Like an awkward first date, the initial consultation between trainer and potential client often begins with nervous anticipation. Both parties may cling to hopes of a long-term partnership while harboring fears of being rejected or unheard. Winning over the new customer’s heart (and training budget!) will demand genuine listening skills and a keen attentiveness to his or her needs.

A successful consultation requires a different skill set than a regular training session. It is not a “comp workout.” Rather, it is a no-cost, structured time to explain your services and intentionally ask for a would-be trainee’s business. Learn how top trainers approach this initial client meeting to win customers’ loyalty and form rewarding relationships for the long run.

Setting Up the Sale

Because failing to plan is planning to fail, trainers need to create a step-by-step system to help their consultations succeed. So says Alex McMillan, co-recipient of the 2006 IDEA Program Director of the Year Award and owner of ALX Fitness in Vancouver, Washington. He says his system works “because it follows the rules of how people like to buy versus me just trying to sell them something.”

Being organized and structured does not mean being robotic and impersonal. “If you are overprepared with the points you want to cover and how you want the orientation to flow, then you will enter into the orientation with your own agenda and you will not be as focused on what your client is telling you he or she needs,” says Ashley Selman, MA, a business coach for personal trainers and owner of award-winning performance facility Evolution Trainers near San Francisco.

The bottom line: While a customer’s needs may oblige you to deviate from your initial plans, there’s no substitute for drawing up a step-by-step path to success.

Step 1: Prepare for the Meeting

Have everything ready before the client arrives. “Make sure you are organized, have a game plan and [are] not in a hurry,” says Troy Fontana, a Sparks, Nevada–based fitness business consultant and 2010 finalist for IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year. “The potential client will sense when you’re rushed or disinterested.”

To save precious face-to-face time, ask the client to fill out questionnaires via email ahead of time. “The more you know about a particular client, or about the demographic they fall into, beforehand, the better,” McMillan says.

Step 2: Meet and Greet (5 minutes; based on a 55-minute consultation)

Allow time to informally break the ice at the beginning of the appointment. Introduce yourself, get the client’s contact information and obtain a signed liability waiver if needed, says McMillan. To ease new-client jitters, stay in a casual environment, such as your facility’s lobby or near the front desk (as opposed to a sales-oriented office), Fontana says.

Step 3: Client Conversation (5–10 minutes)

Go over the customer’s specific needs, history, motivation level, availability, PAR-Q responses and general goals, says McMillan. The tone should be conversational and comfortable. Either stay in the same location as the meet-and-greet (as Fontana suggests) or move elsewhere, seated side-by-side at a table (which McMillan prefers).

During what he calls the “calculated consultation,” Fontana recommends asking three questions:

  • What are you looking to achieve?
  • What have you tried in the past?
  • How can I be of best assistance to you?

Then, share your program ideas, your training style and the benefits of working with you, he says.

Finally, share five to 10 before-and-after photos of successful clients, says Fontana. “If you don’t have these photos, start working on them now—they’re like gold.”

Step 4: Facility Tour (5–10 Minutes; Optional)

Deciding whether to conduct a tour will depend on whether the client needs to see every nook and cranny of your facility.

Experts vary on whether to use a standardized approach (“the tour should be the same for each person and highlight specific benefits,” says Fontana) or a more informal walkabout (“I do not have a set road map for my consultations; I let my client guide the tour,” says Selman) or even whether to do a tour at all (McMillan goes straight to the next step).

If you think a tour is called for, stay focused on how your facility will meet your prospect’s needs. “Most tours become a showcase of how many TVs a facility has or how advanced the treadmills are, but lack the connection that describing ‘benefits’ will make,” says Fontana. “Examples [of describing benefits] include talking in terms of your unique culture, safe and friendly environment, welcoming atmosphere and so forth. [That is] vastly different than telling someone about your TVs.”

Step 5: Sample Exercises in the Workout Area (20 Minutes)

To establish concrete value in his training services, McMillan reserves a third of every 55-minute consultation to work one-on-one with the prospective customer. This step is not an entire workout. Rather, it gives the client a small taste of what a real training session would be like. After all, many people have no idea of what actually happens during a personal training appointment—and no one likes to buy something sight unseen.

Be clear that you don’t have much time together, but you’d still like to do some practical work. (See the sidebar, “How To Conduct a Training Teaser,” for more ideas.) Throughout, use assumptive language: “When you come in next week, we’ll continue to work on this muscle group” or “These were just some sample ab exercises; I’ll show you more the next time we train together.”

Step 6: Presenting Solutions/Asking for the Sale (10–15 minutes)

Finally, it is time to ask for the client’s business. While sitting side-by-side at a table, McMillan says, trainers should review the mini-assessment, discuss the prospect’s current reality and re-examine desired goals.

Next, it is critical to ask the customer to make a buying decision, one way or another. “Present a two- to three-option solution, asking ‘Which option makes the most sense for you?’ ” says McMillan.

Sadly, almost half of those who present a sales opportunity will never explicitly ask for a potential client’s business. Ensure you are on the upside of this statistic by allowing the client to choose and by always asking for the sale. (For ideas on how, see my article on “Top Sales Closes” from the June 2011 issue of IDEA Trainer Success.)

Step 7: Follow Up

You hope that most clients will sign up with you during the previous step. If not, remember that “even if someone does not sign up initially, you should follow up within 7 days to see if they’ve thought any more about working with you,” Fontana says. Remember, 80% of all sales are obtained after five “asks.” Take time to ask again.

Steps to Success

A successful consultation requires a selling-friendly, step-by-step approach that is tailored to each customer’s needs. “Every client is unique and different, and your orientation needs to be all about them,” Selman says. When you keep a structured focus on the one you want to woo, you’ll move ahead with confidence that you’ll seal the deal.

Sidebar: How To Conduct a Training Teaser

During the fifth consultation step, Alex McMillan gives potential clients a 20-minute taste of a training session with a three-tiered approach:

Assess. Perform a mini-assessment of strength and function in one or two areas of concern for the client. For example, if her goal is to tone her abdominals, then assess the stability, strength and function of the prospective client’s core, McMillan says. Provide feedback on what you observe, and specifically describe how you will use this information when designing her future fitness program.

Educate/Train. Ensure you demonstrate and train the customer on two to three exercises that target the areas of greatest concern, therefore establishing the emotional and logical value of your services, McMillan says.

Plan. Finally, briefly discuss a future metabolic and fitness strategy that will further address all of the client’s specific concerns, McMillan says. Continually describe how your exercise recommendations will help the prospective trainee reach his or her personal goals.

Megan Senger

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