Fierce Funnelism: The Road To Nowhere

It was one of those gorgeous sunny California afternoons with reasonably little traffic back in November. I drove my rental car from Pleasanton to San Rafael to meet with Team Coaching International’s CEO Phillip Sandahl. Sitting on an outside table at Starbucks, we quickly bonded over life experience, systems coaching, global business, and a love of music. But most strikingly, I was thrilled to see him nod in agreement when bringing up a disturbing pattern I had been observing across the coaching industry.

I am referring to what I call ‘fierce funnelism’. I am not talking about building a sales funnel, which we all need to build. I am talking about treating the funnel like a narrow tunnel, resembling a secret escape route from a prison, and then guarding it as if you were a prison inmate. In that tunnel there is fear, and mostly, little business. Who goes to a prison to do business?

As someone who for over 15 years was part of different networked organisations in The Netherlands, seeing artists build careers with international projection successfully by designing intelligent social funnels, the doings of the coaching industry look plain bonkers.

In this post, I am going to tell you how Dutch artists design their funnels. Replicating that system can bring you success in business and your career. But before, let me tell you what I have observed in the coaching industry.


What is wrong with the coaching industry

Here is what I see most training institutes do:

1. They look at their graduates as students, and not as entrepreneurs and business accelerators.

2. There is no training on selling, just like traditional universities.

To give the plot a darker twist, they make you sell their product in order for you to get your certification, while at the same time guarding their tunnel by not helping you. Basically what they say is: I suffer, so I will make you suffer.

3. They don’t get social media.

They don’t follow their students, because remember, they are ‘students’, not business owners and business developers. They do not engage in conversations on social media, failing to leverage the power of their network.

4. They hire people who engage in groupthink.

In a time when scaling businesses requires doing things differently, opportunities for innovation go out the door in favour of sameness and groupthink. Institutes that train coaches to go into companies to tell them how to innovate have broken organisational cultures themselves.

Regarding coaches, here is what I see most of them do: zero collaboration towards business development. Enough said.

In the meantime, I see many coaches who are not thriving, and besides, most of them are selling training, not actual change processes to help transform actual organisations.

Now, you might say that an artist has no idea about what it takes to thrive in today’s volatile world. In fact, nothing is further from the truth. As a Dutch artist, I lived in an uncertain ecosystem way before the financial crisis hit the world, developing along the way the flexibility, adaptability and sense of agency to thrive in that volatility.

As a pianist back in 2010, performing with Electra New Music in The Netherlands


Uncanny resemblance between the VUCA world and the Dutch Arts

Around the year 2000, the world of the arts in the Netherlands started its own digital transformation. It is not that computers were being used for e-mail or word processing to manage projects. To paraphrase Jeff Gothelf, IT gradually stopped being simply a service provider and started becoming inherent to the business need: musicians either coded or literally plugged their instruments to pickups and computers, developing new software in close collaboration with software developers. Government policy dictated that most funding would flow to projects involving (live) coding. If you are curious what electronic music looks like, here is Marko Ciciliani’s score of Dromomania.

But the thing that really shaped musicians was shrinking budgets and increased restrictions. By the time the financial crisis hit, making the world become the way it is today, a whole bunch of Dutch artists had been honing a sense of agency for quite some time that allowed them to thrive.


The Dutch Artists Way

1. Everyone is a pro at their instrument and a pro at driving performing opportunities, aka business.

When entering the performing scene, a Dutch modern artist becomes, in the words of author Kenneth Mikkelsen, a Neo-Generalist, someone who teaches himself a number of skills besides playing an instrument. By working with other neo-generalist performers, business grew exponentially.

2. The focus is on outcomes.

When doing a production, Dutch artists are paid only after they give the amount of performances they have committed to. They have two choices: doing something or not doing something. There is not much room for egos, drama and politics. If a project fails the entire ensemble is going to suffer from financial penalties, which makes the need to perform an existential issue. It makes the team invested in the outcome of the project, creating an environment that self-selects on performance and productivity. 

The world is moving towards a model of cooperation that models the modern arts. Fixed income and job security are slowly vanishing, to be replaced with flexible teams that come together, work on a single project, collect payment and then disband to work on other projects.

2. Get social selling.

Dutch artists focus on the meaningful and powerful rather than merely the easily measurable. They focus on building relationships across the board and creating spheres of infuence, being valuable to and appreciative of more than simply the current, active stakeholders.

As systems thinkers, they are aware of the power of social selling, realizing that all the people in their extended network are continuously influencing each other.

3. Get social media.

Dutch artists are on social media posting, and engaging in conversations with audiences, policy makers and concert bookers. They are having conversations, and the conversations are 360.

4. Get the global world.

Commissioning new pieces by foreign composers and working with ensemble members from other nationalities were two of the common gateways towards performing in other countries. Crowdfunding campaigns on global platforms served the dual purpose of raising funds and achieving international promotion.

If you are a coach entrepreneur today, you don’t want to be dependent on any single local economy. Who are your gateways to the world?

While you may not realize it, your business’ greatest accelerators can be right there among your fellow coaches. Think about each of your colleagues as a significant part of your global business community. When it comes to sharing content, exchanging ideas, answering customer inquiries, or inciting insightful conversation, you can act together as a global team to achieve international visibility.


Call To Action

I am building my career as a team coach by replicating what I did to become a successful pianist.

Are you passionate about business development across the globe and a non-fierce-funnelist? I would like to get to know you. Drop me a note and say hi!

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Sonsoles Alonso – I help CxOs and Founders Build Highly Efficient Happy Teams in 6 Months or Less with the Right Hires, using Systemic Tools and Serious Games.

Are you in tech? I recently teamed up with top-rated instructor Mark Farragher for our online course ‘6 Tools To Improve Your Tech and Leadership Communication’.

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Would you like to read some other posts? My most successful one so far is The War Against Talent, with over 100000 views.