Selling Personal Training Services With Flow

by Debra Atkinson, MS on Aug 16, 2010

Personal Training Entrepreneur

Use your fitness education to help clients—and to make sales.

Do you love personal training but dislike selling your services? To help people, you need to train them, and in order to train them you need to sell your services. You know you can’t be a wallflower, but you don’t want to be pushy, either. The good news is that you can learn “Buy-Chi,” the art of selling personal training with flow.

Establish a foundation for why you do everything you do in a sale. When it makes sense to you, it makes sense to a prospective client. You can use your strong fitness education to show how you can help in a way that both the client—and you—feel good about.

Get in the Right Frame of Mind

Before you begin questioning a prospective client, question yourself. Is your lack of confidence in selling about inexperience in selling? Do you have a fear of selling? Or do you have a fear that you can’t deliver all that you’re promising a client? These are not easy questions. Make sure you know the answers. Do what you need to do in order to increase your confidence. Read, attend conferences, get your continuing education credits, network with other professionals and work on yourself. Even if you end up needing to refer a potential client to another professional, you don’t need to shy away from any conversation that might help get someone on the road to a healthier life.

Collect the Right Information

If you’re nervous about selling, consider this. Selling is talking with someone. That’s all. So begin at the beginning. Ask a few simple questions:

  • “What can I do for you today?”
  • “How much time do you have to exercise?”
  • “What are your three biggest goals?”
  • “How soon do you want to get started on these goals?”

With just these questions, you’ve learned a lot about how you can be the solution to a problem. Now you need more information in order to come up with a program that’s different from what your prospective client might have already tried. You need to know what hasn’t worked for her. Ask a few more questions:

  • “What are you doing currently?”
  • “What’s important about these goals right now?”
  • “Is there anything that might get in the way of you getting started?”
  • “What do you need most from me?”
  • “What days and times are realistic for you to exercise?”

Now you know more, enough to make a specific recommendation about your services. You’ve helped the prospect talk through her commitment to these goals. You have dealt with her concerns regarding the training. You have had the opportunity to problem-solve with her to eliminate these concerns.

Next you need to paint a picture that illustrates in some detail (think science; speak client) what you have in mind. “Based on what you’ve said and how important this is to you, what I’d recommend is a program that involves . . .” To a prospect whose wedding dress was ordered one size too small (true story) and who wants to avoid splitting seams at the altar you might say, “We’re going to have you move quickly from exercise station to station, keeping your heart rate up and using weights to create tone and definition for that sleeveless, backless dress.” You could tell the woman with a history of hip bursitis, “We’re going to focus on keeping you pain free by increasing range of motion with various stretching techniques for your hip and low back, and then focus on strengthening areas that are currently weak.”

Now you’re ready to address how often you need to see the client to help her meet her goals. For example, you might say, “I’d like to see you ___ times a week in order to help you change your habits and get you off to a strong start. You said it was 7 weeks before [your class reunion, your wedding, your kids getting out of school], so using that time frame, the ___-session package gives you the best value. Does that make sense to you?”

Use the Right Words to Open Doors

What are the right words to reach a client? The truth. The truth opens doors. Chances are that when someone is looking for help, he’s already started and stopped exercising one or more times before he found you. Make this the last time he starts by truly hearing what he wants and relaying what you know he needs.

If you’re new to sales or strongly dislike it, instead of focusing on the person and the naturalness of recommending the kind of exercise program that you see as a best fit for him, you may tend to go into “sales” mode. You get stuck in your head on the concept of making the sale and not letting it get away. Instead, try to stay in the moment.

Truth and compassion operate together. You don’t forget what you’re going to say when you’re convinced of the truth of what you’re saying. How persuasive would you be if you were talking to your overweight father, mother or spouse who needed to know why an exercise program is important? Chances are the person in front of you is someone’s father, mother or spouse.

Address the Right Values

Every word you’d naturally use to describe personal training is probably true. Yet, not everything is equally important to every person who is a candidate for training (Underhill 2009; Wolfe 2003). If you understand your customers better, you will know how to speak to them in a way that gets them to “yes.” Try these different strategies for men and women.

What Women Want. Women want more detail. They’ll read the fine print. They are looking for the right program, not the right-now program (Silven 2009). They want a program to make sense both now and for their future health. As the gatekeepers, they influence their family’s health choices as well as their own, and that’s important to them. Today’s woman has less and less time; she wants fewer but better options. There’s a strong chance she doesn’t like exercise, but likes the way she feels when she’s been exercising and is happy with how her jeans fit. A woman will spend more on something that has value to her (Atkinson 2004).

You might say, “Exercise will help increase lean muscle tissue for more tone and energy right now. It’s also going to help offset your risk of osteoporosis in years to come. There are two ways to go. You can do one of our group sessions that meets morning or evening or do private sessions at your convenience. Which of these options feels like a better fit for you? Here you can see the benefits list of group training versus private sessions. Look these over and let me know what you think.”

What Men Want. Men, on the other hand, tend to want information specific to the call-to-action ad that brought them in and to be reassured that it makes sense for them. They want the bottom line and then want to get out the door and onto the next thing in their day.

You might say, “You’re exactly right. This program is a perfect fit for you based on your goals. Your timing is great! You can get the first session booked right now; set up the remainder of sessions with me when you have your schedule. I’ll give you the health history to return at your first session so you can be on your way. How do you want to take care of paying today? Great! Do you have any questions that I can answer before our first session?” Remember to ask for the business. You do have to officially close the sale.

Flow to the End

Selling your services won’t always go well, even when you ask the right questions and say the right words and you’ve got the “sure thing” prospect who wants to train. Sometimes people still won’t commit—at least this time. Stay positive. Thank the prospect for her time in person and with a thank-you card afterward. She may need to be exposed to you again or have a reminder somewhere else in her life that exercise is important to her. Keep in touch; keep prospects in your social network and include them in upcoming special promotions. They have friends and relatives and even if they won’t train, maybe someone they know will need a trainer. Let it be you by showing that you have been open and honest and want the best for them. The sale is just a detail that lets you help them; it isn’t your focus.


Atkinson, D. 2004. Catering to the female market. Fitness Management, 20 (11), 30–31.

Silven, K.E. 2009. A vision for the future. Club Solutions Magazine, VII (8), 20–24.

Underhill, P. 2009. Why We Buy. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Wolfe, D.B. 2003. Ageless Marketing. Chicago: Dearborn Trade Publishing.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 7, Issue 9

© 2010 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Debra Atkinson, MS

Debra Atkinson, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

Speaker and author Debra Atkinson, MS, CSCS, is a prior Senior Lecturer at Iowa State University, and the current Personal Training director at Ames Racquet & Fitness Center in Ames, Iowa. Her new boo...