When clients call for a consultation or come in for a first appointment, there’s an underlying question, often unstated, that always shapes what happens: is there a good fit between what they’re looking for—relief from anxiety or depression, a way to resolve relationship conflicts, or perhaps some other issue—and what you have to offer? But that same question, albeit expressed in lots of different ways, is by no means restricted to what happens between therapists and clients. However we may resist the idea, we’re in the therapy business,
and the reality is that our initial contact with clients represents the same challenge faced by salespeople seeking to turn shoppers into satisfied customers. What good, responsible salespeople know is that their job isn’t to make people buy things that they don’t need, but to assess people’s needs and show them the match between those needs and what they have to offer.
Think about the experience of buying a car: as soon as you step onto a dealership lot, you’re ready for the sales pitch, the question-and-answer dance of customer and seller. Like it or not, you’re doing this same dance when you first talk to potential clients. You’re not trying to peddle some product people don’t really need: they’ve called you up—or stepped onto the lot, as it were. They want to know what you can offer them. Your goal is to use your skills to help them feel safe and well served. When that happens, you can close the deal. But how do you do it? Robert Taibbi, author and clinician, offers eight steps for making the good sales pitch.
- Understand their vision. Car buyers have a vision of what they’re looking for. Similarly, clients have a vision, however vague, of how they want to be different. They may say, “I need help managing my anxiety” or “I want to stop arguing so much with my husband.” Your job is to ask questions to help them clarify that vision.
- Find out what they expect. For the car salesperson, drilling down into specific expectations involves asking about price range, gas mileage, and so forth. For therapists, it means asking prospective clients if they’ve been in therapy before and what exactly they liked or disliked about it. Are they looking for a particular therapeutic approach or simply a safe place to talk things out? This step involves fine-tuning the vision and clarifying expectations.
- Reflect back what you heard. Many therapists rush past these first two steps and move right into gathering background information about family history, symptoms, and medications. Don’t make this mistake! Slow down and take the time to make sure potential clients know that you understand what they’re looking for.
- Attend to nonverbal cues and verbal subtleties. Even if your initial meeting with a potential client is over the phone, you can be mindful of the kind of language they like to use and match their energy level.
- Make your pitch. At this point, you want to present what you have to offer. Here, the car salesperson says, “I think this car has all the things you’re looking for.” You can present your experience and summarize your approach and style. What you’re doing is aligning someone’s vision with yours and educating them about your approach—which is the heart of the sale.
- Get yeses down the line. A good car salesperson is looking for agreement to each element of his pitch and is alert to any negative responses. If you don’t address signs of ambivalence or concern from clients early on, clients probably won’t come back.
- Summarize and close the deal. You can start this step by saying, “I feel like we’re on the same page. Do you?” If you don’t get a solid yes—or if you hear a hesitant “yeah, I think so”—then back up. If you do get a firm positive response, you can lay out the next step. Here, the car salesperson would talk about financing or delivery times. But you can talk about a six-session commitment, homework assignments, or what you’d like to focus on in the next session.
- Follow up. Some clients are shopping around and actually do need time to think before they commit to anything. Don’t pressure them as most clients will hear that as manipulation, which it is. Instead, tell them to call if they have any other questions. Then, be sure to follow up.
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