Reconnecting With Clients

by Darren Jacobson on Sep 10, 2009

PFT Director

Now is a good time to become reacquainted with your client base. The economy is slow, and consumer attitudes are shifting. More than ever, people are looking for valid reasons to purchase services—reasons that assure them they’d be making a sound decision. Style, flair and personality are no longer prerequisites for success as a personal trainer. These characteristics have eroded, and value is the new keystone. Consumers are more educated and are demanding value in all aspects of their lives.

With this economic crunch, the proliferation of one-on-one studios and a greater competitive threat from bigger, multipurpose facilities, prospective clients and members are looking to join clubs where they feel welcome and the surroundings are reminiscent of “coming home.” Your facility must become a sacred space where members break away from the rat race and find a calmer and friendlier environment. Your personal training staff can reconnect with clients by shedding complacency and promoting a forward-thinking, innovative, member-centric and progressive environment.

Position Staff as Educational Resources

Regardless of the economic downturn, consumers are still seeking answers to health and fitness questions. Smart personal trainers are taking this opportunity to position themselves as educational resources. Encourage staff to choose a “voice”; for example, the “voice of motivation” or the “voice of compassion.” Many out-of-shape novices turn to fitness as a release. Take the lead, and position your personal trainers as wellness beacons. Schedule weekly fitness presentations, hand out relevant articles, and send weekly e-mails with motivators, testimonials, etc. These actions elevate your staff’s profile within the facility and, if done correctly, can create buzz. In addition, current clients will talk up their great trainers, and the value your services add to clients’ lives will be cemented in their minds.

Cash in on Member Interactions

It’s vital that clients feel the investment they’ve made in the facility is a good one. Your personal training staff must be on board with this idea, too, and must channel it through all interactions. Ensure that you have all the basic administrative mechanisms in place. For example, there is no excuse for trainers not to use correct invoicing processes, screening protocols and waiver templates. Clients need to feel they are in safe hands. When you have this solid foundation in place, up the ante with innovative, creative ideas, such as customized workouts and challenging goal-orientated programs (e.g., “Run the New York Marathon,” “Complete the Ironman®”) or holiday fitness camps. The goals are to differentiate your personal trainers from the competition and to create the professional, customer-focused ethos that discerning consumers are looking for.

Invest in Giveaways

There is no such thing as a free lunch, right? Well, these days I believe there has to be. However, there must also be sound, sensible investments. Whether it is through a charity drive, a goal-driven program or a supermarket expedition to show members how to shop, you mush cast the value net wide. The payoff: clients who commit. Consumers look for trainers who are willing to shape and bend with the times—they want trainers who are prepared to sacrifice time or money to be a part of the solution. Those who are stale, stagnant, arrogant and egotistical will struggle to gain market share. We have identified an interesting trend this year. Many of our new trainers are having an easier time finding clients than our veterans. We’ve learned that people want to help the fresh faces get started and become successful—a pay-it-forward approach. This is a good reminder for trainers who have been in the game for a while to take a bold, new look at the reasons they are in this business and to reformulate a game plan for helping people meet their goals. Ideally, this game plan will offer a “free lunch,” such as extra e-mail or texting “touches” or a supplemental assessment to re-engage the client.

It’s About Eyes and Teeth!

When trainers start out in the industry, they are wide-eyed and ready to go. They connect well with the client base, using good eye contact and a fresh smile. However, as they pick up clients, the eye contact and smiles dwindle and the focus turns to business. Right or wrong, this does change the playing field to some extent. At one time these trainers were seen as approachable, and now they are perceived as standoffish or aloof. To reconnect with members, trainers need to return to these friendly, approachable roots. This is a service-oriented industry. While the concept of eye contact and a smile is not rocket science, it is just as important now as always, maybe more so. “Eyes and teeth”: a simple mantra, but one that is often the primary lead generator.

Value Differentiation

Deals, discounts and packages have become important in this economic environment. Regardless of the industry, there is an expectation that industries must be sympathetic to consumers. Personal training is no different. Demanding consumers are looking for some form of acknowledgement of their plight. Successful trainers in this market are cashing in on small-group offerings; mass group participation (team runs) at fractional costs to clients; and value-based packages with good incentives (e.g., image consultants, golf lessons, massages, etc.) that have been amortized into the costs. The purpose is to show increased value and, in so doing, to stand out from the mainstream. I believe this trend will continue and consumers will be discerning when seeking personal training. It really is about showing great value, along with a commitment to action. This will draw concerned consumers from the trenches of their economic challenges.

The fact that we need to reconnect with our clients signals that we created a disconnection as the industry rapidly evolved. This is far from being an insurmountable challenge. We are well positioned in an industry that will continue to grow. Fitness facilities continue to be the “third space” in people’s lives. We are the break in the schedule, the stress release, the sacred place to hide from the turmoil and challenges of everyday life. It would be short-sighted to think we don’t need to bend and move with the times. It is through these trying times that we can refocus, restructure and reinvent ourselves. We will likely come out the other end in a far more stable, credible and successful position than ever before.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 21, Issue 5

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About the Author

Darren Jacobson

Darren Jacobson IDEA Author/Presenter

Darren Jacobson is the innovator of the franchise personal training concept for Virgin Active South Africa, where he manages over 750 personal trainers in 88 health clubs. He holds a bachelor’s degr...