM.
Apparently, we are now in timeout, when they could’ve just let us go.
There’s Alix, sitting in some kind of cubicle…alone.
I tell her what I found out, that we should be able to get out of there now, and then ask “wtf are you back here for?”
They claimed they led her to this secret back room where it was more quiet. In other words, they wanted to get the irritated couple out of plain sight. Not to mention the implications of leading the only black woman in there to the BACK OF THE ROOM???
We’re packing up our things, waiting for someone to come back with our stuff, ready to explain we don’t need this and are out of there. . . when Giveaway Gary returns. You’d think that’d be the end of it, but they aren’t done with these sales strategies.
Sales strategy attack number seven: Never relent and make sure the customer knows that only you know what’s best for them.
Alix tells #GG and the other salesperson that my mom owns the package, we are on it, and it’s time to go.
Rather than everyone just having a good collective chuckle, possibly apologizing for shitty behavior, and saying, “Oh yeah, ha ha. You’re already a member.”
…They did not relent. All they can see are $$$$$$$
They took it as an opportunity to explain why we needed to buy our OWN package. #ladywejustsaidwehaveone
The salesperson assigned to us responds (roughly this): “Well, you don’t want to be going to mommy every time you want to go on vacation and ask for her points. Wouldn’t you rather be using your OWN hard-earned dollars to go on a vacation? Wouldn’t you be more likely to go on this vacation if you were spending your own money on it?”
My mouth fell open and slapping someone wasn’t off the table.
They had shamed a relationship they knew nothing about.
They had shamed our relationship to how we choose to spend money.
And they had completely disregarded that we had said more than once, “We are not doing this.”
AND, as I start to respond SHE WALKS AWAY, claiming to go get something.
Alix handed me the car keys and told me to get it started, she’d get the ID and everything else.
I walked through the room where all the other couples were sitting to the faint voice of the salesperson complaining to #GG.
Instead of coming straight back with our ID’s, they left Alix sitting there a while longer.
Forgetting that a cubicle is not a separate room and not exactly sound proof, the one speed talking salesperson whispered to #GG, “Oh my gosh! She just left!”
To which he, in earshot of Alix, responded: “Shhhhh! The other ONE is still in here.” The other one? Meaning what?
They would still truly take a shot at trying to sell something, anything, to Alix.
And they sent 3 people her way to try.
Alix had to tell them to STOP talking in order to communicate that we wanted to go, and that we just wanted the ID back and what they promised.
Not only did she need to tell one person to stop talking, she had to tell three people to stop talking: because the one person who didn’t have success with her sent another person, who then sent another person.
So by the time we get out to the car and were debriefing what happened, it’s just kind of comical as much as it is infuriating.
She finally got what she asked for back + a few extra gift certificates to go with the free hotel package.
….but they were embarrassed, they had failed to win this sales war, and they were concerned with one thing: LOOKING GOOD
So, because my leaving the room had set off some concerns, after returning our things, they actually guided Alix out a BACK DOOR.
A BACK FUCKING DOOR.
Instead of an apology, accountability, they offer a “calm down gift” and a back door to keep their image nice and cool as the beach vacation Giveaway Gary is pretending he’s going to right after this mess.
Let’s Talk About This:
For us, as a couple, we’re taking up some of the glaring issues with them. BUT, for us as a couple who works, consults with, and supports health coaches, we don’t want to throw away a discussion.
This experience was shameful and ridiculous, right?
It feels too off the charts to be anything that any of us would think of stooping to.
BUT here’s the truth. Every salesperson in there, even foolish #GG himself, is following a training and script.
Let’s look at all these sales strategies and self-reflect here:
Sales Strategy One: Make the customer/client feel as though their life isn’t happy enough, good enough, successful enough, etc. (e.g.: You must not be a happy couple)
In this story, they needed us to believe our relationship was not thriving and would fail without more vacations. They also needed us to believe WE were failures if we didn’t invest OUR money into it. (2 angles of shame)
Think about everything you’ve been told about strategy calls…or consults…or “free” coaching sessions which are actually enrollment calls.
Think about client avatar exercises (ideal client questions).
You’re supposed to list out what this ideal client wants, desires, and fears…and speak to that right out of the gate.
The idea is that you offer the solution to their pain (that you made up and need them to believe). Example: vacations are a solution to a troubled relationship
The problem with this is…you start these conversations on a pedestal of assumptions.
You read what happened when they assumed they knew what Alix and I needed in our relationship, even when we tried to explain our experience going into towns that have white supremacists running for office and why that impacts how we show up in a room of people we don’t know anything about. (This brings up a whole different discussion on just being a lot more fucking aware of social issues, gender bias, race, homophobia, etc)
IMAGINE if they had sat and listened to this part of our story. IMAGINE if someone had said “that’s awful, do you want to tell me more about that?” IMAGINE if they had taken the time to hear why travel for us isn’t the same as travel for a cishet couple where both partners are white. IMAGINE if they talked with us, instead of at us.
They operated under the assumption that they needed us to believe their sales pitch rather than listening for where their service might actually meet a desire or true pain point for us.
Because the truth is…we love to travel and it’s our goal to carve out many more vacations in our future.
But before we go anywhere, we do research. We find out what spaces are queer friendly. We look into the political climate. We look into the diversity of the area. We are more discerning for a reason…especially when the kids are going to be with us.
And if they had listened to that part of our story, can you imagine?
If they had taken the time to educate themselves on all of these issues, they could’ve even prepared a list of all of their vacation packages that would meet that criteria…where we could feel more at ease and also respected by the people helping us get there.
So back to us as coaches.
How much time do you spend trying to think of how you can convince people they need your service? How many business coaches have focused solely on the possible pain points and then how to get people attached to those pain points from a place shame and needing fixed?
What if, instead, consults and strategy calls and sales pages were led without assumptions.
I assure you, when you let go of convincing and make space for connecting and conversing with others, you won’t need those strategies.
Sales strategy two: Don’t let them ask too many questions
Remember the salesperson who kept talking and talking and talking AT us?
Here’s how it relates to the coaching industry…
Most marketing programs targeted at coaches teach you to run “strategy sessions” and even position them as a free coaching call.
However, you’re not supposed to let them take over the call with all their “questions.”
And don’t actually offer any free coaching…because then they “get” you.
Sounds cynical, but not far off from the advice given. I talk to a lot of new health coaches whose heads are spinning after a few of these kinds of courses, wondering just how much they’re supposed to “give away” and how much to “withhold.”
In other words, the person you’re talking to is already seen as the enemy, there to “win” the sales call and gather as much free advice as possible…which makes sense considering you probably positioned this as a free coaching call, but whatever.
The truth is, most of the new coaches I talk to WANT to answer questions and offer insight and do so without feeling they have to withhold.
The way sales are taught though, we’re supposed to create an illusion of free value and then try to control the conversation to lead that person into the sale.
It’s bait and switch, and you do NOT have to take part.
If in doubt, always choose honesty about what you’re doing.
The more transparent you are, the more the other person can relax.
You can say “hey, this is a quick consult so I can get an idea of what’s going on for you, you can hear more about what I do, and we can both make a decision about working together.” You don’t have to hide the offer until the end. It’s weird, and everyone knows it’s coming.
Trust yourself and trust that others value your PROFESSIONAL service enough invest if it’s the right move for them.
This goes back to the timeless advice that you really don’t have to convince.
Sales strategy three: Flattery and division
Somewhere along the way, our salesperson had decided to narrow in on me in hopes that I would be the one to make the final decision. Her approach was to build me up.
How is this relevant to us as coaches?
We want to build trust, right? One way people think they do that is by offering lots of compliments and letting the other person know they’re on their side…and their ready to listen for the points where that person’s significant other may be “holding them back” from this investment.
Does this scene sound at all familiar?
“I am interested in doing your program, I just need to talk to my husband/wife.”
Sure, they could be possibly looking for an out and struggling to just say no. Let them have the out.
OR, they could legitimately need to talk to their spouse because they make financial decisions together.
Either way, that’s not our business nor an invitation to counter…but we’re taught to!
I knew a business coach who would teach health coaches to say “Do you let your spouse make all of your health decisions for you? Is it his body? You deserve this! Do this for yourself.”
Flattery: You deserve this! Do this for yourself.
Division: Do you let your spouse make all of your health decisions for you?
Implication: Your spouse is the enemy, I’m on your side, you know you want to do this.
Truth: It feels like a punch in the gut and it’s another way of overriding someone’s no. It also assumes, like the salesperson we encountered assumed, that you know better than they do about their relationship and financial decisions.
Unless you actually know this person, truly know what’s going on for them, and have the rapport to talk with them about their relationship…don’t.
Sales strategy four: Seem really generous and important
Freebies, free sessions, get your free PDF, free, free, free.
That words gets tossed around a lot…it can feel like a lure. We absolutely felt the lure of the free nights stay.
We as people LOVE free things, and we also feel a sense of obligation to the person who gives..and anticipation that there will be a catch. So, in sales, the idea is that by giving someone free “value,” they will feel more inclined to say yes. (And of course hopefully like your thing and want more of it.)
In our sales experience, free was the ticket in. And Gary literally calls himself “Giveaway Gary.”
In coaching, there’s constant debate about how much to “give away.” Some say produce as much content as possible so people will feel a sense of loyalty to you and have a sense of who you are.
Others say to hold back on giving solutions and to tease with content as much as possible.
Over 5 years ago I had my first experience with upsells in the coaching industry and haven’t forgotten how it felt by the time I realized what was happening. It starts with a free course which makes you believe you have just enough of a problem that you now need the paid course which will solve the problem.
Then you get into the course which really hammers home how much you need to uplevel on this problem and the only way to do that is a coaching call…
On the coaching call, there was no coaching. It was a sales call into the $30,000 mastermind.
In this case, I was the prey getting lured closer and closer to the BIG payday trap.
The exasperating part was, the problem only seemed to get bigger so I would feel I really needed that big ticket item.
And so “Free Coaching” means no coaching at all, and it’s FAR too common in the coaching industry.
There are truly great free coaching sessions offered out there.
BUT most of the time, these are strategy calls with a strategy to sell.
The moment you step into this kind of deception about what you’re doing is the moment you jeopardize trust and start to feel the stink of that sleaze.
Again, fall back on “am I being transparent” and “I don’t have to convince.”
Sales strategy five: Disorient
In our story, our salesperson used every power she had to distract us, disorient us with questions, and flash various promises advertised on so many forms our way.
It truly is disorienting and I can’t think of a better word for it.
In coaching, this shows up a LOT on “strategy calls” and in live events where a big pitch is coming.
This is when the coach really starts to sell the dream, paint the picture of what’s possible, and not slow down long enough to hear doubts, questions, or basic concerns.
…or the person’s no.
Why do I think of Tony Robbins when I picture this? I’ve never actually witnessed him do a sales call, but I’ve seen him pull some outrageous stunts on his audience members, leaving everyone in the room thinking they NEED his higher state. The one time I witnessed an audience member question him on something, he bullied and intimidated her and it ended up a viral video on Facebook.
Don’t stand on this pedestal, it’s not needed, and it almost always crumbles.
Sales strategy six: Isolate
In the story, they moved us to their little cubicle (but didn’t give up.)
In the online coaching world, let’s call this deleting/blocking/and discrediting the person who raised concerns.
Yes, there are some nightmare customer service complaints that make your jaw drop and you have no idea how to respond. There are some people who will bully YOU and also hurt and attack your community. There are people who will violate your community standards and boundaries.
But, there are also enough examples of when a person has a legitimate concern and raises that concern with you.
You have a few options:
- Hear them out, self-reflect, accept accountability, learn and state how you plan to do better
- Delete, block, discredit them.
If you promised someone a free coaching call, and they get the feeling it’s not that and that there isn’t coaching taking place, what do you do?
I’ve seen coaches actually block and discredit that person in their Facebook groups and on social media. It becomes more about protecting one’s reputations and future potential sales with other people, and coming out looking like the person attacked.
But if you weren’t transparent and didn’t deliver what you promised, there is no attack in a verbalized concern or call out.
Own up to it if it’s happened.
And let’s all do better.
Sales strategy seven: KEEP SELLING
In our story, they just didn’t quit. It took Alix standing up and saying “stop talking” for them to finally give up and give our things back.
The unrelenting counter to someone’s no is widespread in the coaching industry.
And, health coaches, we can cause real harm when we do this.
Think about that person who plays the guilt trip anytime you say no or that you don’t want to do something.
Notice how your kids react when other adults keep pressuring them to do something or learn something even when they’ve made it real clear they’re not interested.
Think about that person on the dance floor you told to back off 10 minutes ago, and he keeps coming back.
I once had a guy follow me home in Paris for 1 full mile. When I told him “J’ai un copain” (because I sucked at saying outright NO), he still kept on the pressure.
That feeling is the feeling other people get when all of their reasons for not being sure about your thing are bypassed. And, if you’re having to do this, you did not put connection and conversation first.
Push pause, and reflect on where things went that direction.
Because when you’re talking WITH someone, the convincing energy doesn’t have to show up.
We can all do better by each other in this world. And health coaches, the work you do with others is vulnerable and part of an industry that already lies, deceives, and exploits beauty standards to get people to throw money at as many fixes as possible.
Disrupt this system.
I work predominantly with coaches who have training in and specialize in a more holistic approach that considers the whole person for that reason: it is needed!
We need those of you who truly understand how to hold space for other humans’ experiences and how to support them into self-awareness, self-love, body acceptance, self-care, all of it.
Don’t take yourself out of this industry, please, just because it feels gross and impossible to sell your services.
And don’t kick yourself for possibly trying any of the above because that was a the script you were taught.
The most amazing health coaches I know didn’t set out to be the best marketers. It isn’t fair that you would have to be in order to reach and impact the people you most want to work with.
No, I haven’t forgotten how hard it was to get started. It was a nightmare for me to be honest. And I took too many damn courses on how to stop the nightmare in the beginning rather than paying attention to the experience I was getting with the few clients I had at the time.
Step-by-step formulas and sales scripts did not build my practice and figure out what I do well, and this is the busiest I’ve ever been, ever. (working on decreasing the busy part, yes, but I love what happens in the one-on-one work)
It was scary AF, not going to lie. But, some sense of flow only came through letting go and trusting that I could just keep showing up and putting out there what I do best, and the work would come.
This is about trusting in yourself and in others – that when you show up genuinely and put connection first, there’s room for so so so much more ease. (not that it’s always easy)
This, the connection and trust part, MUST come before branding, niching down, and ideal client avatar exercises, IF you want to do this the way you came to do it: to be of service to others and get really tuned into how you coach and how to do it even better.