A tale of a coach (and marketer) who made a fortune with a single free coaching programme and why it worked.
The days in lockdown are dragging along here in Ireland. With boredom comes the need for something different, more meaning in life, a purpose, some adventures — no matter what as long as it brings some change. I keep scrolling the newsfeed of all my social media apps in the hope to find something that excites me. Something that gives me an inner drive to have me jump out of bed each morning.
And then there it is. A five day coaching programme to level up my life, completely free and online. I think to myself, I could use this to rejuvenate a passion for coaching that fell asleep a few years ago. I sign up.
It starts a few days later. The coach is highly energetic, gets the audience of a few thousand people engaged by asking them to write “yes” into the chat. I am observing. The way he is talking and creating credibility for why he knows what he is talking about, wants me to be like him. Overcoming a failure of loosing several millions of Euro and not only leaving such debt behind he became yet again a millionaire. After a failed marriage he’s met his dream wife and now helps thousands of people to “level up their life” — living his purpose.
Every evening he keeps repeating his dark experiences and his achievements and at the same time encouraging the audience to take the steps towards their dreams. I am hooked. Each session finishes with a lovely and helpful meditation before he encourages us to buy the recording of the full one-time-only programme.
The bonus sixth session is meant to be the highlight. The audience still huge and even more excited and engaged on this grand finale. A wrap up of what we have learned this past week followed by a meditation that is to lead us to identify our purpose. I am excited.
The meditation is highly hypnotic and beautiful. I become deeply emotional when I am being led to meet a child version of myself at a beautiful beach that I imagined to be in the evening during sunset. The journey moves me into a room. I am curious coming to the climax of this beautiful guidance — learning about my purpose. The question is placed, the answer about to be shared and I am … .
Shocked! I am shocked at what I am hearing. I wake up from the hypnosis instantaneously in utter disbelief. Did the coach just suggested what my purpose was to be? How could anybody manipulate such a sensitive process? Instead of allowing my own wisdom to appear the coach himself is telling me that I want to become a coach.
The coaching programme he offers next contains all he had learned himself and for what he had invested a minimum of 350,000 Euro. Never mind the years it took him to be where he is now. Other coaches that have already completed his programme appear on the screen, smiling, successful, grateful for having invested into their development. I follow the chat next to the screen that now bursts of anticipation: “How much does it costs?”, “When does it start?” “How amazing!”, “You are the best”, “ So grateful for you!” Nobody appeared to mind have mind his interference during the meditation.
I wonder what I may have missed. But I also feel intrigued and curious about the cost of his so highly recommended programme.
But the coach tests the patience of the audience further. He lists all the items and their value I would get if I were to sign up. The hype in the chat increases. I ponder if I should leave the session all together.
The coach reveals to the 2,000 people strong audience that he has got only 50 places available for the programme. Now he pulls the scarcity card I think to myself becoming even more impatient. Yet, deep inside I naively hope that this guy after all is what he claims to be and that he has the best intention at heart. Brushing the warning signs in my mind away, I stay.
Finally, I learn that for the money that I was invited to invest into my development to become a coach, I could buy a decent car or pay rent for our flat for half a year (I am talking Dublin standards). Even though the value of the programme is in minimum about 50,000 Euro, the final number was just about 10,000 Euro. I see the messages in the chat. A few participants claim that they had just signed up. Most people say that they couldn’t afford to buy this programme, with some sharing that this would costs about half of their yearly income. The coach is taking these objections head on. Let me paraphrase:
If you want something, there is a always a way. All that you need to do is finding that way. And to find that way, you are looking for options. You brainstorm ways to get there. Can you borrow money? Can you pay in instalments? Can you sign up later, after you have had time to save money? But before you do, you will need to check in and make sure that you want to live life as a coach, you want to have your dream partner and you want to make sure that others reaching that dream life, too. Surely, you can just go stay in your life being the chicken complaining while watching the eagle circling above. But if you do want to have that dream live then this of course requires investment, an investment into yourself!
I am upset. Yet again, I have experienced how a marketer uses nearly each technique I know of to prey on people who are dreaming of a better life. People who are chasing a butterfly — that promises a different more shiny life if they only were to sign up to their programme.
This was in early July 2020.
That day, I believe this coach made in minimum between 100 and 500K in Euro, suggesting that the training was an investment just like you would finance a car you wanted to buy. He used examples of people who are now earning a six figure income using his methods. While my passion for coaching was indeed ignited I was also furious. How many of the people that have said yes that day will actually succeed? For how many, this purpose of being a coach is actually true to who they are? And even if so, how many will be that good of a marketer to get a return on their investments and become that six figure income coach? For how many the excitement will fade and are being left worse off than before?
It is natural to dream of a better life, believing that there is a way out of personal struggles, that there is someone showing us the way. It is natural too, to follow someone who appears to be that person, who came from nothing to have it all. And it is human to get excited of such promises. Maybe not because we really want to live a different life but because of the way the human brain works.
Robert B Cialdini, the author of several books about influence and persuasion speaks of “ weapons of influence”. The techniques he and others describe persuade people into buying more readily and are successfully used by marketers. I picked a few techniques to highlight how the coach above has successfully influenced his audience to reach his earning objective:
When one person gives another person something for free, the other person can’t help it but feel obligated to give something in return when asked.
In my experience above, that coach had facilitated a total of six sessions, each lasting more than 90 minutes. These sessions were completely free and offered high value content, new perspectives, a critical review of current positions like limiting beliefs and uncovered potential fears that kept the attendee from moving forward. When the coach asked for writing responses into the chat, many did, including me. When the merchandising started in session six, many people couldn’t wait to give back and wrote into the chat that they are sorry that haven’t got 10K to spend on the course he was selling.
Commitment and Consistency
When humans have started to invest their time, money or other items of value into something they have a hard time to stop. This is based on the investment already made that they don’t want to lose by quitting. This becomes even more true the more consistently humans invest these items of value.
In my experience above, I had signed up, spend one session to see what this is about. Then I wanted to check out the second session and so on. I have freed up a total of nine hours of my time in a single week to attend his sessions. Once I had attended the second session I kept coming back and so did about 2,000 other people. I even felt something was missing on the one day off between session 5 and 6. No wonder, that people wanted to sign up for a training. The coach showed up consistently, promising that the attendees can level up their life by showing up for themselves, too. The more time they committed to this coach the more they wanted him to continue.
Engagement is a big indicator if someone is the real deal. How many followers does somebody have? What paper or show did they appear in? Have they studied at a renown university? Have they been interviewed by a prominent public figure or have they coached 300,000 plus people as the coach from above claimed. A single person looking into the sky wouldn't bother anybody but if there are several people looking up, it is highly likely that you will, too.
In my experience above, the coach would ask suggestive questions like “true or true?” and asked the audience to write the answer into the chat. Because so many did, I did too, nearly automatically. This created lots of engagement and the chat was hard to follow since so many sent messages. The more people engaged the stronger the social proof that this coach was the real deal.
“It’s not just that people want to deal with someone they like. It’s that they want to deal with someone who likes them, and who is like them,” says Cialdini.
In my experience above, the coach was speaking of his experience in every session, of having several millions of debt at one point, a divorce, being an unpopular kid and so on. But he also made sure that the audience understood that he is a coach because of his passion to help people. He often complimented the audience of how great they are and how grateful he was that they were there. Of course the audience felt compelled. It is also quite likely that they connected to the coach as he appeared to have overcome being in financial difficulties, a lost a relationship or being unpopular. Who doesn’t want to be like him. All boxes ticked to drive liking home, too.
We are more likely to cross boundaries when we perceive a lack of something we need. In his Psychology Today article “4 Ways to Use Scarcity to Persuade and Influence”, Jeremy Nicholson M.S.W., Ph.D. summarises what researchers have found to influence decision making when the good or service is presented in short supply, in high demand, as an unique opportunity or for only a limited time.
In the experience above, the coach employed pretty much all of these strategies. There were only 50 spaces for about 2,000 people that already were indicating there interests. The coach presented his offer as a unique opportunity only for the participants and only during the session.
As a cognitive bias, anchoring was first explored by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the context of decision making. The theory in a nutshell is that we base our judgement on the piece of information we have received and lock in that information as a basis, an anchor, for further decisions.
In a video “90 Second Masterclass on Price Anchoring”, YouTuber Sean McCabe describes anchoring by using an example. He first states that numbers are neither small nor high but relative. He goes on and talks about how an 8,000 Dollar watch would be a better price anchor for a watch that costs 800 Dollar. The latter is a lot cheaper than the the first one. The mind is being framed by a high first number just like the 350,000 Euro that the coach above has spent on gaining all the knowledge required to get him to where he is today (to become a millionaire, which is an even higher number). A 10,000 Euro in comparison appears in the mind as a fraction of the money he had to invest. In addition, he framed the pricing by listing first all the items including their value that comes with the programme increasing the illustration of a bargain.
On the other hand, compared with coaching trainings for 5,000 Euro or less provided by accredited coaching schools that also offer certifications that are acknowledged within the educational system, 10,000 Euro appear like a rip-off.
This coach has had already a huge following before he pulled this off. Without his followers I wouldn’t have noticed him and neither would have others. (How I have would be worth a separate article.) His strategy worked because of the number of participants. To get a few thousand people to sign up to a free programme is an objective that even the best marketers appear to fail to achieve. It requires consistency in their marketing message and the need for a long term strategy as #1 communication coach in the world Dorie Clark describes it in her promotion of her upcoming book “The long Game — How to be a long term thinker in a short-time world”.
This coach or shall I say marketer obviously masters the art of persuasion and is highly successful. The techniques employed are used successfully by millions of marketers all over the world. However, there is a question of ethics in his approach, especially when it comes to using highly suggestive questions and his manipulating people while they are in a meditative state. This raises the questions for me: How far will marketers go to sell their products and services?
Chasing the butterfly, the beautiful creature that is flying in front of our eyes. All we want is to follow it no matter what. But we forget that each butterfly once have been a caterpillar that had stopped to eat, put a protective coating around their body for it to transform. In nature, not a single other butterfly helped another one becoming who they are. I wonder how consumers can protect themselves better to not fall prey to marketers. I wonder too, how can people learn that no butterfly will be as beautiful as the one they can become by just stopping to chase others.
It is April 2021 as I realise that I have often started to chase some butterflies in my life. While looking for the next thing to achieve, I missed to acknowledge what has been there all along — the unique essence of being me. Yes, my passion for coaching had been reignited with that free programme last summer (I didn’t invest into more). And yes, I am a coach, already qualified by an accredited organisation 10 years ago and with years of practice in all sorts of areas. Is this my purpose? Who knows. It is not important because I figured that there is so much more to experience than limiting myself to only one purpose. Whatever I have accomplished in my life didn’t come from chasing butterflies but from staying true to who I am.