Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Closing the Deal with Clients: What Therapists Can Learn from Salespeople

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Closing the Deal with Clients: What Therapists Can Learn from Salespeople

Article excerpt

Closing the Deal with Clients

What Therapists Can Learn from Salespeople

By Robert Taibbi

When clients call for a consultation or come in for a first appointment, an underlying question, often unstated, always shapes what happens: is there a good fit between what I'm looking for - relief from anxiety and depression, for example - and what you have to offer? But that same question, albeit expressed in 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 they don't need, but to assess people's needs and show them the match with 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? Here are eight steps to help you make a good sales pitch.

1. Understand their vision. One of the first questions the car salesperson is likely to ask you is whether you're looking for a vehicle that's new or used, or big or small, so he knows where to start the conversation. Typically, car buyers have a vision of what they're looking for. Similarly, clients have in mind a vision, however vague, of how they want to be different. They may say, "I need help managing my anxiety," "I want to feel less depressed," or "I want my husband and me to stop arguing so much." Your job, then, is to ask questions to help them clarify that vision: for example, "What do you mean when you say managing your anxiety or feeling less depressed?" Understanding their vision is the most important part of helping clients make a decision to take the next step forward, as the rest of your conversation with them will revolve around what you find out.

2. Find out what they expect. For the car salesperson, drilling down into specific expectations involves asking about price range, color, gas mileage, sports packages, 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? Do they want to walk away with specific tools and coping skills, or are they interested in simply gleaning insights into the past? In essence, this step involves fine-tuning the vision, clarifying expectations, finding out what to do and not do.

If a potential client says he's already talked a lot in therapy about how his anxiety is tied to growing up in an alcoholic family and now wants help figuring out how he can avoid turning into a turtle at social events, you know to skip the history and give the man what he wants: anxiety-coping skills.

3. 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. This step builds trust and safety, and it can be as simple as saying, "So it sounds like you want to learn tools that you can use to calm yourself down when you feel anxious," or "It seems like you want to get a grasp on the way your childhood makes you sensitive to other's opinions of you. …

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