Here at the 7 Graces Project, we’ve been developing several courses – to be launched to the public in late 2014 – in the foundations and applications of ethical marketing. In our current ‘beta’ groups for these courses, many participants are independent business owners from various professional service industries, such as coaches, counsellors, mentors, trainers, therapists and consultants.
Unlike retail or product-based companies, these service professionals tend to utilise the convention of 1-to-1 consultations to work with clients, as well as to vet and ‘enrol’ new clients. (US folks: ‘enrol’ IS the correct UK spelling!). But I’ve found that this enrolment process can be very challenging, if not down-right painful, for many ethical service providers. What they all have in common is that they started their businesses to help people. Because their motivation is fundamentally altruistic, many find it extremely difficult to talk about money (what to speak of to ASK for payment!) with someone who needs help. As a result, all too many ethical service providers will under-sell themselves, or give too much of their time and energy away. This not only compromises their business and their finances, but it also weakens their spirit. Sometimes it opens them up to criticism from their families, who do not share their vision. All of these things whittle away their resilience over time and many will end up leaving their professions, broken-hearted.
It is painful to watch, and even more painful to experience. Furthermore, it deprives the world of their valuable service. For these reasons, it’s important for service providers to learn how to overcome the mental and emotional blocks to making new clients.
Reflections on the ‘Enrolment’ Process
I remember when I first started training as a coach and they used the word ‘enrolment’. I couldn’t understand what it meant. I had come from a teaching background; to me, ‘enrolment’ was when students signed up for a course. While there was always some advice and guidance involved, it was pretty much a mechanical process. But in coaching, ‘enrolment’ meant something more elusive. ‘Enrolment’ had to do with ‘luring’ the client towards you, like a moth to the flame. We even had to practice this with fellow coaches in workshop exercises.
To be honest with you, going through this enrolment exercise felt really fake and manipulative. It was fake because there was no way to ‘test’ the enrolment process with colleagues, as they were not in the same head-space (or heart-space) as our prospective clients. When I was led to repeat this exercise in greater detail on another so-called ‘heart-centred’ coaching programme I took a year later, I felt like the instructors were consciously using manipulative language that preyed upon the prospective client’s emotions – especially fear and loss. All in all, I learned to abhor the so-called ‘enrolment process’ and to detest the term itself.
But the fact is, unless we have some methodology by which we assist to move from ‘prospective clients’ to ‘active client’, we won’t be able to perform our services or operate a business at all. So, one way or another, we’ve got to figure out how to do it – in such a way that does not compromise either our own values, or those of our prospective clients.
Closing the Book on ‘Closing the Deal’
There comes a point in every consultation that every new service provider dreads – the moment where the conversation shifts to discussing money. I bet many of you reading this can feel your gut starting to clench up, just thinking of it. It’s understandable. Back before my ‘7 Graces’ days, I went to many business seminars where people taught us various old-school methods for ‘closing the deal’. So many of these methods manipulate emotions like fear, guilt or shame to try to ‘persuade’ prospects into making a pre-conscious (and often hasty) decision. And because it can be so manipulative, ‘closing the deal’ can feel like a truly foreign and unnatural act to those of altruistic nature.
But while we might not like the idea of ‘closing the deal’, without actual clients we are serving no one – not the public, not ourselves, not our families. So if we put aside all the manipulative techniques of ‘closing the deal’ and STILL find it difficult to bring up the subject of money in our consultations, it is more than likely that we are battling with some ‘money gremlins’ of our own. This is a topic I discuss in the book The 7 Graces of Marketing, as well as in many other articles on this site. Our Relationship with Money, one of the 7 Key Relationships, directly influences how we work (and play) with money in our business and our life. You can take as many ‘sales’ courses as you like, but until you understand and unravel your money gremlins, you will continue to struggle through the ‘enrolment’ process.
Why Many Service Providers Fail to Make Clients
So how DO we move gracefully, easily and respectfully from casual conversation into a concrete business discussion? Well the first thing to understand is this: if you (the service provider) are either nervous or anxious about ‘making the sale’, you are bound to put off potential clients:
- Service providers who are nervous during the ‘enrolment’ process tend to be tentative and indirect. If a potential client FEELS you are tentative or indirect, they may start to doubt your competence and ability to help them.
- Service providers who are anxious about ‘making the sale’ tend to be fast-talking or pushy. If a potential client FEELS you are fast-talking or pushy, they may start to doubt your honesty or integrity.
What is sad about this is that many good, competent, sincere, honest, integrity-driven service providers lose clients because they unintentionally project these kinds of feelings on their potential clients. I seriously doubt that many of your ‘un-enrolled’ clients even consciously KNOW why they didn’t end up working with you. They are simply following their gut and probably would not be able to give you a concrete reason.
Getting Back to Basics in Our Service Offerings
Before you think about ‘how’ to do something, it’s important get back to basics and define the underlying ‘what’ it is and ‘why’ you’re doing it. I’m going to ‘assume’ that you’ve already done some work at defining your intended audience and ideal client and built your brand in such a way the potential clients can be ‘pre-selecting’ before they even reach out to contact you (and if you haven’t done that yet, browse around this site for articles in the category ‘Relationship with Our Audience’). So, assuming you know WHO you are looking for and WHAT you can offer them, let’s define a few things about how you will run your enrolment process. Take a moment to answer these questions:
- Will you offer a free consultation to prospective clients?
- If so, how long will it be?
- Will they be on the phone, in person, or via Skype?
- How will people book free consultations with you?
- What will be YOUR criteria for accepting clients? What are the ‘baseline’ pre-requisites to ensure you’ll say ‘yes’ to the right clients for you? Moreover, what are your criteria for saying NO to a client? Being absolutely clear about your criteria is ESSENTIAL, but something so many service providers overlook.
- How will you present your ‘products’ on the call? How clear are you about what you offer, and its appropriateness for a prospective client? (This topic alone is something worth exploring in more depth in another article).
- How will you manage the decision making process? How will you approach the subject of money? How will your own ‘Key Relationship with Money’ influence your ease during this process?
- Once a client says they want to work with you, how will you invoice your client or take payment?
To give you an idea of how I conduct my consultations, here’s what I call my ’85:10:05 Consultation Template’ below, which is comprised of:
5% (or less) ‘selling’
Lynn’s 85% Listening, 10% Presenting, 5% Selling Consultation Template
I’ve been doing free consultations for some time. In the beginning, they were way too long, and ended up being almost like a full session. These days, my sessions are 30 minutes long. Sometimes we get talking and they go overtime but usually that’s only when the client has already decided to work with us, and we are making arrangements for getting started.
So here’s my own 7-stage consultation ‘template’ when I meet with a prospective client:
- LANDING: We spend 2 or 3 minutes just getting ‘settled’ and acquainted with each other.
- PROJECT ENQUIRY: I then kick off the formal part of the session by asking what they were looking for; then I listen for about 10 minutes without saying much except the occasional comment or question if I need clarification.
- MARKETING ENQUIRY: Next, I ask lots of details about where they are in their business or project. I ask what they’ve already tried in marketing and how it has worked. Then I ask about blogging, social media, mailing lists, etc. This takes another 10 minutes.
- PRODUCT PRESENTATION: By now, about 23-24 minutes have passed. You’ll notice that so far, I’ve been doing all the asking and the client has been doing all the talking. At this point, I finally start doing the talking. I talk about what products our company offers that would be most appropriate for them at this phase. I may have alluded to these products earlier, but I don’t go into detail until we reach this point in the conversation. I also share a little bit of my own vision for what could be done with their project if we follow a particular course of action, or what kinds of products we have that may be appropriate for them somewhere down the line. This takes 2-3 minutes ONLY.
- PRICING: It is now about 25-26 minutes into the call. At this point, I finally bring up the topic of money. I explain the pricing and payment for the packages, but also give them a link to download a PDF to look over the package in their own time (or I send this information to them via email templates I have made for this purpose). I spend ONLY about 1 or 2 minutes on this at most.
- WRAPPING UP: We are now roughly 27-28 minutes into the call. I go back into listening mode and start to wrap things up by asking, “Is there anything I haven’t told you or anything else you need to know to help you make decision?” Never, ever do I push them to make their decision on the call (this is diametrically opposed to what I was ‘taught’ on many coaching business courses). However, I find that many clients feel comfortable enough to make their decision then and there. If it’s obvious they need time to think about it, I just ask them, “When should I expect to hear back from you?”
- FEEDBACK: Finally, just before we get off the call, I always ask, “Was this helpful to you?” This tells me whether or not it was helpful, but it also affirms in THEIR minds whether or not it was helpful.
If you are the kind of service provider who freezes up at the thought of talking about money, consider this: If you look at the timeframe, I spent about 25-26 minutes out of 30 engaged in asking questions and listening intently (roughly 85%), about 2-3 minutes presenting our products and how they would address what the client was looking for (roughly 10%) and only 1 or 2 minutes talking about money (roughly 5%). Furthermore, there was no pressure to ‘close the deal’ on the call.
A WARNING ABOUT BEING TOO GENEROUS: It’s really important to manage you time on these calls and make sure you’re not giving away actual coaching/consulting/advice, etc. during an information gathering call. This is an easy thing to slip into when you’re a kind-hearted compassionate person who is genuinely committed to helping others. But please trust me when I say that if you do this ALL the time, you’ll find yourself feeling overworked, underpaid and possibly even resentful towards your clients. I’ve seen many a service provider burn out because they got into this habit.
Please know that I didn’t just sit down one day and design this. It evolved organically, over time, after making LOTS and lots of mistakes. The first time I actually sat down to ‘analyse’ my own process was when I decided to share write this article.
If you’ve found it difficult or ‘unnatural’ or uncomfortable to conduct consultations in the past, I encourage you to study this article and try this method for yourself, and then allow it to evolve into something that works for you.
How This Fits Within the 7 Graces Paradigm
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog or you have read the book The 7 Graces of Marketing, you’ll probably be able to see that the key to this entire process lies in:
- The Grace of Connection – feeling connected to yourself, your mission and the person with whom you are speaking
- The Grace of Inspiration – helping your client to step into a visionary space of possibilities, rather than trying to ‘persuade’ them through fear or other anxiety-creating tactics.
- The Grace of Invitation – creating an open, hospitable, respectful and engaging environment for your prospective client, rather than resorting to high-pressure techniques
- The Grace of Directness – being straight, clear and simple about your offerings (and being prepared to answer any questions they may have about them)
- The Grace of Transparency – being clear and open about your pricing (and having everything laid out in writing for them to review later)
- The Grace of Abundance – not worrying about money during the ‘enrolment’ process, because you firmly believe the right clients will say yes without you having to force the issue
- The Grace of Collaboration – this isn’t a competition between you and the prospective client where you’re trying to ‘win’ their approval (and their business). It’s a dance you’ll be doing together should you agree to work with one another. So pay attention to their pace and rhythm, and get a feeling for whether or not this dance is likely to feel good to both of you before you decide to work together.
- All of the 7 Key Relationships – with Self, Source, Others, Your Business, Your Audience, Money and Marketing (but ESPECIALLY your relationship with money).
Final Thoughts and Advice
As I said earlier, I hate the term ‘enrolment’. Just the sound of it makes me think of governments pressing unwilling soldiers into military service. As you can see from my own ‘template’, I never ask a client to make their decision on the spot, even though every marketing coach I had when I started my current practice 7 years ago told me this was a huge mistake. But here’s what I’ve noticed: nearly EVERY client who ultimately ends up working with us makes their decision there and then during the consultation, without me having to ‘push’ them to decide. I believe they decide quickly precisely BECAUSE I don’t push them to decide.
My goal in my sessions is not to ‘sell’ but to simply and comfortably give prospective clients the information they need to make an informed, considered decision. Frankly, I don’t want my clients to have second thoughts. It makes for a strained relationship. And, if I’m honest, if in the past there have been times when I had a strained relationship with a client, it was MY FAULT. If I analyse it, it all started back in the consultation, and was usually sparked either by:
1) My own failure to define and stick to my criteria for what I wanted in a client, OR
2) My own lack of clarity about what I was offering (and what I WASN’T)
But the other BIG factor that can lay the foundation for flawed, strained relationships with clients is your own relationship with money. If your financial gremlins are whispering in your ear telling you that you ‘need’ to take on another client to pay the bills, but this client is really all wrong for you (or you’re all wrong for them), your consultation session will be tense and constricted instead of open and relaxed.
Be sure to hold your criteria to heart during the conversation, and be keenly aware of how well you ‘fit’. Then, when the time comes to shift into the ‘sales’ phase of the conversation, remember that the more relaxed YOU are about talking about money, the more relaxed your prospective clients/customers will be. When we master the art of being graceful and gracious when talking about money, the ‘enrolment’ process into an experience of ‘selling without selling’ that benefits both you and your customers.
So now, I’ll close this article by asking what I ask my clients at the end of our calls together: Did you find this information helpful today? Please talk back to me, and share your thoughts, reflections and experiences in the comments below.
4 April 2014
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)