This post was written by Steve Levin, MCC, a Newfield graduate of the Coaching for Personal & Professional Mastery program.

How do you turn a client prospect into a committed client? The key is to give them a powerful experience of being coached, even during a preliminary “interview” session. Instead of easing into building rapport, consider getting to what really matters — in 10 minutes or less.

Ten minutes? Yeah, that’s fast.

It’s a provocative idea to stretch you, not a rigid rule. The key is to give your potential client a vivid experience of receiving value in a surprisingly short time. Don’t describe. Demonstrate.

The ideas below are drawn from the Powerful Conversations course, an advanced coach training clinic I offer for experienced leaders and coaches.

Let’s say Ann knows she wants a coach and is interviewing a few coaches to find the best match. She has prepared a list of interview questions to evaluate you.

Whoops, that’s a problem…because a conversation for evaluation sets the wrong tone for a coaching relationship. And any explanation you give is a poor substitute for the experience of being coached in a transformative way.

How to Enroll Clients

Step 1: Change the Game

Begin by reframing the conversation’s purpose from an evaluative interview to a generative experience. Then, demonstrate how coaching can produce immediate value.

Here’s how:

  • Ann: “So, tell me about yourself. What makes you qualified to be a coach? What is your method? How do you know if you are successful?”
  • You: “Sure, I’m glad to give you information, but it will be much more relevant to you if I understand your context. Could you tell me: What are you up against? What do you want to achieve from coaching that you aren’t achieving yet? Then let’s have a short conversation, and you’ll get a very clear idea of how I might actually work with you. Would you like that?”

I’ve said variations of this many times and everyone says, “Yes!” with enthusiasm. They are relieved that they don’t have to figure out how to interview me, and they get to talk about themselves, which they’d rather do anyway. Meanwhile, I get a delicious and immediate opportunity to enter their world, engage them as a thought partner, and dive into what really matters to them.

Step 2. Get to What Really Matters (Tip: It’s not their story)

As Ann begins to speak about her issues, listen carefully on two levels. First, pay attention to the “storyline” of her narrative. It’s her view of the world, and, like any story, it features a setting, a plotline, and a variety of characters.

At the same time, pay even closer attention to her way of being as she tells her story. How is she showing up, right here and right now? What is she revealing about her deepest concerns? What’s missing for her? As you listen deeply, tune in to her mood and energy. Ask yourself (silently), “What is she yearning for? What’s missing for her in terms of more freedom, connection, or power?

I believe that these three core human needs account for much of our human suffering. Our clients (perhaps like you and me) yearn for:

  • More Freedom from limiting beliefs about ourselves
  • More Connection with the people who matter most
  • More Power to determine our own future

By listening through these simple distinctions, you can quickly form a hunch about the deepest needs that give rise to Ann’s story. This is your portal to add value.

Step 3: Move Towards Commitment

After you have demonstrated the power of coaching, it’s time to design the future. Do NOT try to “complete the coaching work” in this first meeting. You have offered a taste of what to expect if you work together, but it is a disservice to you and to them to leave everything tidy. Tidy dulls the appetite and it gives the illusion that coaching is a task to be completed, instead of a rich journey of exploration.

Instead, now provide useful information about your coaching method and business arrangements and to respond to their questions and ideas. Then, have a conversation about commitment:

1. Frame your offer: “Today you opened some new possibilities in just a few minutes. You saw that maybe this is not about how you can get your boss to change, but rather about how you can respond differently to your boss. You considered how you can treat yourself with dignity, regardless of what your boss does. If we choose to work together, there is much more to explore. We can design experiments, practice new behaviors, and you will have a chance to develop new habits that bring you closer to who you really want to be. How does that sound to you?”

2. Say what you expect from them: “If we work together, your job is to show up at every session with whatever concerns you most — whatever is most alive for you. I will support you and challenge you to make the most of your opportunities. Would you like that?”

3. Engage them to refine the partnership: “What would you like to add or modify how we work together? How can we make this a vital, valuable experience for you and for both of us?

4. Finally, if you know they are coach-shopping and if (but only if) you have a genuine interest in working with them, you might close with, “As you consider other coaches, I hope you find someone whom you really trust to add a lot of value. Meanwhile, please know that, from my side, I would be delighted to work with you.”

Whether you get the coaching assignment or not, I hope the presence you bring to the conversation is intrinsically satisfying and valuable for you.


To find out more about ontological coaching and our coach training programs, visit this page here.

About the Author: 

Steve Levin, principal of Leading Change, has over 25 year’s experience in coaching leaders, building teams, and consulting in organizational change. He is an expert in designing and leading powerful conversations that create faster results, greater alignment, and more reliable execution. He is recognized as a Master Certified Coach (highest designation) by the International Coach Federation. He has taught in the Organizational Leadership graduate program at John F. Kennedy University. Before founding Leading Change, Steve was a senior consultant and master trainer with Interaction Associates and an internal organization development consultant in the computer and pharmaceutical industries. Previously he managed a $100 million business and developed new products in the consumer packaged goods industry.

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