A Long Term Approach
The last couple of years that I worked in the industry I had designed the sales system that I was working in. This meant that I could take many of the steps to assessing that I am about to lay out, and enjoyed a lot of success in terms of engagement rates, sales, and retention numbers at the facility I managed. I have included some of the tools that I used to deliver this model below, but ultimately, the limits of spreadsheets and manual processes was the main motivation for me to leave the fitness industry to start Trainer+. This is not just a shameless plug, but to show that the following is not just an idealist’s approach to assessing fitness; it did bear fruit on the bottom line when executed properly, and I believe it’s an important part of fixing the fitness industry. Check out my previous post on the problem with the current way of doing assessments for more insight into why this needs to change.
The key to the approach I use is changing the sales mentality that is often preached of aggressively closing, into one of aggressively caring. The service you are trying to sell is one of support after all, so how better to build your value continuously than setting that relationship up even before they purchase? The best way to demonstrate that care is to take your time to work through the key steps of the assessment and planning process, and make sure there is a follow up system in place that has been communicated to the potential client. I know this is unbilled time for the most part, but it just has to be looked at as your investment in securing a future sale, or at least retaining a gym member (who could lead to or refer a future sale).
The long term approach is best executed by:
Being up front about the role of a trainer
Managing expectations is the key to any sale.In this case, make sure they understand the purpose of the assessment, and that you will be trying to sell them something. The best way to frame this is to say at the start “We are going to be assessing your fitness, making a plan, and also talking about how much or little help you will need from me to achieve your goals.”
Breaking up the assessment process
Trying to rush through the steps of the assessment ends up devaluing all of the information obtained and shared in the process. In my experience, 1.5 hours is needed to do a proper history, testing, planning and education, especially if you want to show a few exercises specific to their needs. However, most potential clients do not have that kind of time in their schedule, so you can break it into two 45 minute sessions, or 45 minutes for history and testing, and 30 minutes to plan and demonstrate (i.e. a ‘demo session’).
Focusing on education
Your real value is applying the knowledge you have about health and fitness to the potential client’s goals and needs, and a big part of what they pay for is learning to be more self-sufficient over time. The testing and measurement phase is a great time to make sure they understand how their metabolism and body works, and not just shock them with results. This will help proliferate the value of the planning and goal setting, and ultimately help prove that they need your knowledge to get to where they want to go.
Giving a free session
What better way to show your value than having them work with you for a session and see the type of exercise and work ethic needed for their plan? From a sales perspective, it provides another sales point and a tool to help with closing (include the value of a free session or use it to soft close at the appointment). It also gives the potential client a better reason to stay engaged and follow up regarding their plan.
Providing them with the first plan
Along with the free session, giving them the first phase of their plan on paper actually helps demonstrate value, even if the potential client thinks that is all they need. Anyone can find a fitness program online or an app to generate one, so giving them a personalized one gives them a reason to come back to you for the next phase, even if they do not buy initially. (you can read Part 1 for more information about the value of a written plan)
Supporting and following up regardless of purchase
You need to have a system for follow up that is both communicated to the potential client and provides accountability to yourself to actually do it. This can be as simple as a 3-month progress check-in (chat), but should include some form of reassessment if possible, to measure progress. I have included a very basic follow up spreadsheet that can be followed or enforced by a manager to ensure timely follow up happens. Potential clients will have an even greater reason for follow up if it is for the next phase of the long term plan that has been laid out. In essence, don’t be this guy:
The Psychology of the Purchase
Before we look at how the steps of the sale apply to this long term approach, it is important to remember the psychology of the purchase from the customer’s standpoint and how this approach helps you get to a “yes”. A purchase will only be made when the value of working with a trainer is realized. This is made more difficult by current prices and service methods being too costly for most people’s budgets. For some people, this value is recognized instantly (especially if cost is not a big objection), but for others it takes time to realize this value and the key is that there are natural sales points for different people throughout this process.
For some (arguably, most) potential clients, the only way to learn is by failing on their own, whether from a bad program or a lack of execution. Still others will go out on their own and be completely successful, in which case they did not need your help for that goal. Either type is more likely to purchase in the future if the tone has been set correctly about your role in providing as much or little support as needed for their goals. I actually used to start assessments by asking the potential client if they had ever had a fitness assessment before, and if yes, if it was by one of the 3 major gym chains in my area. If the answer to the second question was also yes, I would joke, “Don’t worry, we are actually going to assess your fitness today and not just pressure you into personal training.” Not only did this set expectations right from the start that we will talk about a sale at some point, it also helped instantly build trust with the assessee.
The Right Way of Doing Business
So, with a long term approach in place and understanding the potential client’s expectations, let’s look at how the steps of a sale apply:
1. Lead generation
With this approach, every assessment is a real lead and your job is to qualify what type of help they need and at least provide passive support to their long term plan.
Ask questions about need for training help right at the start. This helps shape how you build value through the assessment, and how you position the sale at the end.
A simple question like “were you thinking of working with a trainer?” will give information about whether they can afford or see the value in training, and help you further qualify.
The beginning of the assessment is the perfect chance to manage expectations about training options at the end so they feel less pressured when it does come time to discuss.
A follow up or reassessment provides an even better lead given they already have a better understanding of your value and you know how qualified they are for help.
2. Assess needs
The best chance to build value for your services.
Make sure to get background information ahead of time, either online or a day ahead, even refusing to start without it (this holds the value of the assessment).
Discuss goals at the start of the assessment. This gives a good way to frame information and planning in later stages.
Use science: Take a few minutes to do some basic calculations about their body composition to show fat mass, lean mass, AMR/BMR and explain how these things are related and changed. This not only builds the value of strength training in a very real way, but is also important for goal setting and planning later on. We’ve made a spreadsheet that you can download here to make these calculations.
Take the time to explain what each measurement means, ask them what they would like it to be ideally. Make sure the strength/cardio/flexibility tests are relevant and can be put in some context (scored in comparison to a similar demographic, used to calculate a performance metric like one rep max, etc...).
Don’t rush this process! It is the most important part for the client and rushing through makes them feel more pressured. The tests should give you a good idea of fitness level, so there is no need to make them overexert themselves to build your need.
You can even split this process up, take one day to measure and explain, then let them process before another appointment for planning.
3. Build Value
Should be done throughout the fitness assessment process and continue afterwards.
Your main value proposition is that the potential client will be more likely to reach their fitness goals with your help; that is hard to prove in an hour and requires continued attention.
In the short term of the assessment, your job is to show that your knowledge is the real value of why this person needs your help. Show your understanding of their metabolism and the factors that go into it, identify imbalances and potential injuries, and put it together in a thoughtful and personalized plan that they would not be able to formulate themselves.
In the long term, your value is in being able to continue to apply your knowledge to their fitness plan and goals.
Flexibility in support options gives even more ways to build value by starting with a lower involvement service but having points for upselling frequently if not getting to goal. Or, conversely, being able to plan for scaling back support as they get better and learn more. In the latter way they are paying for an education, which is what you are convincing them is your value from the start. Our next blog will talk more about different ways of delivering training services.
This is where all of the information from the assessment should come together to set proper goals based on their desires, the results of the measurements and your professional guidance.
If the value of your services was built up properly, the ask becomes more about how much help they need, rather than whether or not they need it.
Use Science: Here is where those calculations from before come in handy, be realistic about their true goals and the time to get there, but relate it to these numbers. See the spreadsheet link above (in the assess needs section) for how to calculate this in relation to goals or in follow up.
Phasing is important.
Lay out the plan and make sure they understand it before talking about any training options.
Give them real options, not just different ways to pay for the same type of service.
5. Overcome Objections
Still same objections: they can’t afford it or they can do it on their own.
First objection is only overcome with flexibility of service.
You can address the second objection more directly now:
Can they adapt their program through these phases over time to get to their goals on their own?
Can they continue to measure and understand the changes happening as they progress and how the plan needs to change in response?
Will they get to the gym the amount that they really need to and work as hard as they need to without someone holding them accountable?
Will they track properly?
Will they know how to adjust if something changes in their schedule or other limitations come up?
Ultimately with this process you can let them answer those questions on their own over time, and we all know it will inevitably be a ‘no’ to all or most. Again, if they can do it on their own, they don’t need you.
Follow up points allow you to let them overcome objections on their own, then just be there at timely moments to sell.
This part should be a lot easier if you have followed the steps to this point.
Start by making sure they understand the results, plan and timelines. If you have used science to tie it all together, they should understand why they need your services to help them along.
There are an assortment of closing questions you can ask, but it should all be some form of ‘How much of my support are you going to need to get you to these goals?’
If the objection is price, here is where the conversation turns to ways of scaling the service back over time or offering more flexible support packages (like monthly or bi weekly sessions with programming support) to fit their budget. Now, instead of having to overcome a hard ‘no’ from it being out of their budget, now they are working with you to find something that will fit.
Now if the client does not buy, then the free options should correspond with their plan and you should already set up a follow up reassessment appointment.
7. Follow Up
The key to this system is aggressively following up with people, so some system needs to be in place for that. Here’s another spreadsheet that can be used as a basic method to make sure every lead gets followed up with. Just put a reminder in for the date in the future when a reassessment should happen.
By taking this approach, regular check-ins or reassessments have more perceived value to the client and they are expecting them, while still providing natural sales points for you.
This also changes the context of all those conversations you had in passing or on the gym floor with members you have previously assessed.
Taking this approach should not only lead to having more clients and making more money in the long term, but also make your job more enjoyable by keeping your focus on caring about people and less on sales. Until we start to see salaried personal trainers (the unicorns of the fitness industry), there is inevitably going to be unbilled time to be spent talking to members, building programs and assessing potential clients. Given that the assessment is the main sales tool you have, and is also your first chance to set out the expectations for a potential client, it only makes sense to approach it as the first in what could be several conversations needed to close it. It is just one way that fitness professionals can ‘practice what they preach’ to their clients.
The next part in this series will discuss ways to deliver services beyond the normal weekly training options - stay tuned!