Converting Your Clients Using a Coaching Discovery Session
By Lucia Baldelli
Discovery sessions in coaching are our first opportunity to connect to a potential client that is interested in working with us. They are therefore essential to expand our business by converting clients. This puts a lot of pressure on many coaches, who feel nervous about giving the right impression and building rapport during this call. In this article I will explore how my discovery sessions have changed over time and the essential steps I cover now.
What is a Coaching Discovery Call?
At the beginning of my coaching career my discovery calls were ‘chemistry sessions’. I gave the client the opportunity of knowing who I am and I used them as a way to understand if I wanted to work with that client – I always look for people who are willing to do real work on themselves – and if I could help them in the first place.
Some coaches use discovery calls to share a sales pitch about their services and the benefits of working with them. I always disagreed with the approach as I find it intrusive and inappropriate. I rather see it as the first encounter between two human beings who want to find out if there is potential to work together.
I do not use discovery calls anymore for several reasons that I will share later in this article. If you decide to leverage them, it is important to have clarity about what you want to get out of these sessions and the questions you want to ask. I would avoid using a script as it might make the conversation clunky instead of being the first ‘dance’ with your client. Your goal is not to follow a pre-defined structure to tick all the boxes. It is instead to connect to someone who has a struggle and potentially start a coaching relationship that will grow your coaching business a bit more. Naturalness and ease should be present during these conversations, just like in every other coaching session.
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Why Are Coaching Discovery Sessions so Important?
My discovery sessions were aimed at understanding if I was a good match for the client and vice versa. I found value in understanding the client emotional space and hear a bit more about the challenge to mentally prepare for the first session. Who are they? What are they aiming for? What makes it difficult for them? What do they expect to achieve through coaching?
I felt my clients gained clarity during those sessions too. They went deeper on what they wanted to achieve through coaching and made meaning of what was emerging during that initial conversation. It was a way to kick off the relationship and I never coached during these sessions.
How to Run a Coaching Discovery Call
You might want to add your own signature to your discovery process, so do not take mine as a universal approach or something to copy and paste. It has to work for you and for your clients!
My discovery calls were about 30 minutes long, enough to break the ice and not too long to become a burden in my busy agenda, especially considering that I did not charge for those sessions. I felt that longer sessions would have led to a coaching demo, which I did not want for a few reasons:
- Coaching is a professional service that should be paid and not given for free, unless you have chosen to have a pro-bono client
- Your first session with a client will never be perfect – it normally takes one or two sessions to get in flow and understand your client learning style, behavioural and thinking patterns. So, you do not want to set expectations based on a short ‘demo’.
- They might even think they can do it by themselves, with the help of a friend or an AI app. But working with a coach brings much more value than that.
The role of the coach during a discovery session is to create a space that is safe enough for the client to start opening up and searching for new meaning inside themselves. They want to feel listened and understood. They want to connect on a deeper level with themselves with our help. Our questions should be direct and easily understood by the client. We should also negotiate who they want us to be with them.
Coaching Discovery Call Template
Some coaches like to send an intake form, a questionnaire, to invite the client to reflect on the relationship goals before the discovery call, and look for coaching discovery call templates and scripts. I dislike this approach because I find more effective to ask questions that are based on what is emerging in our conversation. I value responsiveness over following a script. Please not all questions might be useful for a client.
Discovery sessions might differ from coach to coach but tend to have the same structure. Here is a template for coaches who are just starting to leverage discovery calls. I am including tips that can make the call a success.
Explore their previous experience with coaching
Sometimes clients might not be fully aware of what coaching is and isn’t. Make sure you take the opportunity to clarify your role, how coaching differs from other service professions and in what cases you would suggest therapy instead of coaching.
Discuss needs and expectations
Clarify what they want and need from you and how you can best support them.
- Discuss how they want you to share observations and give feedback
- Mention that you might challenge them at times and discuss how they would like this to happen
- Clarify that it is ok to not explore a topic or go to any place where they do not feel comfortable to go
- Discuss if it is ok to share resources or references that might help deepen their learning
- Get permission to take notes and to record the call if needed, share how you will handle their data
- Talk about confidentiality, particularly in organisational coaching.
This allows you to build trust and create safety in the relationship, even when they have been ‘sent’ for coaching.
If they have been referred to you – e.g. by their line manager – they might not trust you. Building trust in coaching is fundamental: ask them what needs to be discussed that gets in the way of them trusting you to work with them.
Get a sense of the challenge
Explore why they are seeking for coaching, what is making it a challenge for them and how is it impacting them. Understand what they expect to achieve through coaching.
Talk the human behind the challenge
Give them space to ask questions
They will have questions for you. Make enough time to answer them.
Don’t make it about you!
They probably came to you because they know you or have been referred to you. Do not make the conversation about you by sharing the list of your qualifications. You can share the link to your website, if they want to know more. I like to share that I am an expert in coaching and they are expert in their life, so together we can do great things.
14 Powerful Coaching Discovery Call Questions
Here are some examples of powerful discovery call questions. Again, this is not a script but a list that can inspire some of the questions you might ask depending on the situation.
- What is your previous experience with coaching?
- What is most important in your life right now?
- What are you looking for in a coach?
- What is the best way for me to support / challenge you?
- How do you want me to be with you?
- How would you like to receive feedback?
- What is the challenge you would like to resolve?
- What have you already tried?
- What are you hoping to accomplish by the end of our relationship?
- What is the value you would get?
- What is getting in the way to achieve it?
- What is your motivation to change?
- How will you keep yourself motivated?
- How do you hold yourself accountable?
What if you do not leverage Coaching Discovery Sessions?
I like to start with coaching. I have found out that doing impactful work as we start is the most effective way of building trust in case it wasn’t there. I remember coaching a lady who was very skeptical at the beginning of our first session. She had decided to try because a friend recommended me. We went straight into one hour coaching and at the end she was incredibly energised after experiencing the value she could get. She came to the second session with high expectations and ready to do deeper work.
If you want to learn more how to build trust and create safety in the coaching relationship, you can join our advanced course Deepening Conversation.
- The Coaching Relationship: Definition and Key Elements, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- Coaching presence: what is it and how to develop it, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- The five components of coaching, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- What does partnership mean in coaching, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- Building trust in a coaching relationship, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- How to end a coaching session, by Lucia Baldelli MCC