I came across Greg Faxon (pictured here) about a year ago when someone shared his brilliant article Why You Don’t Need A Niche (And 11 Simple Alternatives). Well, as it turned out, Greg got a few clients from my sharing that article and we ended up connecting on Facebook and decided to get on the phone with each other to have a call. During the call, I learned that his central passion was about selling and how to have effective enrollment conversations. This got my attention because it’s not something I do in my own business model but it’s a place of much struggle for so many of my clients.
The first group of clients this is a struggle for are those who’ve never learned how to do them. They’re winging it every time. They get on the phone with a potential client and hope for the best. They’re terrified with being too pushy and often end up giving their client a free session to try to solve the whole thing right there. It’s a kind of collapsed, over giving.
The second group of clients for whom this is a struggle are those who have learned how to do these processes and, even though they were taught to them by ostensibly conscious marketing gurus, they still feel uneasy about it. It still feels pushy and salesy.
The rest sort of beat around the bush with people in indirect ways or avoid conversations around their business like the plague as if this is a sign of enlightenment.
Personally, I’d rather build my business model so that I don’t have to have these conversations. As Peter Drucker put it, “The purpose of marketing is to make selling redundant.”
Additionally, I’m not a fan of wasting my time in conversations with people who aren’t likely to buy. I’ve got no interest in trying to convince anyone of anything. This is why I’m so big on people figuring out and clearly communicating their point of view, figuring out their niche and creating things like an Are You Sure? page to filter out those clients who aren’t likely to be a good match. There’s a lot you can do to make sure that, by the time you’re talking to them one on one, it’s likely going to go somewhere.
And, even if you filter a whole lot, there are going to be times where people are going to need to talk to you directly about what you’re offering and times when you’re going to want to talk to them to make sure they’re actually a fit. You can call that conversation a lot of things (e.g. sales conversation, enrollment conversation etc.) but sometimes two humans have to talk it out a bit.
Greg submitted himself to a rigorous interview with me and has given his insights extremely generously here. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did talking with him.
What’s your story? How did you get so nerdy about enrollment conversations?
The short version is that I’m a guy who has always been really obsessed with transformation. I’ve always been fascinated by what allows people to grow and evolve in different areas of their lives. And so when I found out there was this thing called “coaching”, where that’s what you help people do all day, it was obviously really compelling for me.
I started holding small personal development workshops, and I even picked up a client or two. The problem was, I only made about $1,000 in the first 6 months of my business. In some ways it was really cool to have made money helping people. But I also knew that it wasn’t going to be sustainable.
What I realized was, it doesn’t really matter how good you are at the coaching piece if you don’t have coaching clients. I had been avoiding enrollment conversations because it felt safer to work on my website and think about URL names and get logos designed. That all changed when I invested in my first group coaching program and my coach called me out on the fact that I wasn’t spending time in conversation.
So over the next month I had over fifty enrollment conversations, got some great longer-term clients, and left my consulting job. I actually made twice as much from my coaching business the month after I left my job. In the process, I became really interested in how to hold an enrollment conversation that not only results in an ideal client, but actually transforms the person in front of me. And so that’s where my passion to teach this stuff comes from.
What have been your major influences in selling?
I’ve had a lot of great coaches and mentors throughout the years, but there are three books that I’d recommend for people who want to really understand how sales works in business.
I’ll be honest though. A lot of the stuff I found around selling just didn’t work that well for me when I applied it to my coaching business specifically. And so that’s why I eventually reached a point where I decided I was going to have to create my own system.
What is sales? What is the role of selling in a business?
Sales is not just the process of exchanging money for a product or service.
Sales is about helping someone visualize and take action towards a future outcome that they want.
Sales is the lifeblood of every business. If you do not sell, you do not make money. If you don’t make money, you don’t get to keep playing the game of business. And if you don’t get to keep playing, you don’t get to keep serving people through that business.
If you want to create transformation in people’s lives, but you don’t know how to enroll people in what that transformation requires, it’s game over.
Here’s the good news:
Sales is not something that you do before the real work starts. Sales is the work. It’s what we do as leaders, coaches, and human beings every day.
What if instead of viewing sales as a necessary evil, you learned to love it instead?
Why do people hate the idea of selling so much?
A couple of reasons:
- They see sales as inherently pushy and inauthentic. The fix here is to reframe selling from something manipulative to something transformative. Selling can be one of the most important services you provide for your customers and clients. If you don’t help them make the decision about whether your offer is right for them, or if they don’t know what you have to offer them in the first place, they will never experience the benefit of it. When you view selling as an extension of the product or service you offer, you put more intention into the sale.
- They haven’t discovered their own way of selling. One that feels authentic to them. Everyone has their own unique style, and the way I sell will look different from the way you sell. The problem with scripts is that they take us out of the moment with our potential clients and we end up sounding stilted and awkward. The solution is having a system that allows you to play to your natural strengths. That’s what I give people. I really believe that if you don’t like selling, you’re doing it wrong.
You say that sales is one of the best ways to provide people with the transformation they’re looking for. How so?
When someone comes to us with a problem they haven’t yet solved, or a vision they haven’t yet achieved, there’s a reason they haven’t gotten the results they want yet. And it’s rarely because they don’t have enough information.
Often the reason is simply indecision. They say they want something, but they haven’t truly “thrown their hat over the fence” and committed to getting it handled. It’s our job to figure out what’s stopping them from making that commitment. Often times, indecision comes down to fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being judged.
I find myself wondering if this is really ‘indecision’. It sounds like they’ve decided not to, or, at least, not decided to. I notice a resistance to framing it as indecisive when it sounds like, for very good reasons, they’ve decided not to proceed.
I’m not sure I agree. Think about the person who really wants to lose weight, but they haven’t lost it yet. Is that because they’ve decided not to lose weight? Or is it because they haven’t committed to what the transformation requires? If people have already decided, then why do we shoot videos and write marketing copy? Other example: if people haven’t chosen a niche, is it because they’ve decided not to choose a niche? Is it because they shouldn’t choose a niche? Or is there an opportunity to support them in that decision making process? Are there irrational fears holding them back from specializing?
Got it. And I’m curious about your thoughts on this blog post I wrote, “But aren’t people indecisive?”
I’ve actually shared this post with some of my groups, and I like and agree with the overall thesis. People are not indecisive by nature. But they do need help making the decision – that’s why sales exists.
“They’re not indecisive, they’re just not sure it’s a fit. They’re not sure it’s worth the investment. They’re not sure it’s the best use of their money. They’re not indecisive, they’re deciding. And our job is to facilitate the decision-making process (whether that’s towards a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’).”
I think the lines become blurred here, because if they’re not sure it’s a fit, that to me is what indecision means. They’re not sure what decision to make. The barrier is indecision. That’s why we are having a conversation about their challenges and goals and dreams. In a way where they are not being controlled by their own fear or limitations.
By helping them see clearly what it’s costing them to stay where they are, and all the positive ramifications of accomplishing their goals, we make it easier to throw their hat over the fence emotionally, logically and financially. We make it easier to confront that fear head on – whether they decide to work with us or not.
If we get this part wrong – if we don’t uncover their deeper challenges and motivations enough to flip the commitment switch – then it will be very hard to support them through the rest of the journey (even if we get them to commit temporarily).
If we get the enrollment conversation right, though – if by the end of the enrollment call they’ve committed 100% to accomplishing what they want – then everything after that becomes way easier because we can see when they are falling into old patterns and we can remind them why they are taking this journey.
By helping them confront the truth of their situation, and by inspiring them into action, we provide one of the greatest services one human being can for another.
This seems to me to be where this conversation can go horribly wrong and this piece of digging into the pain and building up the future is one of the parts that often feels like the most manipulative to people on the giving and receiving end. What are your thoughts about this?
You’re right. This is one of those times where we have to be very careful about the power we yield as marketers and salespeople. Because it’s absolutely possible to do this in a manipulative way. This makes me think of a brilliant Seth Godin post called Marketing Morality.
Consider this. If a client comes to me who is wanting to create a certain result in their life, we’re going to discuss the exact same things. That’s how you create momentum and gravity for them. You’re going to discuss why they want this thing now, why they are seeking change. You’re going to talk about the future they see for themselves.
The line that separates manipulation from transformation here is your agenda as the coach. Are you doing this in service to your client or in service to you? Don’t confuse the tool of sales or the tool of marketing with how different people might use it.
These days, I notice people are leery about ‘discovery sessions’ because they’re pitched as a ‘high value coaching session’ and yet – they end up being an hour long sales pitch. What’s your take on this?
You’re right. And I think it’s understandable that some people are leery. But I actually see that as a good thing; it means that if you really overdeliver during that session, you’ll set yourself apart from all of the other coaches out there.
The best way to combat that hesitancy is to build trust before you offer a strategy session and then to be very specific about what you will cover during the session itself. If you know the right way to frame your discovery sessions, you’ll have no problem getting the right people to sign up.
What do you see as the top three mistakes people make in enrollment conversations?
- Not having a framework. If you don’t have a consistent, proven system to walk your potential client through, you’ll get inconsistent results. That’s because you’ll be flying on the seat of your pants every time. You’ll be more confident and more effective once you’ve learned the exact steps to take someone through. Now, this doesn’t mean you want to use a script. But you need to understand the optimal flow of an enrollment conversation so that you can inspire your ideal clients to step forward and pay you if it turns out that you are a fit.
- Not having your inner game handled. It’s one thing to understand the external strategies of enrollment. But the truth is, you’re not going to be able to enroll many people if you haven’t also installed the key mindsets of successful coaches. Our clients are a mirror for our own doubt, fear, and insecurities. So for example, if you have blocks around money or around your own value, it’s going to be really hard to make any system work for you.
- Not leaving enough time. I’m not a big fan of 15 or 30 minute taster sessions. I suggest leaving up to 90 minutes to have your enrollment conversation unless you are very well established and have a lot of demand for what you offer (in which case the enrollment conversation is just more of a formality/sanity check). A good enrollment conversation requires depth, and you need time to go deep. You also need to leave enough time at the end to propose your services if it turns out they are a fit. There’s nothing worse than being all teed up to propose right when one of you has to hop on another call.
This notion of ‘fit’ feels central. I’m curious what you do or recommend that people do in order to really identify and make sure that there is a fit between yourself and your potential client. What do you before the call and during the call to facilitate clarity around this?
One of the most important things here is for you to know your ideal client criteria. So asking yourself in the Connect phase:
- Can I help this person?
- Do I want to help this person?
You can figure out what the red flags are by looking back at previous clients and seeing what the most successful ones had in common, and which one’s you enjoyed working with most.
Amen. I teach the same thing in my workshops. So important. So, what are the Three C’s? We discussed this in a call we had a while ago. This seems to be central to your point of view on selling.
The 3C Sales System is something that I initially developed just for myself because I had studied all of these complex sales frameworks and I needed something really simple to follow so that I could focus on the person I was talking to. It all came into place when I noticed that virtually all effective enrollment conversations followed the same three steps. When I focused on following my own system, I started getting a lot more clients. And then I shared it with my fiance, who is a teacher and permaculture practitioner, and she made her first sale right off the bat. That’s when I realized I was onto something and so I started sharing it with other coaches and service providers.
The Three C’s are Clarify, Connect, and Commit.
The first step, Clarify, is about getting really clear about the other person’s problems, vision, and challenges. Plus the deeper impacts and motivations behind all of those things. So not only do you get clearer about what the person needs, but they get to step back and finally see the truth of their situation, which is really valuable. Often we can’t see our relationship to our problems and goals because we are so close to them. Think about the person who shows up at the doctor and their arm is hurting, so they want some pain medication. If the doctor finds out that their arm is broken, that’s really important information because the prescription will be different. So the final thing we do in the Clarify stage is to recap what we are hearing, both to make sure we are on the same page and to have them understand what’s really going on. That’s our bridge to the next step.
The second step is Connect. This piece is something that almost no other sales trainers I know even talk about, but it’s one of the most important parts. Connect is all about connecting what they need to the service that you offer. If you get this stage right, they’ll see you as the best fit for their situation (if in fact you are the best fit).
Finally we have Commit. This is where we propose a solution and support them in making a decision to either get this area of their life handled with you or continue to work through it on their own. It’s also where we’ll help address whatever concerns come up for them in a non-pushy way. A lot of people focus on the “closing” phase of the conversation, but the truth is you should spend most of your time in the first two C’s. That way when it finally comes time to make a decision they are totally clear on what they want and need.
So that’s the high-level summary. The cool part about the Three C’s is it can expand or contract based on what you need from it. If you just need to remember the general flow of the conversation, then you have a really simple process to follow. And all of it is expandable, so my clients and I can go deep into each section and learn how to be most effective in that phase of the enrollment conversation.
This piece about ‘connecting’ is so compelling. What are the consequences of skipping this step?
The Connect step is all about building a bridge.
Most people go straight from clarifying to closing. The problem with doing that is the person won’t be able to see the connection between their situation and the thing you are offering them. If you get this step wrong, then the person will be really clear on what they need, but they won’t understand why you’re solution is relevant to them. They may even assume that there’s nothing special about them and that you are just proposing the same thing to everyone you talk to, which shouldn’t be the case.
You shouldn’t be proposing the same thing to each person? How so?
So depending on what your offerings are, you probably have a few ways of helping people. It’s possible that the program you are enrolling for isn’t actually the best fit for that person. It’s possible that your 1:1 coaching is all bespoke, in which case you are customizing each proposal. It’s possible that this person isn’t a good fit for you in general, in which case you shouldn’t be proposing your stuff at all.
Basically, what you are helping them commit to should be different depending on what you helped them clarify.
When we spoke before, you related this to dating, could you share this?
Sure thing. So in dating, there are different levels of intimacy, right? And each step that you go through in the relationship needs to be bridged in just the right way or you’ll get stuck. A great example of this is in the later stages of a relationship, during a marriage proposal. It would be pretty strange if things were going well in the relationship and one person just went ahead and asked “Hey, want to get married? I have the ring here.” Not many people would do that, and it probably wouldn’t be successful. Actually it would be really jarring because there’s no connection between the good time you’ve been having and marriage.
Most couples talk about what the future would look like together. And they tell each other what they like about the other person. This all culminates in the actual proposal, where traditionally one person gets down on a knee and connects the experience they’ve been having up to this point to the life they imagine with the other person. They talk about why it’s such a great fit, and how they’re feeling about the relationship. So when they finally pop the question, there is a clear connection that’s been established.
That’s exactly what we want to do before we propose to a potential client. Minus the ring.
What are some of the things you do to help people see the connection between where they’re at and what you offer?
Remember that the goal of the Connect stage is for them to connect their problems and desires to the solution you are about to propose.
One of the questions I like to ask at this point is “What’s been the most helpful part of the conversation so far for you?” Whatever answer they give here, it reinforces the fact that they’ve gotten clarity as a result of speaking with you. They start to build that bridge themselves between their situation and you as a trusted advisor.
The second thing I do is suggest a game plan for them based on what we’ve learned in the Clarify stage. So I’ll boil down the insights we’ve gotten into a strategy, adding my own insights as I go. At this point I still haven’t offered them anything paid. What I’m doing is giving them a sense of what we would want to work on together, and connecting those things to the results that they’ve said they want. So it looks something like “It sounds like here’s what you need ______ and here’s what we’d do moving forward if we were to work together.”
The final thing I do here is what I call the “Yes Test” (learn more here – it’s tip #4).
You speak about telling people something like, “I feel like we could be a really fit. You’re my ideal client and here’s why…” – Can you say more about this and why it matters?
So one of the really important parts of Connect is that you have to figure out if there actually is a strong connection between what this person needs and what you offer. If there isn’t, you need to send them to something or someone who can better serve them.
A big part of this decision is figuring out if this person could be an ideal client. Can you help this person? Do you want to help this person?
If the answer is yes, then I want you to tell them why. Why are they such an ideal client for you? What specifically tipped you off?
This isn’t just about stroking their ego. It’s really about demonstrating that you have standards, and that they have met those standards. When we feel as though we’ve been chosen for a specific reason, that opportunity is now much more appealing to us. To use the relationship metaphor, this isn’t someone just looking for a one night stand with anyone. This is someone who is interested in me for a specific reason. There’s a fit here.
What are objections all about and what do we do with them?
Objections are a natural response to any commitment that we are considering in our life. Often, right before people get engaged or married, they have doubts and concerns. A lot of times these aren’t rational concerns, but what we’re doing is processing them in advance because we know that once we’re in, that’s it. So objections are actually a healthy part of any good decision making process.
The role of the coach or service provider here is to be a mirror for the potential client as they bring up their concerns. The most common objections are usually lack of time, lack of money, or lack of certainty. This is when people often say “I need to think about it.”
Your goal in the Commit phase is not necessarily to get them to say yes, it’s just to get the truth so that they can commit to a Yes or a No.
What are they really concerned about? What are they scared of? For example, someone who says they can’t afford it might actually be saying that they don’t know how to justify it to their spouse. If you know this, you can help coach them through that concern directly.
The biggest mistake people make in this phase is trying to justify themselves or make the potential client wrong. All this does is create something for them to push back against. So what we want to do is continue asking questions, reminding them of what they talked about in the Clarify stage, and giving them lots of space to process the decision.
One thing I often find when I’m selling coaching is that the objection the person gives is actually pointing right to the thing that’s holding them back from their goals. If they feel like they don’t have enough time, for example, I’ll often ask, “Is that a pattern that comes up for you often? Not having enough time? How might that be affecting your results in this area.” The truth is that we all have the same amount of time, but we get to choose our priorities.
If the person decides not to move forward, it’s because they don’t believe that the amount of money they would have to pay is worth what they think they would be getting. If they say yes, it’s because the perceived value of what you offer, or the cost of staying where they are, is more than what they would have to pay. So helping them see that value and that cost is really important in this phase.
Sometimes people get into this grey zone of ‘should I? shouldn’t i?’ You have thoughts that this might not actually be a good thing. Why not let people stay in the grey zone? And can you speak about the difference between the micro and the macro?
The thing about sitting on the fence is that it’s really uncomfortable. We waste a lot of time and energy there. There’s a lot of power that comes from making a decision one way or the other. There are lots of ways we can combat this, but one obvious way is deadlines. Deadlines are the best. I love deadlines. Because instead of dragging that decision out forever, I have to commit to making a decision by a certain date and time. And then I can put my focus back on actually doing the work.
Part of your duty as the service provider is helping the person make a sound decision. And neglecting that duty, just because you’re scared to stay in that tension with them, I think is a cop out.
So on the macro level, we need to help them commit to doing something different in this area of their life. If nothing changes, nothing changes. So if they’re talking to you it’s probably because something’s not working as well as it could be. They need to really get this loud and clear by the time you end the conversation. Maybe they don’t actually want to make a change, and they’ve just kind of been saying that they will. Well, now we know that and so they can give that up. Either way, how are we moving forward?
Then on a micro level, we need to help them decide whether our solution is what they want and need. This is really critical, because, if it is, we want to get started helping them right away. And if it’s not, they’re going to need to find another solution right away. Wasting time in indecision is usually what gets us stuck in the first place. And that’s where fear and doubt start to creep in. That’s why I’m not a fan of the grey zone.
Do you tell people that one of the goals you have for the conversation with them is to help them make a decision one way or the other? How explicit are you with them about this and your opinion about the grey zone before the call begins or during the call? This seems like it could be an important piece of filtering information for them. I could imagine some people being drawn to that and others being repelled by that like, “It’s not your business to decide what I need.”
The entire time I’m asking permission.
So when I offer the session, I talk about why it will be valuable for them as well as why I am offering the session.
At the beginning of the session, I talk about what I’d like to cover and that, if after that it seems like we might be a good fit, that we can talk about that.
Towards the end of the session, I ask if they would like to hear more about what it might look like to continue working together.
At the very end, I ask what they would need to know in order to be able to make a decision. If that’s something I can address on the call, then we do that. If not, I ask if we can schedule a specific time to follow up together.
I’m never deciding what they need. I’m telling them what I see, asking if they see it, and offering my perspective on what next steps they might consider.
I love that last sentence so much. That’s beautiful. You speak about helping people understand what’s required of them? Why does this matter and how do you do this?
As I’m about to process their payment, I stop and say “Hey, are you really sure about this? Because this is going to take more than just your money. It’s going to take time and energy and bravery. So I want to make sure you’re committed to doing whatever it takes.” I don’t necessarily get specific unless I know something about that person that is a red flag for me. But I do have them re-affirm their commitment. This pause upfront makes the rest of the engagement a lot easier.
If people want to learn more about your work, where do they go and what are the main options?
The best place to go to learn more about me is my website.
One article that I think your readers might enjoy is “How To Fill Your Calendar With Potential Clients (Without Being Needy)”.
And if they want to go deeper into all this stuff, they’re welcome to reach out here and ask about my group and individual programs.