The Buyer-Seller Dance

How to take the lead in your interactions with prospective clients.

Three years ago I opened my own gym. My premise: “Build it, and trainers will come. Their rent and member dues will get me to the bottom line I need.” The concept worked out beautifully on paper. Admittedly, gym owners I spoke with warned me about depending on trainers to build my membership, and after I explained my concept to Juan Carlos Santana at an IDEA convention one year, he cautioned me, “If you think trainers are going to sell your place, you’re crazy.”

I was slightly offended at the feedback I was getting. On the other hand, personal fitness trainers (PFTs) I spoke with all agreed that PFTs who want to work as independent contractors in a facility without paying high commissions need to support gyms that operate differently.

So how did my plan work out? Although PFTs supported my concept, the reality was that those who contacted me had a hard time building a clientele. Why? Most trainers don’t see themselves as salespeople, so they don’t acquire any sales training.

My business concept was extremely flawed, but I didn’t realize it until my gym was in total crisis. Out of desperation, I hired a sales coach, Gary Harvey, president and founder of Achievement Dynamics of Denver, who is licensed to teach the Sandler Sales System. This system is based on prospective clients’ emotions and behaviors, which are standard and predictable, no matter what product or service is being sold.

Why Learn to Sell?

Like it or not, you have services to sell. All too often, PFTs depend on the law of averages to bring in clients, and the averages are too low for a dependable income! How often have you found yourself engaged in a conversation about training techniques with a prospective client who seems to want to work with you, but who never contacts you again? The Sandler System refers to the interaction that takes place during these initial contacts as “the buyer-seller dance.” The buyer will always lead and control this dance if the seller does not learn the right steps.

The information in the next few Sales columns will help you learn (1) to identify the interactions that typically take place between you and a prospect and (2) to replace your old techniques for selling your services with a new, thoughtful approach. In this column, we will cover the first three steps of the buyer-seller dance, with you acting as the lead, and in the next column we will explore the four subsequent steps.

The Buyer as Lead

When the prospective client is leading the dance, it goes like this. The client acts interested, saying something like, “I’ve noticed you working with clients, and I have been impressed. Could you show me a new way to do abs exercise?” Using flattery, the prospect tries to learn as much as possible from the PFT without paying for services. The prospect may even mislead the trainer about what is going to happen next, saying, “This new crunch technique is great! I will think about training with you.” With this encouragement, the trainer follows up with the prospect, who typically fails to answer or return phone calls and avoids further conversations.

This entire interaction has been controlled and manipulated by the prospect, leaving the trainer confused and with no client.

The Trained Seller’s System

A PFT who is armed with a systematic approach to selling is prepared to take the lead and steer the situation in the right direction without the prospect ever feeling a loss of control. Sandler training teaches seven steps that enable you to guide a prospect through a conversation that provides all the information you need to “qualify” the individual as a client.

Step 1. Establish Rapport

Establish a relationship with potential clients by demonstrating that you understand their problems from their point of view. In the example of the gym member requesting some new abs exercises, you could address the person’s concerns by saying something like, “Abdominal work really can get boring, can’t it? No matter what twist you put on it, crunches are crunches, right?”

Step 2. Secure an Up-Front Contract

An up-front contract (UFC) is a mutual, verbal agreement of what will happen next in a relationship, instead of what you hope, wish or think will happen next. A UFC prevents surprises, such as unpaid consulting. When a prospect asks about one exercise, what do you really know about his motive? And what good is a tip on one exercise when the prospect probably doesn’t have a real game plan for his workout regime? To set the stage for a UFC, you could say, “I can show you a new type of crunch, but honestly, one new exercise isn’t going to change the big picture, is it? Would it make sense to schedule a training session to learn how to use your exercise time most efficiently? Then, after we meet—if you are pleased with what you learn from me—what would you like to happen next?”

If the prospect won’t set an appointment with you, disqualify him immediately—before he tries to get any more free consulting.

A simple explanation to give to prospective clients is that in the work you do, there are no final answers. As clients become stronger and more skilled through regular workouts, they need to make changes to continue progressing. Explain how training or “coaching” can fit into a variety of budgets. You could offer options ranging from three sessions a week to one session every 8 weeks. But establish a UFC by making it clear that fitness—and therefore training—is a process, not a one-time event.

Step 3. Uncover the Client’s “Pain”

If an individual has high energy levels, is happy with her body weight and body composition, and is strong enough to do everything she wants to do, she is not really a prospect for you. To get a client, you have to figure out what the prospect is really looking for.

Although people justify their purchase of a product or service intellectually, they buy emotionally. The most intense emotion that moves people to buy is “pain.” To find each individual’s pain, you must learn how to ask the right questions.

Let’s go back to our abdominal guy during his first training session with you. You may ask, “Since we are here because you wanted a new abdominal exercise, tell me, which ones are you currently doing? Have they produced the results you desired, and if not, how do you feel about that?” Of course his current exercises haven’t worked for him, or he never would have made contact with you. So what is really going on with him? Maybe he doesn’t like the belly he’s acquired in the last 10 years. Or perhaps his back has been hurting, and he’s heard that abdominal exercises are good for the back. Since he has asked for your help, it is your job to uncover the true problem.

Sales as a Process

Learning new sales techniques—and putting them into practice—is similar to establishing new health habits. First you have to recognize that there is a problem, and then you have to be willing to learn and make changes in how you do things. Becoming a successful salesperson takes time and practice. Your technique won’t be perfect overnight, but with persistence, you can learn how to use the powerful tool of a sales system to build a solid, dependable business. Look for the next four steps of the buyer-seller dance in the April issue of IDEA Trainer Success.

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C. Noelle Brownson

IDEA Author/Presenter

Gary Harvey

IDEA Author/Presenter
C. Noelle Brownson, CSCS, is the owner of Fitness Station in Denver and has been a personal train... more less
February 2006

© 2006 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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