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3 business lessons learned

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Coaching is about helping people change. Sometimes it’s personal change and sometimes it requires a change in business practices. Here are three brief stories that illustrate some basic coaching lessons I have learned. (Names and locations have been changed.)

1. Intention determines attention. One of my early clients, Joe, asked me to help in a way I had never experienced before (or since). He asked me to help him stop lying in sales meetings. I suggested that he keep a diary and record every lie he told. Then we reviewed his diary to discover the root cause of his problem.

It quickly became apparent what the problem was: He lied whenever he didn’t have an answer to a question but thought he should. His solution was to just make up an answer.

My coaching solution? Stop lying, and instead tell prospects “I don’t know the answer to that question. But I’ll get back to you.” He said he was willing to try that. (On a deeper level, Joe agreed to educate himself and become more knowledgeable so that he could comfortably stop lying and become a better sales person as well.)

The lesson here is that intention is always the starting point for making a change. Without a sincere intention to change, your actions will be an exercise in futility.

2. Giving before getting. Networking (or association marketing) is often thought of as a good way to acquire new clients. My client, an insurance agent from the Midwest, thought it would be a good idea to join a contractors’ association. But after attending his first meeting, he was glum. No leads, no new prospects — only frustration.

What was the root cause of his problem? First, he did not know if contractors were actually his target market. And second, he violated the basic rule of networking: You must give before you get. Networking requires delivering value and that can only happen after thoughtful investigation into how you can serve the group. It usually takes six to 12 months to begin to get business through group networking — and then only after you have first provided value.

The lesson? Exchanging business cards or attending an occasional meeting will not generate a consistent flow of high quality referrals. To get you must first give.

3. You always pay retail. I had a young female client who wanted to develop an alternative health clinic. After our first meeting, it was apparent she had some urgent and serious health problems of her own. She first took care of these, and we began working together.

Then, she announced she was going to Europe for two months with her boyfriend. We planned to resume when she returned. When she returned but didn’t call, I contacted her and was told the timing just wasn’t right.

I believe the real reason behind her behavior was simple: She didn’t want to do the work necessary to build a new business. Change is hard work. Even the best ideas go nowhere without sufficient intention. This applies to your prospects just as it does to mine.

The lesson here, as I tell my clients, is that you always pay full retail price for improvements. There is no wholesale, discounted way to improve your practice — or your life.

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Nick Ray is a business coach who specializes in working with financial services professionals. He is the author of There’s More to Selling than Making the Sale as well as a workbook on target marketing. He can be reached at [email protected].