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Closing the Deal—Conducting Successful Consultations

Bridge the gap between awkward conversations and effective salesmanship.

This new column provides trainers with practical ways to approach common business obstacles. Using a coaching strategy called gap analysis, it explores issues that many trainers struggle with. Gap analysis helps people identify where they currently are with regard to a situation, where they would ultimately like to see themselves and the steps they must take to bridge the gap between the two. Here’s how a gap analysis can help you improve your success rate with client consultations.

Starting Point—Consultations Are Awkward. Initial consultations are uncomfortable for many trainers. Meeting someone for the first time can be awkward. In a consultation setting, both parties are likely feeling self-conscious and insecure. Potential clients are anxious about their physical issues and/or appearance, and trainers are concerned about proving their skills so that would-be clients will sign up for personal training. When it comes time for the “sales” pitch, many trainers feel less certain about their business skills than their training skills and consequently lose confidence. Clients then feel reluctant to make a commitment, and trainers may miss the opportunity to help them.

Destination—Successful Consultations Every Time. Trainers who do well with consultations have the following traits in common. They are able to connect easily with a wide variety of people. They appear confident and sure of themselves, without coming across as arrogant. And most important, they succeed in converting nearly every initial consultation they have into a happily paying client.

Bridging the Gap. Transforming yourself from a trainer who views consultations with trepidation into one who looks forward to the chance to sign new clients is a two-step process. First, you must identify the specific things that successful trainers do in their consultations. Then, once you have identified those actions, you can formulate a strategy for developing your own skills in those specific areas.

Below are three areas in which effective trainers excel in their initial consultations. For each area, there are strategies to help you improve your skills so that you can bridge the gap and close every client who walks through your door.

Area #1: Interacting With People
Trainers who ace consultations communicate well with different people and easily make connections. There are two facets to successful interaction, and you may need to develop your skills in both areas. First, begin by assessing how well you interact with various populations (e.g., men, women, seniors, ultrafit people, deconditioned/overweight people, shy people, outgoing people, etc.). If you find that you feel uncomfortable approaching certain types of people, make a conscious effort to include them in your daily interactions at the gym. Start by simply saying hello. From there, work on increasing the amount of contact you have with different types of people. This will help you become more comfortable with a wider variety of potential clients.

Once you have expanded your comfort level in this way, assess your rapport-building skills. The ability to develop a connection quickly is crucial when a client is deciding whether to sign with you. Use the following rapport-building basics to analyze your verbal and nonverbal communication skills for strengths and weaknesses:

  • Do you make direct eye contact with people? Looking up at someone while keeping your head lowered conveys uncertainty. Looking down your nose communicates egocentricity. Try each look in the mirror, and you’ll easily see the differences.
  • Do your body language, tone of voice and spoken words all match? If your words are positive, but your body language is closed off, your potential client is getting mixed messages, which may erode your credibility.
  • Do you match your body language and tone of voice to the body language and tone of voice that your potential client is using? Matching the two will set the client at ease and subliminally tell him or her, “We are alike.” For example, if a potential client is leaning in toward you and speaking in an upbeat tone of voice about her fitness goals, gently lean toward her in response and ensure your tone of voice conveys enthusiasm when it is your turn to speak. Ultimately, people buy from people they like and trust.
  • Does your passion for health and fitness come through in your consultations? Clients want to work with people who truly believe in what they are selling.

Area #2: Exuding Confidence
Trainers who are successful appear confident during consultations but are not overly chatty. When conducting your consultations, notice who does the majority of the talking. If it’s the potential client, that’s good. If not, this is a part of your consultation style that needs improving. Work on changing the trainer-client talking ratio to favor your client.

You will always feel confident that you can help clients when you understand their wants and needs. The only way to ascertain that information is to ask key questions like “How can I help you?” “What would you like to be able to do when you reach your goal?” or “What prompted you to see a personal trainer?” and then listen to what the clients have to say. This strategy will help bring to light their goals and underlying motivations. This information is important. When it comes time to outline your program suggestions and recommendations, you can tailor your sales pitch precisely to what clients have told you. Actively listening to their responses also helps you appear poised and gives the impression that you are genuinely interested in their situations.

Area #3: Closing the Deal
During consultations, the topic that prompts many trainers to unravel is money. Most trainers wait for the prospect to ask the dreaded question “How much do you charge?” and consequently the trainers feel they must justify or defend their rates. The flood of emotion that accompanies this question can make an otherwise confident trainer appear nervous—and that can send negative signals to potential clients.

A thorough analysis of how you derived your fee schedule will help you feel more confident about discussing money matters. Knowing the going rate of other trainers with similar qualifications and experience in your area can help assure you that potential clients are willing and able to pay the same amount to train with you. If you possess specialty skills or qualifications that set you apart from other trainers, clients will expect you to charge more, so be sure of yourself in doing so.

Tie your ability to help a client directly to the discussion of money. Do this by linking the topic of fees to a summary of what clients have told you during the consultation. For example, reiterate what they said they want to achieve. Then provide them with a clear outline of your proposed program and an estimate of how many sessions it will take for you to help them reach their goals. Also, make it a point to bring up the subject of fees before they do. Broaching money matters first keeps you in control of your emotions and instills a sense of confidence that persuades clients to sign up every time.

Straight From the Top

Even the best trainers in the world have faced the common business obstacle of handling consultations. Here’s how Nicki Anderson, 2008 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of Reality Fitness Personal Training Studio in Naperville, Illinois, successfully bridged the consultation gap:

“I now know there are three very important pieces for a successful consultation: listening to client needs, asking questions and sharing an opportunity,” she says. “Once I understand clients’ needs and realize that I can make a difference for them, I don’t think about selling; I think about providing them with a life-changing opportunity.”

Mary Bratcher, MA

Mary Bratcher, MA, is a certified life coach and co-owner of The BioMechanics in San Diego, California. She holds a master's degree in psychology; and for over a decade, has used principles from psychology and life coaching to help people develop better strategies for dealing with life's demands.
CEC provider for: ACE

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