Coaching and Consulting – People and Problem-Solving skills

MBD executives, advisors, managers, client services executives and BDMs from law firms, economics and management consultancies joined a PM Forum  workshop on “Coaching and Consulting Skills for Marketing and Business Development”. We explored the changing role of marketing and business development (MBD) professionals and the growing need for coaching and consulting skills. We tackled delegate questions as well as coaching and consulting scenarios along the way. An emerging theme was the combination of people and problem-solving skills. Coaching and Consulting – People and Problem-Solving skills.

People and Problem-Solving Skills

Facilitating, coaching, mentoring and consulting all require great people skills. Trust and a strong, collaborative relationship are fundamental to success. They also require the ability to understand the goals, identify the issues and navigate problems to find solutions and enhanced performance. Yet there are differences to the extent that they use push (tell) and pull (ask) energy – and the terms under which they are conducted and the processes that they use.

What are the differences between coaching, mentoring and consulting?

Some delegates found it hard to differentiate between coaching and mentoring. Counselling, coaching, mentoring, facilitating, training and consulting are at different stages of the helping continuum. All of them (to a greater or lesser extent) result in learning and the acquisition of new skills and behaviours. The terms (e.g. one-to-one or group, confidentiality, payment etc) under which each is conducted may be different.


Coaching is about goal achievement, behavioural change and improved performance. The focus is usually on what to do in the future.

Sir John Whitmore, widely acknowledged as the father of coaching for performance said: “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Coaching is a structured process where the coach asks a series of questions in a particular order. So the person being coached develops their own solutions. It is considered non-directive because the coach does not tell the person what to do, they guide the person to find their own solutions.

During the session, we explored the many skills required for coaching including: building rapport, paying attention to the person, listening, energizing and motivating, goal-setting, summarising, reflecting, unlocking limiting beliefs, offering perspective, exploring for information, brainstorming, creativity, evaluating options, co-creating solutions, developing people, providing constructive feedback, managing feedback and guiding and teaching. But coaches resist the temptation to tell.

There are various levels of formal coaching training – certificates, diplomas and Masters degree qualifications. Coaching qualifications are explored here: Coaching and consulting skills for M&BD workshop (November 2021) (


Mentoring is often informal and less structured and usually involves the mentor sharing their experience, imparting their wisdom and giving advice. It can be more directive than coaching. Mentors are unlikely to be qualified in mentoring – and they rarely charge fees. 

“A mentor is a more experienced individual willing to share their knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of trust. A mixture of parent and peer, the mentor’s primary function is to be a transitional figure in an individual’s development. Mentoring includes coaching, facilitating, counselling and networking” (Clutterbuck)

“In the modern business context, mentoring is always at least one stage removed from direct line management responsibility and is concerned with the longer-term acquisition and application of skills in a developing career by a form of advising and counselling” (Parsloe)


There are many definitions of a consultant:

The Harvard Business School defines a consultant as someone who advises on “how to modify, proceed in, or streamline a given process within a specialized field”.

“A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group or an organization but has no direct power to make changes (organizational, structural, policy or procedural in nature or people learning something new) or implement programmes” Flawless Consulting by Peter Block Consulting skills 2 – Book review: Flawless Consulting by Peter Block (

“A consultant is a person who provides professional or expert advice in a particular field of science or business to either an organisation or individual. As there is no legal protection given to the job title ‘consultant’, in theory, anyone can on a day wake up and decide to adopt the consultant title. Despite the broad definition that can be subsumed under the term consultant, there are in essence three characteristics that distinguish a consultant from other professions.

  • First, a consultant provides expertise that a client lacks or support that a client is unable to fulfil. In return for their professional services, the consultant charges a fee.
  • Secondly, a consultant operates independently from the client, implying that, from the respective consultant, there is no conflict of interests between the client’s issue and the services.
  • Thirdly, a consultant operates in a professional manner, which ranges from having the right qualifications to ensuring high quality service delivery and a solid internal operation”.
  • What is a consultant? |

There are many aspects of consulting competencies and attributes: emotional intelligence, analytical, problem-solving, delivery of results, leadership, project management, commercial orientation, entrepreneurial spirit, team work as well as functional expertise and market/sector knowledge.

The Chartered Management Institute has a consulting competency framework and offers various levels of consultancy qualifications. ChMC-Award-Competency-Framework.pdf (

How are facilitating and counselling connected to coaching, mentoring and consulting?

It’s worth touching on some related skills:


Essentially, facilitation is about making communication, interaction, collaboration or learning easier. Coaches and consultants use facilitation skills.

Facilitation skills provide opportunities and resources to a group of people that enable them to make progress and succeed. Some examples include being prepared, setting guidelines, being flexible, active listening and managing time. You might draw on coaching and mentoring skills to help facilitate and vice versa.

Facilitating requires many attributes: self-awareness, curiosity, trust, flexibility and neutrality. You might use facilitation skills to promote discussion or organise a team coaching session. You use facilitation skills when coaching.

How to facilitate groups – Guidance for those organising and facilitating (

How to facilitate groups – 2 (Herding cats in professional services) (


Counselling is the provision of professional assistance and guidance in resolving personal or psychological problems. For example, counselling may address underlining issues and reasons why someone has a drink problem, while coaching would deal with the habit itself.

Often, counselling will look at what happened in the past – to increase self-awareness and understanding. Counsellors might help clients learn new ways of feeling (emotions) and thinking so that change in the future is possible.

People need years of specialist training to become a counsellor or therapist. They must abide by the ethical and professional rules of organisations such as National Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (NCPS) or British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

There is a specialist branch of counsellors who focus on coaching Division of Coaching Psychology | BPS.

Kim Tasso qualifies as a psychotherapeutic counsellor

The difference between influence and persuasion?

We explored the difference between influence and persuasion.

One delegate said “My understanding is that influencing is more about inspiring and introducing new ideas, whereas persuading is more about convincing and bringing people on board with an idea/way forward”

Influence is having a vision of the optimum outcome for a situation or organization and then, without using force or coercion, motivating people to work together toward making the vision a reality.

Persuasion is presenting a case in such a way as to sway the opinion of others, make people believe certain information, or motivate a decision.

Persuasion can be used to spur someone to action or to make a decision without actually earning their sincere buy-in. With influence, dedicating time to win someone’s heart or earn mindshare is a prerequisite to the process of inspiring them to take action or make a particular decision.

Delegate views

Delegate aims

Delegates were keen to explore coaching and consulting skills both to help develop their team members and to better support fee-earners

  • Gain skills on how to share ideas and develop relationships
  • Learn ways to effectively influence different types of people
  • Discover how to develop even better relationships with fee-earners and account managers.
  • Use coaching skills to apply to line management responsibilities
  • Elevate my communication and consultancy skills at all levels in the organisation
  • Consider the similarities and differences from a counselling certificate
  • Now looking to see how I can apply similar process to my own work
  • I want to hone coaching skills and connect better with my colleagues
  • Developing skills at managing upwards and line management
  • Coaching skills for line management, consultancy skills for developing relationships with the fee earners
  • I have an education piece to do with the firm as this is a new role within the BD team

One delegate observed “I have my own coach and have found it really beneficial – I feel like it has helped my growth”.  Delegates were reminded that the PM Forum operates a free Mentor Match service – and that they could acquire a mentor or volunteer to be one Mentor Match – PM Forum. The PM Forum’s Skills Development Platform is another free resource Skills Development – PM Forum

Changing role of  MBD in professional services

Coaching and consulting skills are needed increasingly as the role of professional services marketing and business development changes. These changes are partly as a result of Covid and the move to remote working but also due to economic changes, digital transformation and emerging technologies.

The delegates reflected:

  • There’s a shift back to in person relationship building with less focus on online initiatives
  • Post-pandemic, hybrid working means a change in demand for in person and after work events
  • Fee-earners want more of an advisor role so we must apply MBD and communication skills across lots of different initiatives across different teams
  • Fee-earners demand a data-based approach and evidence when we provide ideas or make suggestions
  • They need to be able to trust us to understand the business and brand

Delegates reflected that there are now higher expectations of MBD. We must achieve more with less and faster. Career progression is not as linear as before – it varies with the level of sophistication of firms. It was encouraging to note that there were more firms now where MBD people have a seat at the strategy table.

Changing demands on MBD professionals

These changes drive different demands on MBD professionals. Delegates shared their perspectives on the demands they face:

  • Know the market
  • Understand their business, market, clients and offer
  • Have insights into clients
  • Adapt your knowledge and skills sets constantly
  • Be a conduit – Bring ideas and opportunities from other teams and areas of the business
  • Partner closely with them to add our expertise to their subject matter knowledge
  • Be confident in offering ideas
  • Essential to be able to coach, influence etc

The difference between marketing (communications and activity support) and business development (more strategic, client facing and sales oriented) roles means that often BDMs are acting as account managers. As a bridge between fee-earners and specialist marketing teams.

Delegates felt that MBD professionals had much more responsibility now. MBD professionals are expected to help fee-earners achieve their full potential in marketing, business development and client management whilst delivering results and impact from strategic MBD initiatives.

This means that MBD professionals need to:

  • Monitor how firm and fee-earner needs and expectations are changing and adapt accordingly
  • Adapt to the different styles and personalities of fee-earners
  • Understand the aims and motivations of fee-earners
  • Create respect and trust amongst the fee-earners
  • Enlist allies, supporters and sponsors across fee-earning teams
  • Constantly develop new skills
  • Use language that is accessible to fee-earners
  • Reposition themselves from doers to guides to coaches and, ultimately, as advisors

Delegate reflections on coaching

Delegates shared their views on the role of the coach within the coaching process:

  • Communicate and create trust
  • Develop empathy with the person – see things from their perspective
  • Understand or help them frame their goals
  • Explore their situation and context
  • Learn what drives and motivates them (and what worries them)
  • Create a collaborative process
  • Maintain a focus on the core issue
  • Empower them
  • Help someone to realise their potential
  • Support rather than ‘save’ – especially in problem solving
  • Anticipate potential obstacles – and help them find ways to overcome them
  • Build an actionable plan, with accountability
  • Avoid accepting tasks – encourage them to take action
  • Maintain their momentum

Delegate key takeaways

  • Create a space of psychological safety
  • Encourage new ideas
  • I assumed that coaching was personal and people-centric, but it strikes me that consulting is also more about people too!
  • Define the scope of the consulting problem
  • Make sure to diagnose the problem in full
  • New approaches to resistance
  • The consulting approach will be really helpful in my role – managing the dynamics within a team
  • Be conscious of stagnation – playing it safe or sticking to what is currently working is not a long term solution

Selected delegate poll results

Which sector?

  • 62% Legal
  • 31% Consultancy
  • 8%   Accountancy

How would you rate your relationships with fee-earners?

  • 15% Average
  • 62% Good
  • 23% Excellent

The area you most need to develop to start coaching/consulting?

  • 36% How I am perceived
  • 21% Attributes
  • 21% Knowledge
  • 21% Soft skills/behaviour

At what stage in the relationship can you start to coach/consult?

  • 7% Acknowledgement
  • 7% Acceptance
  • 36% Respect
  • 50% Trust

Which area of the coaching process presents the biggest challenge for M&BD?

  • 85% Ensure there is motivation and ability to undertake chosen activities
  • 8% Agree short and medium term plans
  • 8% Develop and consider different strategies and options

Which do you think is the most important coaching skill?

  • 31% Guiding and teaching
  • 31% Questions and listening
  • 23% Goal setting and motivation
  • 8% Problem solving and idea/option generation
  • 8% Something else

How would you assess psychological safety at your firm?

  • 77% Good
  • 15% OK
  • 8% Poor

Which consulting skill do you most need to develop?

  • 64% Communication, influence and persuasion
  • 9% Analysis and diagnosis
  • 9% Commerciality
  • 9% Problem solving
  • 9% Creativity and generating solutions

Which part of the consulting process do you think will be most challenging

  • 17% Diagnosis
  • 42% Intervention
  • 42% Implementation

When presenting ideas and solutions, which is the biggest challenge?

  • 8% Achieving consensus/buy in
  • 8% Managing disagreement between partners/teams
  • 25% Dealing with fixed views
  • 17% Managing involvement from other functions
  • 8% Being confident of the outcome/results
  • 17% Justifying the investment
  • 17% Discussing implementation and evaluation criteria

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