Life Coaches – Silence Does Not Mean ‘No’

I was talking with a Life Coaching client the other day who was bemoaning the fact he had just lost a client who he was fairly sure would sign up with him for a series of coaching sessions.

I asked my client what he thought had prevented him signing the lady up? His response would have floored me if I hadn’t heard it so many times before.

“I don’t know, I never heard back from her”

The First Sin of Sales – Presumption

In sales one of the biggest sins a salesperson can make is to never get a ‘No!’ from the client.

In other words to presume that they know that silence means the person or business is not interested in their product or service.

You don’t!

About 10 years ago I was working on a very large sales deal. The total value of the order was in excess of $100k and as is often the case in such circumstances the sales cycle was slow and laborious.

I also knew that there were two other vendors involved in talks and it was by no means a forgone conclusion that I would get the final order.

Then something unexpected happened, it went very quiet.

The Finance Director who I had been dealing with suddenly stopped returning both my calls and e-mails. This isn’t that unusual in such circumstances as people working in senior management are usually long on work and short on hours.

However, after a couple of weeks I started to get anxious that I hadn’t heard anything and my manager was convinced they’d placed the order elsewhere and I should move on.

He was a bad manager, probably the worst I ever worked under, so I ignored him 🙂

The LAST thing I should have done was to move on.

Do you know why?

I Never Heard No!

I had no idea of why the guy wasn’t returning my calls.

It could have been any of the following reasons (and bear in mind I wasn’t getting any information out of his PA or any other contacts in the business, other than he was unavailable and she didn’t know when he would be available).

  • He may have placed the order elsewhere
  • He may have been on vacation
  • He may be negotiating with the competition and using my proposal as ammunition
  • He may have been sick
  • He may have been fired and the company didn’t want the information leaked until a replacement had been found
  • He may be involved in a management buy-out or another deal that was more pressing than mine

No amount of pestering of other people within the organization was helping me understand, so I kept calling and e-mailing long after my boss had switched his attention to a shiny new prospect.

Four or five weeks after it went quiet and totally out of the blue, I got a very apologetic phone call from the Finance Director.

Apparently he’d been on safari and got really sick with some tropical disease that ended up in him having a 2 week hospital stay and a further 2 weeks off work.

The sales process hadn’t been finalized, our bid was still very much in the running and he’d like to set up another meeting to do a full working demonstration to payroll and HR.

I’d like to say we got the deal, but the truth is I left the company before the rather protracted negotiations came to a conclusion, so I’m not sure what happened.

The one thing I do know though, is we didn’t lose the deal because I took silence for not being interested and gave up.

I have had clients who disappeared on me for literally years after our initial consult, but still came back to hire me.

Sometimes A No Means – You Haven’t Explained Yourself Clearly

And I  have had clients say ‘No!’ who then changed their mind and we ended up forming a close working relationship.

If you think you’re an excellent Life Coach then you have a duty of care to your potential clients to ensure they know that. To make sure they don’t move along to an incompetent coach who knows how to market and sell herself, but not a fat lot else.

A duty of care doesn’t mean if they don’t get back to you in a week they have lost interest or hired another Life Coach and it’s time to give up and bemoan your bad luck.

A duty of care doesn’t mean not sending a follow up e-mail, or two or three, if you hear nothing.

E-mails get lost, snagged in firewalls and spam filters, deleted by accident or just forgotten about in the general busyness of life, which is why I always recommend hitting the phone too if possible.

Even then, people lose phones (I dropped mine in the bath recently – it happens!), change numbers, delete voice-mails by mistake or forget to follow up.

So again a non-reply is not a ‘No!’

Life Coaches – You Must Get A ‘No!’

If you think this is pestering people it’s time to get another job.

You are looking to help them and at any point in time they are at liberty to tell you they don’t want to hire you and to leave them alone.

Until they tell you ‘No!’ you are making assumptions about things you may have no clue about.

There is also a belief in sales that ‘No!’ can also be interpreted as a request for more information.

People’s default reaction when they are unsure and being sold to is to say, “No!”

It’s the job of the sales person (and make no mistake, if you’re a Life Coach you’re also a salesperson)  to understand if their objection is genuine or a false objection (more in a future post) that needs to be overcome.

You Have To Be Prepared To Demonstrate Your Worth

The drive for clients in coaching is getting brutally competitive.

If you can not assert yourself in a respectful manner and clearly demonstrate your worth, if you are shy of following up with a client who told you she would think about it and if you think every no really means no, then you’re in for a very tough time.

I can guarantee you that I have worked with dozens of clients who originally said ‘no thanks‘ or the dreaded ‘let me think about it and get back to you“.

I have even told clients ‘No!’, that I am not the right Life Coach for them and they have then turned me around and convinced me otherwise.

Work on your sales skills, work on your communication skills, work on creating a situation that clearly demonstrates your value to your prospective client and most of all work on thickening your skin up to rejection.

After all, there is no rejection, just some interesting feedback and an opportunity to move on to a more receptive client!

So what’s your take, do you accept the first ‘no’, or if a prospective client goes quiet on you presume they are saying ‘no’.

Image: ‘No” Courtesy of Nathan Gibbs



  1. Excellent post! Thank you Tim. I resonated with do much of this useful information, having experienced similar issues with my case study clients. Now building my business I man very aware of the need to ‘toughen up’ and not take lack of communication personally. It’s usually more to do with the client, or potential client, than me. But also to have that self- belief, which is growing as I give my energy to coaching.
    Thank you again and I’m happy to have discovered your site through LinkedIn and look forward to your correspondences!
    Sandra 😉

    • timbrownson

      Thanks for dropping by Sandra!

      And yep, you have to have self belief otherwise it’s tricky expecting our clients to believe in us.