Selling Your Coaching by Dr. Don Greene (1996)


Dr. Don Greene has been the Sports Psychologist with the 1984 Olympic Diving Team and the 1986 World Championship Swimming Team, and has also served on staff with the Mission Viejo Nadadores, the Mission Bay Makos and the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team. A former competitive swimmer, he has taught optimal teaching strategies and sales training for instructors at the Vail and Beaver Creek Ski Schools, Winter park Ski School, Golf Digest School and the American Race Car Driving School. In the past three years, Dr. Greene has developed an integrated sports psychology assessment system for athletes, teachers and coaches.

We’re going to be talking about selling your ideas, selling your coaching, selling your program, and selling you as an innovative coach. What I would like to know is what you would like to get out of this session or the problems that give you the most difficulty in either dealing with kids, or dealing with parents, or maybe assistant coaches. Does anything come to mind?

Questions: How do you sell your program in terms of high level performers and developmental swimmers? How do you get their attention?

Let’s talk about communication and selling your ideas. When we’re talking about selling your ideas or selling your coaching we are going to talk about communication of your ideas to somebody else with an edge. In other words you want to get some sort of movement out of them. If you think of your interactions with sales people every time you walk into a store, every time you buy an airline ticket, every time you have an interaction you have an opportunity to see good people or people that don’t know how to do it. I’d like to tell you how to do it properly and then have you convert it into your coaching as we go.

The basis that we are going to talk about is based on a relationship — a very important relationship between you and the swimmer or you and the parent or you and the committee that you are addressing in terms of first establishing a relationship and then based upon that solid relationship getting your ideas across and getting into an advantage position so you come out winning. How do you do that? There is a very simple straight forward program of formula that will give you that. It may not at first seem to be spectacular but believe me it works. It is very simple and straightforward.

The first step is connecting — connecting with the person you’re trying to communicate with. As Don Swartz says, nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. You have a much better position to sell your coaching, sell your program, sell your ideas, if you show an interest in them and you are generally sincerely interested in them in what they want. So connecting between you and another person. How do you do that? It need not take a long time. But again if you go into a store and you get a friendly greeting, a sales person that seems interested in you, a person that seems interested in finding what you want, which is a real key, is already establishing an advantage. But on the other hand they could care less about you, they don’t seem to be interested in you, you seem to be bothering them, you might very well — even though you want something from that store you — might as well just turn around and walk out and find another store.

So the most advantageous thing you can do is start off properly with connecting with that person. Call them by name, look them in the eye, smile, and show an interest in them as the first step.

The other step, although you have in your mind what you want to provide for them, what you want to give to them, what you want to sell them is one of the basic rules of sales and it is what every good sales person sees — a big sign on the forehead of the person they are trying to communicate with. Does anybody know what the sign says? It says, “What’s in it for me?” What do they get out of it? Because if they don’t have anything to get out of it you are not in the position to offer them anything and offer as opposed to sell because what you want to do is offer. If they have nothing to get from it you have nothing to offer them. So number one is connect with them with a view towards understanding their motivation. What they are looking for?

If you are trying to get past a problem with a swimmer, a swimmer that is maybe a behavioral problem, a swimmer that misses a lot of workouts or comes to work out late, or a parent in your program that is a continuing problem, you need to know what their motivation is.

The other thing that you want to do up first after connecting is clearly state the problem or situation if at all possible in one sentence or maybe two. Clearly state the problem or situation as you see it. Not with an emotional edge but just clearly stating a difficulty that is arising between you two. That is step Number 1. So you’re going to connect, think in terms of what they have to gain and also a clear statement or clear definition of the problem or the situation you are hoping to remedy, solve or make better.

Question: All of those come under number one?

Yes, they clearly come under Number 1. Connect, try to understand what is in it for them, what do they have to gain for this interaction. It might be resolving the problem or just clearly stating a situation that you’re hoping to make better.

That is Number 1. It need not take a long time but if you bypass this statement they may just see that you are trying to manipulate them and move something pass them that they are not in favor of. So the idea is to make sure that you are on rock solid ground with your relationship, of showing your concern for them, getting consensual validation that they understand what the situation is that you want to solve and trying to see it from their point of view as well.

Number 2. It is very important that you see their point of view. Number 2 is listen to their response and what they want. Listen to their response to what you just said in terms of stating the problem and see what their initial feelings and perceptions of the problem are. It is very important that you listen with an open mind and one of the rules of listening is that you listen totally and don’t interrupt. After you stated your initial opening, stating the problem and definition of the problem and situation it is very important that you listen without interruption and see what they say. If you walk into a department store for a pair of Nikes and say, “I want a pair of Nikes” and the salesperson immediately leaves and goes into the back room chances are, when they come back they are going to bring you back something you don’t want. And the rule of sales is that it is hard to sell something they don’t want. This is not hard sales this is soft sales. This should hopefully make you feel comfortable about what you are doing. But if you just state one sentence and they leave you, they haven’t listened to you, they don’t know exactly what you want. It is hard to sell somebody on something they don’t exactly want. So the second step in this process is that after stating this situation or problem that you put on the table the idea is to then listen to their response.

The key to good sales is listening to what they have to say. The more they tell you, the more advantage you have to sell them on your ideas, your coaching, and your program. The more you understand exactly what they want the more you can give it to them. Let me say that again, it is real important. After stating the initial situation or problem, the more you understand and listen to what they have to say about what they want, their perspective, their problems, their resistance up front, the better you understand that, the better you can deal with it and overcome it. So the second and really important step is listening without interruption. Make sure that you hear them fully. Step 2 — listen fully to their needs and wants.

After they’ve finished you still don’t have enough information. Number 3 is to question them for more information about their perspectives, needs and wants, problems, resistances, objections, and complaints. The more information they give you the better position you are in to sell whatever you are trying to convince them of or sell them on your program. We want to understand them fully. Chances are they are they can’t tell you all you need to know just by listening to them. So you are going to direct them.

The way you are going to direct them is with three questions. Number 1 is fact-finding questions. Ask them about the facts, ask them about the details. Make sure you understand all the facts from their point of view. Again the better you understand it from their point of view and the facts that they have to deal with that are in their mind the better position you are in to overcome those. So question number one is going to be fact-finding questions.

Number 2: Feeling-finding questions. Besides the left brain facts that are in their mind you also want to get more right brain in terms of how they feel about it. Are they feeling happy about it, sad about it, angry about it, very mad about it, distressed about it, anxious about it? The more you understand how they are feeling besides the facts that go with how they have their perspective, the better you find out about how they are feeling about it and why they feel that way, the better position you are in to affect them.

Another rule of sales is that people buy emotionally and justify it rationally. You do not buy a Porche Carerra for regular transportation. You buy a Porche because it makes you feel wonderful. The secret of sales is understanding the feelings behind their motives. The better you understand how they feel about their position, what’s coloring their perspective, the better you understand that, the more advantage of position you are going to be in.

Number 3 are open-ended questions. Again, what we are trying to do is get more information. Open-ended questions that are not going to be answered by a yes or no should give you the rest of the information you need to be in a powerful position. Again, try not to interrupt. You are going to listen and listen to them fully. Let them talk.

Step number 4 is to validate what they’ve told you. Summarize what they have said. Summarize the facts they’ve given you, summarize their feelings, and summarize whatever information you’ve gotten out of open-ended questions. What you are looking for them to give you is a nod, a yes. So you finish the validation asking, “Am I understanding you correctly? Are you saying…?”

Another rule of sales is that you always want the person to be saying yes at least three or four times before you ask them the big question. (We are not yet to the big question.) One of the first yes’s you are going to get is hopefully to your question, “Am I understanding you correctly? You said…and you feel…and also you want me to know… Is that correct?” “Yes.” It is very hard to sell people without a full understanding of their needs, their wants, and their motivations. What you are feeding them back, hopefully, is a reflection that you have listened to what they’ve said. You understand what they want with a yes as a response. So this validation, this fourth step finishes hopefully with at least one yes from them if not more than one yes to show them that you understand where they are coming from what they want and what their interests are.

At that step you are in a very advantageous position. You’ve now listened to what they’ve said, confirmed that it is true and shown them and gotten your first yes. Now we go into providing.

Number 5 provide. After getting your first yes you want to tell them your own feelings about it. So first tell them your own feelings. Second, tell them what you want, tell them your desires, your wants, and your motivations. Now the critical aspect is creatively find a happy meeting ground between what they want and what you want, between what they want and what you have to offer, what they want and how your program can satisfy those needs. State it clearly. It is very important at this point that you state the benefits, not the features. This is the bottom line secret in sales. Show how it can help them. If we go back to the initial sign on their head that asked, “What is in it for me?” Then after you have listened to them, you have to show them what the benefits are for them buying this, for their moving this direction, for their changing to your own opinion you’ve got to show them a benefit.

A rule of psychology is if there is not benefit for them, if they get no gain out of it, they are not going to do it. You have got to creatively find a way to satisfy their needs and wants which also coincide with what you want. If you can find that happy meeting ground it is a done deal. So this last step is after you know what they want and show them how your program can provide that not with features but with benefits.

Let me explain this to you. Any time you go to buy something you are interested in, what it is going to do for you? What the sales person has at the tip of their fingers is all the features of their product. The best way to explain it to you is this way: You go into a store to buy a computer to word process. You want a glorified typewriter to write your letters. That is all you want, an easy way to write letters. If you reach a bad salesperson and tell them you want a computer to write letters they will start naming features. Anybody computer literate and can name some features of a computer. 8 megabytes of memory, so many bytes of RAM, gigabyte hard drives, microprocessors, megahertz, and so on.

You could care less about those features. All you want is a benefit, namely something to write your business letters better than a typewriter. You want the benefits of that and you could care less about the features. Good salespeople talk only in terms of benefits, what is in it for the customer.

The easiest thing you can do as a swimming coach when somebody calls you about your program is tell them that you have so many lanes, you have this dryland training equipment, you do this and this. All they want to do is have their child swim better. If you start rattling off technical terms to a non-swimming parent, you are giving them features. It is very easy for you to rattle off about the pool, the program, the hours, and so on but all they want is what you are going to do for them — not how many lanes you have, what type of pool it is, but can their child swim better in your program. If you keep that in mind you have the number one rule in sales. Talk in terms of benefits.

What I’m going to ask you to do right now is write out some benefits of what you’re trying to sell to the people out there who are wanting your coaching, your program, your ideas. Watch out for features. Think in terms of who you are trying to sell it to and write out three statements or five statements only in terms of benefits. In other words, what does it do for them? This is real important to have at your fingertips so let’s get it down right now.

Suggestions from the group: Offer year round program. Teach self-discipline and responsibility. Help the child with goal-setting, and foster great relationships with other children. Foster great relationships. Foster life-long enjoyment of the sport. Excellent group for your child to be around. Long term development.

Benefits that will appeal to parents. Stroke technique may be close to a feature but when you identify it with a professional attitude of American Red Cross or Swim America, parents identify that with their children improving their own stroke techniques. Improving their swimming. Family oriented program where we get the total families involved with the programs as well as the swimmers. I’ll buy that as a benefit.

How about learning to do backstroke, freestyle, butterfly, etc. Is that a feature or benefit? It is a feature. Faster turns? Feature or benefit? Feature. Make National cut times? Feature. Learn how to swim better, have fun. Benefit.

We are half way there. Five steps in the process so far. Connect with the person, listen to their wants and needs and motivations. Question them to get even more information in terms of facts, feelings, and even more information with open-ended questions. Validate to them what they’ve told you and make sure you get a yes as a response. If you get a no then you have to clarify it and get a yes response. And then you provide in terms of benefits not features.

We are going to go on to objections and complaints in a second but I’d like you to try this out. I’d like you to try with the person sitting next to you to come up with real problems that you’re presented with and use those. I’d like you each to try it for about two minutes each and get used to the five step process and see how it works. Try as much as possible to do a real live situation that you are confronted with in your swimming program all the time.

This five step process is in every sales program, every sales book and with every good sales person you meet. It may seem simple. It works really well with kids, it works with your parent groups, and it works with assistant coaches. When you go into stores notice what happens. The good people who have learned this system will be effective with you and the others won’t. You have to understand where the person’s coming from, show your concern for their point of view, understand it completely so you can offer what you have which is your features, but not in terms of features but converting, translating the features into benefits. You have to show them the advantage, otherwise they are not going to go for it.

Question: Lots of times parents develop objections to what is going on in the program and harbor those feelings, fester them, talk about them in parking lots with their friends, create a little group, harmonize it together and before you know it they’re out the door and you never even had a chance to address their concerns. How do we identify those building objections? What are the telltale signs?

Let’s talk about objections and complaints right now. It follows the same sort of format that the first thing you want to do is not back up. You want to take a step forward with them and seek them out whether it is a group or an individual but actually go to find them because they have information that you need and want. Until you fully understand it you can’t deal with the problem. Complaints are good, because as long as they are complaining, they are invested. As long as they are objecting you still have them.

Another rule of sales is the worst statement of “no” are footsteps out the door. The person isn’t even invested enough to complain or object, they just walk away. So as long as they are complaining or objecting you still have a possibility of resolving it. What you don’t want to do is to back up or ignore the problem — you want to confront the problem. You want to talk to that person or set up a parent’s group meeting so you can better understand what the issue is because chances are if they are talking behind your back, not in your presence, it just festers and you don’t know what is going on. So the first thing you want to do is address the problem. Don’t back up, confront the person. Not in a nasty way but say, “Listen, I understand there is a problem here.” Back to step number 1. “Can we talk about it?” Not from a defensive point of view but from a point of view of understanding so you can solve it, so you can reach some kind of conclusion or resolution. So step number 1 is to address the problem and connect with the person. They have information that will help you resolve it. Number 2, listen to them. Listen to what their issue is. Try to fully understand it. After you listen to them without interruption, Number 3, question them. Get more information. Try to fully understand it. The better you understand what the problem is and also at the same time the better that you listen so that they feel like they are understood and listened to, you can start reaching a solution. So you are going to question them. After you question them with the three types of questions you are going to validate it. Number 4. Go back to saying OK, I understand what your objection is. I think I fully understand what your complaint is in terms of facts, feelings or any other information that they give you. Make sure that you get a yes that will hopefully start to diffuse some of the emotions that may be behind it. Number 5. Then try to provide.

Now there are four different types of complaints or objections that we are going to identify. Number 1, misconception. Part of the complaint or objection may be a misconception. They may just not understand. If you listen long enough you may hear that they don’t understand. And the whole problem may just be a miscommunication of mis-understood ideas between you and them. Clarify and explain will often this will resolve the problem if it is a misconception. Explain your position, explain the rules of your team. Clarify why you do this. Clarify what the rules are and why they are as they are. They may just say “Oh, I didn’t understand.” That’s the problem. Again if you question them, if you listen to them, if you validate back to them you are in a great position to resolve the misconception simply by clarifying and explaining. So number 1. If it is a misconception, clarify and explain.

The second objection or second complaint is skepticism. I’m not sure why I should stay with your program, I’m not sure why I should keep my kid involved in your age group program. You need to prove this. Prove your position. Prove the quality of your program through examples, through facts, through references. Give examples, facts, and references not your personal opinion. “Oh I think we have a great team.” That will mean nothing to them. So what I would like you to do right now is state factually some of the references of your program and some of the facts behind your program. You need to have this at your fingertips. Things like how many kids have made senior cuts, junior cuts, or how many kids made it to the last JO’s. Give what your program has done in terms of facts, examples and references that you can cite. I would like again for you to write out three to five of these factual examples that you can have your fingertips so that when they come to you with skepticism about your program you can cite these off the top of your head. Please write some of those out now. Remember that facts and references should relate back to your benefits. That would be great if you can do that. If you can convert these examples, references and facts into benefits, you’ve got it.

Number 3 is called the “real drawback.” If they are presenting you something like, “Well the other team has morning and afternoon open pool times but you only have in the afternoon.” Again if you listen to what their needs are, their desires, their wants, and where they are coming from, hopefully you can show them the big picture. Citing references, facts and show them how the advantages of your program outweigh the disadvantages. They’re giving you the disadvantage. You don’t have open pool time in the morning. Show them the advantage of your program. “Yes, we don’t have open pool time in the mornings, but…” Then again give them the benefits not the features. Give them the benefits and cite the examples, references of why your program is so good. That is number 3.

Number 4 is a real complaint. You need to listen to it and make them feel like they’re being understood which may start to resolve the complaint in the first place. Which is a lot of people’s complaints is that nobody listens to their complaint. Find a plan of action. Find something that you can do after listening to them that will satisfy their objection or complaint. I found in dealing with parents that when you listen to a real complaint and you have the ability or tell them right up front that as mature adults you can agree to disagree then things will go better. Agreeably disagree after you have listened to their complaint. Again in terms of complaints most people simply want to be heard. That will take care of it. If it doesn’t take care of it find a plan of action that will satisfy it even if the plan of action is that their child does go to another team. Dealing with objections and complaints follows the same program. Don’t back up, connect with them, don’t get defensive, show them that you are interested in what they have to say, listen to them, get more information, question them, validate their feelings, make sure that they say yes so that they are feeling like they are being understood, and start to find solutions.

If it is skepticism show them references, cite examples, and prove to them why your program is good. If it is a misconception, after listening to them, you’ll understand their misconception better. Clarify and explain. If it is a real drawback, if they are right in what they are saying, yes you do have a drawback and so it is very important that you recognize that, show them the big picture, how the advantages outweigh the disadvantages that they are bringing up. Number 4 if it is a real complaint, make sure you hear it, make sure you listen to it, ask them more about it, try to find some plan of action to resolve it.

The essential element of sales is communication. As long as you can keep the lines of communication open you have an advantage.

What I would like you to think about right now is to imagine you are sitting at your desk and getting a call from a parent who says they heard about your program. “I’ve got a twelve year old. Can you tell me about your program?” Please don’t start telling them about your program. What do you do? No, you ask them about their kid. Because unless at that point you show a concern about their child they may immediately perceive that you could care less about their child and that you just want to push your program on them. So when they ask you to tell them about your program the worst thing you could do is say, “Well we have a 50 meter pool competition pool, we’ve got a warm up pool, we’ve got eight lanes, we’ve got…” They could care less. They want to know that you are interested in their child. “Tell me about your program.” “I’ll be happy to, tell me about our child…” Does their child swim, have previous lessons? What do they want for their child? What do they want to get out of it? Do they want them just to learn how to swim, or do they want them to be in a competitive program? Ask me more about the child, how he is doing in school, etc. Listen, question them about facts, previous swimming experience. What kind of feeling does the kid want? Does he want to have fun, does he want to be with other kids, what do they want for their child? Do they want him to increase his self-esteem, what kind of feeling do they want him to come home with, a feeling of satisfaction, what else would they like?

“Ok, as I understand it you have a twelve-year old who hasn’t had swimming lessons, you want him to swim, you might want him to go into competitive swimming, you want him to have fun, and you want him to increase his self-esteem. Guess what, we have it. The benefits are he’ll get it. Does that sound good to you? Good.” Is that easy? That is it. If you listen to them and not jump in with what you have to offer, make sure that you understand what they want, you can provide that. If you can convince them that you heard them and can provide them with what they want, it is a done deal. That is how it works. If in the process they bring up skepticism about your program, address it with facts, references, cite your coaching staff, the records of your swimmers, etc. If it is a real drawback point out the big picture, how the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. This works with parents calling you about your program, it works with a ten-year old on the pool deck who hasn’t been coming to work out on time. State the problem, listen to what he or she says, and ask him questions about it – same program. It works very effectively.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news