Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Coaching Chemistry ~ Determining a client’s readiness for coaching

We are pleased to share an article entitled “Coaching Chemistry ~ Determining a client’s readiness for coaching” written by Jeremy Lewis .

It is common practice to hold ‘chemistry’ sessions to assess the match between coach and their prospective client. Chemistry sessions represent a high stress point for coaches, especially for those who are new to coaching.

Some coaches refer to these meetings as ‘discovery’ sessions, which appears to put the focus on the coach understanding the client. Intuitively, this is a good approach because we are taught as coaches to keep our attention with our clients. However, chemistry goes both ways.

This first meeting is critical for both parties; essentially, you are addressing whether they are ready to work with you. It is not just about you finding out more about them; that would be like falling into a trap. Nor is it simply telling them all about you (as a novice, I fell into this trap). It is about establishing a partnership of equals, and that is why I prefer the term ‘chemistry.’

Clients choose coaches using their head, heart and gut. First, they use rationality (head) to select coaches with proven experience in the area they need help. Then they meet a few of these coaches for chemistry sessions to feel (heart) how the relationship will be. After the chemistry sessions, they reflect on the experiences they have had. This is when they listen to their instinct (gut) to pick the right coach.


Rationally, from the coach’s point of view, the chemistry session is a sales meeting. However, adopting a selling mindset is wrong. To the prospective client, this feels pushy, which is the opposite of coaching. (Incidentally, this is the reason many coaches hate marketing and selling. We are not naturally pushy people, which means we are not very practiced in it, so it feels clunky and awkward, and is received by prospective clients as such!)


Perhaps the chemistry session is not a sales meeting at all. You want the chemistry session to build a connection. However, if you only focus on the heart, there is a risk you forget the contracting aspect altogether.

For example, you have an enjoyable conversation and build rapport. You leave the session hoping the prospective client liked you more than they liked the other coaches they have met, and could envision working with you. They leave the session thinking you were nice. But nice isn’t what they are looking to buy, so you have missed the opportunity to win a new client.


Rapport-building alone only pays attention to the relationship. This is an important part of a coaching contract; indeed, it is a part of the commercial contract that is often overlooked. However, in itself, it is not enough to secure the client.

In a chemistry conversation that maximizes your chances of securing the client, you must pay attention to the business of coaching and the coaching relationship.

The challenge is that the chemistry session is not either a sales meeting or a trust-building chat; rather it is BOTH a sales meeting and a trust-building chat. To meet both objectives, you need a commercial mindset (not a selling mindset) and a conversation that maximizes your chances of securing the client (not a conversation that maximizes rapport- building).


Adopting a selling mindset is aimed at one thing: winning the business. If someone wins, then someone loses. By contrast, a commercial mindset recognizes that there is a commercial transaction and a special collaborative relationship under consideration.

Adopting a commercial mindset acknowledges there is a problem that coaching can help, and that you are a coach who can help with a unique proposition tailored to fix the problem. Your unique proposition is that special something that sets you apart from the other coaches with whom they are speaking.

When you adopt a commercial mindset, you move away from a ‘win/lose’ selling mindset to a ‘win/win or no deal’ commercial mindset.


Client problems are “uniquely the same.” You must remember that for the client, their problem is unique. And in a way, it is — it will present in their world in a way that is specific to them, their workplace, their home life, their relationships.

On the other hand, you have probably come across this problem before, so you can view it in a similar way as those other situations. Which means that you can have confidence that you can help. However, your client does not want to hear, “I’ve seen this before.” They want you to acknowledge their uniqueness.

Be prepared to tell them they are unique, their problem is unique, and that you believe you can help.

I have adopted a five-step approach to navigating the coaching chemistry session that starts with knowing your customer and their problem and then articulates who you are and what you offer. Since I started using this approach, I increased my success rate of securing coaching clients at the chemistry session stage from around 50% to over 90%.

  1. Seek first to understand.
  2. Then to be understood.
  3. Turn the features into benefits.
  4. Provide specifics on how it works.
  5. Close.

Steps 1 and 2 are inspired by Stephen R. Covey’s writing on empathic communication, which is critical to establishing a relationship of equals.

  1. Seek to understand. Draw out and appreciate their problem. This step also directly embodies no less than five of Nancy Kline’s 10 components of a Thinking Environment:Attention — listening with respect, interest and fascination;Equality — treating your client as a thinking peer;

    Appreciation — giving genuine praise sets the context for your role as a catalyst for change;

    Ease — having scheduled enough time for the chemistry session offers freedom from urgency;

    Encouragement — championing who and where they find themselves as being ‘uniquely the same,’ not judging or competing with them.

  2. Seek to be understood. If step 1 outlines the task of coaching, step 2 is all about the territory of coaching — what your coaching is and is not. It is your opportunity to outline your coaching process or philosophy. This is where you can inspire confidence in your offer. A key phrase you might use is, “I believe I can help.”
  3.  Turn the features into benefits. People do not buy process; they buy solutions. By turning your process into outcomes, they will make the link between what you offer and what they will gain. A key phrase you might use is, “Which means that…”
  4. Provide specifics on how it works. This is the nuts and bolts of the coaching process. It includes Time and another of Nancy Kline’s 10 Components of a Thinking Environment – Place.
  5.  Close. Just like any sales process, you need to have a great way to close the conversation, which means asking for their business.

Tip: Stay curious about whether you can see yourself working with this person. If you can, then assume you are going to do business.

You will need to find your own way to balance curiosity with assuredness. If you do not reach an agreement to work together, then agree on how you will follow up with each other and by when.

If you have reached an agreement, then congratulations! You have secured the business. Even so, there is always one more contracting question you can ask: “How do you feel about how we have set things up?”

You may have noticed that the five steps are very similar to a classic sales meeting process. You can imagine a car salesperson eliciting details of your lifestyle and the challenges you have with your current vehicle, outlining how they have the models that will enhance your life, showing you the features of their models and turning them into benefits that fit your lifestyle, and being so confident they are going to close the sale that they won’t let you leave until you have signed a contract.

Be under no illusion that the steps here are the same, but with a different mindset. You are offering your prospect an opportunity to work with you, not pushing something onto them.

Car salespeople are taught the art of conversational selling. This is conversational contracting. Think of it as simply another coaching conversation with the goal of seeing whether you want to work together, agreeing to the process of working together, and setting expectations of each other.

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