The Coach Approach to Sales

For effective sales conversations, coaches can utilize competencies already learned and continually honed over their career. Leveraging these skills enables us to have natural and effective sales conversations without any concern for being pushy or aggressive. If the markers for PCC and MCC ICF Credential designations are reframed slightly, they can also serve as markers for top consultative selling discussions.

For example, less practiced coaches often ask transactional, surface-level questions around “what” a client brings to a coaching session. PCC and MCC markers are about going deeper to find out the “who” of a goal. Who does this person need to show up as, and what needs to change to get them there? What is the meaning of the goal? Is there a readiness to act? An experienced consultative seller does the same thing, clarifying awareness and understanding—both for their prospects and themselves—the significance behind their goals, commitment for change and value in changing.

I accidentally learned consultative selling decades ago as an entry-level pharmaceutical representative. Despite weeks of intensive product training, I was terrified to make those early sales calls, knowing that a physician’s medical knowledge completely eclipsed anything I could have learned in a single month of training. I drove to many offices yet never went in; I was so intimidated. When I finally did enter, I did not launch immediately into the pitches we had learned. Instead I asked a lot of questions. I was stalling a bit in my own mind.

Unknowingly, I was gaining a great amount of ground in a short amount of time and building relational trust. Over time, I was reflexively converting innate curiosity and respect for my prospects’ abilities into sustainable business relationships. I later learned that I was one of only a few pharma reps who had actually bothered to ask my prospects what they thought.

I won multiple sales award trips throughout my 10-year career, and these achievements would not have been possible without intent listening skills, the development of complete situational awareness, and the co-creation of scenarios with doctors where they would feel comfortable prescribing my products. Sound familiar? I was selling consultatively and using all of the competencies we know as coaches to gain trust and rapport.

Leveraging coaching competencies in any industry for business development centers on maintaining presence, which is described in the ICF Core Competencies as the “ability to be fully conscious and create a spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.” The business conversation cannot be scripted any more than a coaching conversation can. What we can do is come prepared to guide the process. This was what I was doing in my sales career. Rather than leading with the slick sales pieces my corporate marketing department had so carefully crafted, I instead relied on active listening and respect for my audience.

Over the years I became a highly skilled observer, acutely aware of the energy in the room and how that energy changed—sometimes to detachment, sometimes to lightness, and sometimes to a shift in attitude. I could then leverage that awareness. It was like improvisation; the more actively I listened and connected with prospects, the more sales I made.

Coaching skills can also apply in a request-for-proposal (RFP) space. Many times, a prospect wants to skip straight to information regarding cost before fully exploring the scope and depth of the work to be accomplished. How tempting is it, after playing phone tag for several days, to just send back some stock pricing and packages you offer?  But, would a professional coach just send a canned reply to a client’s issues without scheduling a conversation?  A good seller creates a time of discovery for both parties before any packaging or services are discussed. In this conversation, the coach/seller strives to:

  • Learn everything possible about what the client might need versus what they are asking for and why these things matter
  • Experiment with possibilities
  • Ask questions to understand, not to reply
  • Listen for commitment to identify which area of the discussion is important enough to invest in and if there is ease in working together

In the end, proposals must be written, conversations executed, and presentations crafted to market one’s practice (or to build support and influence for internal coaches). Either way, we are always selling. Becoming masterful and leveraging core coaching competencies accomplishes double duty: enhancing our coaching and growing business.

Posted by Kelly Gallagher, PCC | July 9, 2018