Marketing Challenges in Coaching

Some Hard Truths for coaches, on marketing their services.

In the coaching domain, marketing and providing a service come with ethical and professional considerations outside the scope of the marketing of conventional services and goods, like

  • Client psychological safety
  • Confidentiality
  • Multi-party relationships (e.g. People and Culture, client, client’s colleagues, client’s manager)
  • Impact of the client’s organisational culture on the work
  • Professional reputation as a practitioner
  • Conflicts of interest
  • The importance of the client’s psychological autonomy
  • The list goes on

It is important to note that there are marketing principles which are likely to benefit both domains, like

  • market research
  • identifying the target audience*
  • developing messaging
  • creating content
  • establishing a strong online presence

*rather, make yourself identifiable to your target audience

Marketers of conventional goods and services don’t know about these special considerations or the application of these principles, and neither are they interested, because they are operating within a conventional marketing paradigm.

Their interest lies in you buying their marketing services and they will convince you to do this using the very same marketing techniques. They will then market your services using those same techniques.

Think of this radical analogy to illustrate some of the concept; imagine seeking a consultation with a psychopath to help you solve your relationship problems, what solutions would you expect to emerge?

Why am I posting this? Because the marketing of services in coaching, using conventional techniques, has a net-negative effect on the domain. It has and will continue to change the face of coaching for the worse.

It is a multi-polar trap. As Erik Torenberg describes, “Multipolar traps are scenarios where the things that work well for individuals locally are directly against the global well-being.”

Why do coaches do it? Desperation, familiarity with the marketing model (we are exposed to it from childhood), ignorance, relentless pressure from marketers with perverse incentives.

The way to invite potential clients to become actual clients, as a coach, is by being of genuine and selfless service to the best of your professional ability.

  • Engage with each other first as human beings, not as ‘service provider and lead/client’. Contact before contract
  • Be real with yourself and them, about your ability to meet their needs
  • Be real with yourself and them, about where you might reach the boundaries of your capabilities in relation to what they are looking for, and what options are available should this happen. Be ready to provide referrals to other modalities
  • Engage with each other as human beings, on the administrative and professional aspects of the relationship (frequency, cost, venue, outcomes, modality, confidentiality etc)
  • Reflect on and address in yourself, any overt or subtle techniques you find yourself using to manipulate clients (e.g. two-for-one type deals**).
  • Respect the client’s autonomy and ability to make their own decisions, and avoid placing any pressure or coercion to conform to your suggestions or advice (unless for example the client insists on working with you despite your own reservations/objections)
  • Engage in your own professional supervision. How do you show up with potential clients, what systems do you use, how do you want to show up, what is ethical?

**that is not to say all such offers are manipulative. A useful question to ask is, “What is the balance between each party’s benefits?”

Within coaching, the marketing of marketing services/training/courses, by coaches to coaches, is a huge industry. It is a closed-circle system which limits the diversity of clients (to coaches) and coaching styles (aimed at marketing challenges) represented within the industry. It likely prevents coaches from reaching a wider range of potential clients. Additionally, a closed circle of relationships among coaches may limit the range of perspectives and ideas that are shared within the industry, leading not only to a sense of insularity and stagnation, but act as a setup for these very circumstances.

Coaches can and should market themselves ethically, by being mindful of what lies in their interest, and what lies in the client’s interest. Hint: the client’s interest is your interest.

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