How to differentiate yourself as a coach

What do clients really want?

One of the biggest challenges for coaches is the lack of clarity and transparency in the leadership development marketplace.  Anyone can call themselves a coach, and they use accreditations to differentiate themselves.  This makes it difficult for clients to understand your uniqueness – and consequently makes it difficult to choose a coach by any means other than by comparing coaching fees.

There are 3 key factors to keep in mind here:

  1. Clients care about their results, not your coaching
  2. Clients care about their experience, not your service
  3. Clients care about their return on investment, not your fees.

If you can speak to these 3 felt-needs of executives, you can easily differentiate and distinguish yourself in a muddy marketplace.  This means more sales, more easily.


Results – a quality guarantee

I’ll never forget my first Stakeholder Centered Coaching client, not only because it was one of the easiest contracts to close, but because of the story he told me after he signed.  He said,

“My father had a heart attack when I was 10 years old.  When we went to the surgeon to talk about options, it seemed that each doctor was more interested in talking about the process of surgery than about the outcome of the operation.  They talked about the tools, the incisions, and the scarring.  Rarely, did they start the conversation by just saying he could make my father healthy again. 

When you described your coaching, you actually never mentioned the coaching – you only focused on the measurable leadership growth.   Had you talked about assessments, analysis, and change, the conversation would have ended much differently – likely with a no.”

Coaches try to differentiate themselves with their tools, methodology, and coaching philosophies.  But just as patients want to buy health, not surgery, clients are looking to pay for results, not coaching.  And since executives all come from exact-science backgrounds (finance, operations, HR, etc.) you can stand out as a coach by offering results with 2 specific characteristics: measurable & guaranteed.


Experience – a brand you can trust

The executives that coaches most want to work with understand the power of brand:  BIG companies want to work with BIG brands.  Why?  A strong brand is built on customer experience and over-delivering on results.  When such a reputation has been cultivated for decades, people use brand names in place of other words.  People ‘Google’ their search words or they buy an ‘Apple.’

Last month, I met a client in Singapore.  When we met, she didn’t suggest going out for coffee, she suggested going out for a Starbucks.  When we sat down, I asked her, “Why Starbucks.”  Without a second thought she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I know the name, I trust the experience.”

She didn’t need to know the way the beans were roasted or the temperature of the water.  She simply recognized the power of the brand and made a decision.  Without comparing prices, without exploring options, she went straight for the experience she trusted most and pulled out her wallet.

Align yourself with a brand that executives know and have trusted for decades to easily differentiate yourself.  Don’t clutter your client conversations with every educational endeavor you’ve undertaken.  Speak in terms of brands that have been cultivated for decades and are already being widely consumed by executives: at Global HR Conferences, from reading best-selling books, and from the leadership thinking that got them to the executive level in the first place. 


Return on Investment – measurable at every step

Leaders at the executive level have already mastered the art of project management throughout their career.  They think in terms of long-term goals broken down into milestones with deadlines and project maps of stakeholder involvement.  For them, the most important aspect is the measurability of each milestone – performance, impact, and ROI.  This is not only the language they speak and the way they think, it is the way they buy.

Coaching should be just as measurable.  It should start with a project roadmap – Project LEADER, so to say.  There should be deliverables at each milestone.  Stakeholders should have clarity on their involvement and the entire process should fit on one page.  Now, anyone inside or outside the project can glance at the road map and know exactly what is happening and when without explanation.

The most important aspect of coaching in this manner is that it all becomes measurable – not just by the leader, the sponsor, or the coach – but by those around the leader.  The stakeholders determine the ROI on leadership growth.  By using this type of coaching process, you create agile leadership and predictable outcomes – think Six Sigma Leadership.

Great side-benefits come from using a process like this.  For one, it is highly transparent.  Because everyone is working from the same playbook, the team can cohesively operate together and support the leader’s growth.  Transparency creates deep buy-in from your clients and creates self-sufficient leadership.

Additionally, it is highly transferrable.  Because the charter of HR is to produce great leaders with great processes, this type of coaching enables organizations to mass produce leaders.  With large numbers of coaches getting clients through referral, this type of process allows you to cascade your coaching services up and down organization and creates a wealth of business for you.

Differentiate yourself by speaking the executive language.  While many coaches talk in terms of coaching competencies and science-backed neuro change, do something different.  Rather than convincing them of the value of coaching, talk in terms of what they already see value in– measuring ROI.


Differentiation is a simple way to enable yourself to confidently differentiate yourself to executive clients.  Marshall Goldsmith spent 40+ years cultivating a brand of coaching that delivers “Guaranteed & Measurable Leadership Growth.”  By using a simple process that drives for results, Marshall Goldsmith certified coaches confidently speak with executives and get more contracts.

With certification opportunities in every part of the globe, you can:

  • Guarantee measurable results while coaching executives
  • Affiliate with the world’s #1 executive coach & coach network
  • Demonstrate ROI on leadership and mass produce leaders


Make it easy for yourself to get more clients – become a Marshall Goldsmith certified coach, today.


Authors: Brandon Mergard, Will Linssen, and Marshall Goldsmith

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

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