Success without Selling?

Series of trees from small to largerI’ve been in the executive coaching business for a long time now, and I still love it even after all these years.  In contrast to many of my Master Coach colleagues, though, I’ve stayed in the “time equals money” business, working directly with clients myself and managing a team of associates who also work 1:1 with our executive level clientele.  We’ve enjoyed a lot of success, but the business model has its limits. So, in order to grow and have impact beyond the personal capacity of me and my team, I’ve been working to develop products and programs to add to the firm’s offerings.  And, along with the development work, I’ve had to confront a reality.

I don’t like to “sell.”

Let’s be clear. I’ve sold millions of dollars worth of coaching over my years in this business.  But never once has it felt like “selling.”  As anyone who’s ever asked me to talk about coaching knows, I’m passionate and enthusiastic about what I do, and I know that our work with clients gets valuable results.  But sell?  Ick.

Dan Pink’s most recent book, “To Sell is Human,” offers some insight as to why I might feel this way.  His “ABC” model says that attunement, buoyancy and clarity are the key ingredients for successful selling in the knowledge economy.  Attunement is the ability to bring your actions and outlook into harmony with other people and the context you’re in. Buoyancy is the ability to stay afloat, mentally and emotionally, through an ocean of rejection. Clarity is the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn’t realize they had.  The ABC approach is respectful, has integrity and builds relationship.  All good.

I feel like I’ve intuitively been working with the ABC model when I have been selling one on one executive coaching services, and it’s been successful.  Now, however, I’m preparing to launch products and programs, and they need to be sold differently – less intimately and personally – than services.  Building business when a face to face conversation is not the primary selling tool feels uncomfortable and risky and, well, scary and weird – and it feels harder to deploy the ABC approach when not in direct conversation with a potential buyer.

Fortunately I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown, so I’ve been reading and re-reading “Daring Greatly” as I do the work to build and launch.  Clearly I’m stepping into some vulnerable territory here.  Well, at least it’s nice to know that I can still learn something….

I’ve had this conversation with a couple of people recently – entrepreneurs who have been massively successful in a direct, personal and reputation-based mode but who want to take their businesses – and their impact – to a bigger audience. I’ve learned that I’m not alone.  And make no mistake – for me and for these other folks I’ve been talking to – it’s not about money, it’s about impact and service and making a difference based on what we know. But the current model of internet marketing for information and training products feels, well, not very ABC.

How can I reconcile my dread of feeling – or being perceived as – “promotional” or “sales-y” with my desire to be helpful and create impact as I try to get into the info-product and program business? I’m working on it.  I’m trying to balance the proven methods with those that feel consistent with who I am and how I approach this work.  And I’m working to make sure I only launch things that I really believe can be useful (that might seem obvious, but I’ve had a few things suggested to me over the years that would not have made that cut!).

When Chris Brogan puts up a blog post with an intent to sell something he leads with “Selly sell” so there’s no subterfuge or misrepresentation of his intent. I think it’s respectful, and I like it.

So, here’s the plan. Over the next few weeks and months when you see “New!” in the blog post headline, that will be your signal that there’s something in the post that you can buy or refer to someone who might.  I’m not sure if I’m warning you or inviting you – probably both.  In any case, when you see “New!” here, if you’d take a look, I’d appreciate it.  Whether you do or  you don’t, at least you’ll have had the choice right up front.

As always, I am grateful your support.  



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There are 9 comments.

Dominic Scaffidi —

Thank you Karen for sharing about your journey on this topic. It resonates with me. I have similar concerns as I think about moving beyond one to one coaching. As is often the case when moving outside my comfort zone – this will be a personal growth journey. I look forward to learning with you!

Karen Wright

Thanks, Dominic. I like to think that the hesitation and discomfort come from placing a high value on the client relationship, so preserving that relationship will be one of the goals moving forward. Glad we’re in it together!

dawnjensen —

Great read Karen. I look forward to what’s “New”. Tanks for sharing.

Alan Allard —

Karen, I am a big fan of Brene Brown as well and I appreciate the attention she has brought to the topic of shame. It’s too bad there’s so much shame and hesitation about “selling.” There is no shame in our letting others know about what we can do for them–they can say “yes” or “no,” but they can’t say either if we don’t get their attention in the first place.
We can make emotionally moving offers with reasonable claims and then respect the reader enough to know they will make an intelligent decision based on both the content and the tone of the information we put out there.

Karen Wright

Thanks, Dawn! I appreciate you visiting, and thanks for the support!

Karen Wright

Totally agree, Alan – and the key is to stay true to ourselves by making the emotionally moving offer with the reasonable claim. I think offers that fit that description sometimes get overshadowed and outshouted by those that, well, don’t. Thanks for being here!

Alan Allard —

“…the key is to stay true to ourselves by making the emotionally moving offer with the reasonable claim.” Yes, I agree, that’s the key–and not always easy to do.

Marie-Jeanne —

Karen: I appreciate how you used this post to “prep” us as to when we might receive a post in which you will make an offer. It came through as full of integrity. I too remember the uncomfortable feeling when I realized I would have to be less intimate and personal if I were to launch/sell a products or programs. I chose to back away from that for the time being. However, you have given me a new perspective – and a realization that I am not alone in my feeling of “yuk.” Many thanks for sharing.

Karen Wright

Thanks, Marie-Jeanne – it’s always good to know we’re not alone! Love the “feeling of yuk.” I’m glad to have offered you a new perspective, such that you might change your mind about expanding what you offer. Direct personal service work is exhilarating and exhausting, so it’s important that we create businesses that give us the kind of space we need to do what we do. Good luck!

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