Have powerful connections with potential clients that get results –
Quickly and Intentionally

By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

Do you ever feel like you miss out on potential business or waste precious time pursuing work that doesn’t pan out? If so, you’re not alone. When pitching potential clients, people tend to do one of two things: they spend the time promoting what they do, or they meander through questions hoping to glean a sense of need from the potential client’s rambling explanation. This month, I’m offering a ‘how-to’ guide for structuring impactful, initial introductory consultations, including tips as well as a real-life story that demonstrates how to use them.

A number of years ago, I needed a coach to help me with some challenging issues around starting my business. I talked to four prospects, each time asking the same question: “I am a new coach starting a business, and I’m looking for a coach. Can you tell me how you work and what your charge?” The first three answered my questions directly, telling me about themselves and their work. The fourth one, though, took a completely different approach. She said, “I’d love to tell you a bit about my work. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about you and your needs, so that I can answer in relation to what you are looking for?”

Tip #1. Redirect the questions back to the potential client. Why? Regardless of whether someone is seeking coaching, web design, construction, or financial planning, rarely does a potential client launch into their real issue. They will first ask what you do. That way they can ask for help without feeling too exposed. When you simply answer their question about you, you end up trying to sell yourself instead of gaining an understanding of how you can help that person specifically. By asking permission to ask me about me, the fourth coach demonstrated her interest in me and got me talking about me and my needs.

When the coach first asked me if she could ask a few questions, I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. But deep down, it was a relief that she cared enough to ask. She then said, “Great, let’s take about 30 minutes. I’d love to take about ten to fifteen minutes finding out about you and then use the remaining time to talk about me and how I might be able to help. And, if you don’t mind, I’d love to get a bit nosy to find out some of the key issues you’re facing. Is that okay with you?” 

Tip #2. Let your potential client know what’s going to happen during the conversation. Notice how, in a very conversational tone, she provided me with a ‘map’ and let me know that we would be having a purposeful, probing conversation. By doing so, she put me at ease and helped us settle into a more trusting, focused state. Once she set the stage, she dove right in.

“Carolyn, let’s start with what’s going on that pushed you to reach out for help?” Wow, I thought, this is going to be easy … “I’m stuck with how to integrate everything I do.” “Hmmm,” she said, “Can you tell me the three or four things that you really enjoy doing?” And then came the harder questions: “What do you really want people to know about what you do?” and “What are your biggest time sucks?” 

Tip #3. Ask probing questions. By moving past polite “What do you do?” and “What do you want from me?” questions, she got into the meat of the issues AND demonstrated her ability to help me hone my focus and address my key issues.

And then came the question, “What are the biggest confusions between where your business is in relation to where you want to be?” Holy shit, I thought, I’ve never thought of it like that! I started rambling, trying to find my way. She let me ramble for about a minute and then easefully interrupted me in a candid yet kind way. “It sounds like this is a trouble spot for you?” Bingo!

Tip #4. Interject where appropriate. In that moment when she interjected, it was clear that she had the confidence and the savvy to keep my mind running in circles. The secret is to choose when to interject. Sometimes I purposely let people ramble for a couple minutes to see how they think in times of confusion.

After ten minutes of asking questions, she summarized what she had heard and asked me if she had gotten it right. It was brilliant. I felt heard. I felt that she really understood my challenges. When she transitioned to talking about her work, she addressed how she might approach my specific need. By the time she brought up her fees, I was already sold on working with her. I just had to figure out how I would afford it.

Tip #5. Treat your prospective client as you would a real client. It’s quite simple: engage with prospective clients the same way you do with real clients. Just let them know what you’ll be doing. When you do, it will be your best selling point ever! And, most importantly, remember that this is a chance to find out if they are a good fit for what you do.