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Easy Selling: The First Contact

You don’t need aggressive or unsavory tactics to close the sale—try relationship building instead.

Have you taken a sales training course?

Many personal trainers are uncomfortable with selling. They’d like the client to hurry up and buy the sessions so they can get going on what they know and do best. Trainers are scared of pushing the “hard sell” or being too aggressive. Unfortunately a solid marketing campaign will be ineffective if you’re not skilled at selling your services once you’ve got someone in the door.

To succeed as a personal trainer, you must become a top-notch salesperson. Holding the highest credentials will make no difference if you can’t get clients to purchase sessions with you. Possessing an exceptional personality and an amazing ability to motivate will not matter if you can’t convince clients to invest in your services. Developing sales skills not only enables you to generate a higher income but also allows you to impact more people’s lives.

Let’s start off by correcting a misconception. “Closing the sale” is the term used to describe the process of asking for the client’s money. The term can have a negative meaning to trainers who associate it with pressure tactics. But in my philosophy you do not need to be a high-pressure salesperson or use unsavory tactics. If you enter communications with a potential client with “closing” as your primary goal, you will quickly lose the client. To me closing the sale is, in fact, opening or developing a relationship. That is how you sell with integrity.

A good salesperson does not focus on “selling” a person but rather on servicing the person. Before any interaction with a potential client, ask yourself, “How can I help this individual? What are her needs?” Once you have identified her needs, simply decide whether your services can meet those needs. If so, then tell her about your services, or offer a sample. That’s it.

I know you are not a personal trainer because you love selling but because you love helping people. But you need to sell to get people to experience your services! Remember that selling is not a bad thing! You are selling very good things: improved health and fitness, more energy, enhanced confidence and self-esteem, longevity. You must believe in yourself and your services. Remember that if a person has called you or inquired about your services, she is interested. She is just waiting for you to explain how you can help.

Focus on the Client

When you decided on the types of clients you wanted to serve, you undoubtedly identified their needs and developed messages to explain how you could meet those needs. The focus was on the clients. Carry that philosophy through when you talk to potential clients.

Here’s an example of how you could approach an individual in a club setting with the purpose of addressing her needs:

Trainer: “Hi there. My name is Sherri and I’m a personal trainer here. Are you new to the club?”

Prospect: “Yes, I am.”

Trainer: “I thought so. What’s your name?”

Prospect: “Karen.”

Trainer: “Well, welcome to the club, Karen. Hey, I know when you first join a new club, you sometimes have questions about the equipment or where things are or proper club etiquette. I’d love to take you through a complimentary personal training session—all new members get one. Have you always exercised, or are you just getting started? Do you have any injuries? What are your goals? Why don’t I book you for some time in the next few days to get you started off on the right foot?”

In this interaction you enter the conversation with the assumption that this individual has some needs you can serve. Focusing on her needs makes it very easy for you to communicate. A first encounter that does not intimidate someone or make her feel pressured to buy is critical. Your role is to welcome the new member and make her feel comfortable and safe with you.

Remember, your knowledge of physiology will be wasted unless you immediately connect with your potential client and develop her trust. She will know if you are only trying to sell her or you genuinely desire to help her. Just telling a potential client what she wants to hear may sometimes help you close the sale in the short term. However, if a person perceives you have “pulled a fast one,” you will quickly lose that person. Success as a personal trainer depends on your ability to keep your clients, not just sell them.

Phone Power Skills

Since much of your business is initiated on the phone, it’s imperative to understand how you can use this tool to your advantage. I have been fortunate enough to receive extensive training on using the telephone to complete business. Here are a few guidelines I’ve learned:

  • Place the phone where it is the center
    of attention. It is difficult to perform
    well on the phone when distractions and
    disruptions are occurring around you.
  • Pay attention to your posture while
    talking. Sounding energetic is not easy
    if you’re reclined in an easy chair or
    slouched on the couch. Try putting a
    long cord on the phone or use a headset
    or cell phone so you can move around
    while talking. Remember, your body
    language can be heard!

    • Consciously attempt to add more tone,
      animation and energy to your voice.

  • Make important calls when you’re
    feeling most upbeat and energetic.
    Perhaps you’ll find making calls right
    after a workout or first thing in the
    morning works for you. Get yourself
    psyched up.

    I’m not quite sure whether answering
    machines make life easier or more
    difficult. Many personal trainers com
    plain of “playing tag” with answering
    machines and telephones. Here are
    some suggestions to help you use
    answering machines to your advantage.

  • The message you leave on your own
    answering machine may be the first
    contact a potential client has with you.
    In an upbeat, energetic and positive
    voice, tell callers a little about your
    business and how you can help clients.
    Perhaps finish with an inspirational
    quote or message.
  • When leaving a message on a potential
    client’s machine, tell the person who
    you are and that you’d like to talk with
    her in detail about her goals. Leave
    your phone number/pager number and
    a specific time you can be reached.
    Convey excitement, enthusiasm and
    energy in your voice. Also leave a time
    when you will call back—and be sure
    to call back at exactly that time.
  • If you are experiencing the frustrating
    “Tag, you’re it!” scenario, ask a “now”
    question. For example, if leaving a
    message with a secretary, spouse or
    roommate, ask if there is an alternative
    cell phone, work or home number at
    which to reach the person you are
    calling. It is best to speak directly with
    that person.

Preparing for the First Phone Call

Do you remember the very first time you had to call about a personal training inquiry? If you weren’t properly trained on making a first phone call, you probably felt very awkward, and stumbled over many of your words.

You can evolve from a trainer who lacks confidence and the right words to a trainer who is confident, eloquent and effective in that initial interaction. All it takes is practice. Role-play the telephone call, using your friends, family members and colleagues to develop your systems and scripts. It will take hours of your time at first, but you definitely don’t want to practice on your clients! Role-playing telephone conversations is well worth the time invested.

On the first phone call, spend time developing a relationship and a connection. This will increase the chances of clients starting with you immediately and decrease the chances of their making similar calls to numerous personal trainers.

Some sales training experts suggest that you get a potential client off the phone and into the gym as quickly as possible. I disagree. You’ve got a potential client on the phone. This is your first opportunity to develop a relationship with her, so take advantage of it. Invest some time and energy in getting to know this person. Do you honestly think you have to be with someone in person for a relationship to develop? Not at all! How would you explain all the marriages that have occurred as a result of e-mail connections?

The worst mistake salespeople make is talking about themselves. If you want the potential client to like you, avoid talking about yourself and instead spend the majority of the time asking the client questions about herself. Ask guided questions, but let her do the talking. Listen and paraphrase. Your goal is to listen to the client 60 percent of the time, give her information 25 percent of the time, and spend only 15 percent of the time getting her commitment.

Be sure you have close by a script to refer to (see sample script on page 16), paper for notes, and your personal training promotional package and price list.

Keep Your Momentum Going!

Now you’ve got a clear picture of some of the things you can do before you actually book an individual for her first session with you. By practicing and perfecting some of the tools outlined here, you can become a great salesperson who naturally turns each encounter into a business opportunity. Begin by building relationships with your prospects and you’ll be well on your way!

Protocol for a First Phone Call

1. Introduction. The introduction is the first thing you will say to the client. This will set the mood of the conversation. It should be precise and lead you into the rest of the conversation.“Hi, is Sandy there? Hi, Sandy, this is Sherri calling from XYZ Personal Training. I understand you’re interested in personal training. Do you have a few moments to chat?”

2. History. During this stage get as much information about the client as possible. Discuss her fitness background. Determine what exercise she’s doing—how often, how long and how much. Get as much information as possible on all parts of her fitness program: cardio, muscle conditioning and flexibility. Discuss nutrition, injury status, sleeping habits and stress levels. Listen for key pieces of information. Is she a beginner? Is there an injury you can help rehabilitate? Is she neglecting key fitness components that you can address?I liken this stage to a conversation you might have at a party. If you’re at a party and you want someone to like you, you ask a ton of questions. People love to talk about themselves. If you let them do so, they will leave their interactions with you thinking you are just an amazing person even though you haven’t told them anything about yourself. So engage your potential client in interactive conversation. Be sure to be interested in what she’s saying.

3. Goals. Find out exactly why the client needs you. Be sure to probe so you are very clear about her expectations.

4. Action Plan. Here’s where you get to explain how you can help. Be sure to relate everything you say back to what the client told you. Focus on the benefits she will achieve, not the features of your program.

5. Conclusion. Tie up loose ends by determining how you will work together. When and how often will you train? Book the first appointment. Determine whether you will perform a basic or comprehensive fitness assessment. Tell her what she can expect during the first session. Ask her to pick up, fill out and return the client questionnaire.

Thank the client!

Sample Script

Make a script to help you through the initial phone consultation so you don’t forget anything. But don’t read from it! Use it to guide you and to make notes on. Here’s a sample phone script:

Trainer: “Hello. Is Sue Brown there, please?”

Client: “Yes, this is Sue.”

Trainer: “Hi, Sue! It’s Sherri calling from XYZ Personal Training. How are you doing?”

Client: “Great!”

Trainer: “Well, Sue, I understand you’re interested in personal training, so I wanted to give you a call to discuss your goals. Do you have a few minutes to chat?”

Client: “Yes, that would be great.”

Trainer: “Are you currently exercising, Sue?” [If so, congratulate her. If not, tell her how great it is that she’s willing to take the first step. Let her know that most people spend their entire lives just wishing they’d started exercising!]

Client: “Well, I’ve been exercising for about 10 years, and in the past few years I’ve put on a few pounds and I’m really starting to get bored with my program!”

Trainer: “It’s so great that you’re exercising!” [Ask as many pertinent questions as possible. Let her do the talking and you’ll have yourself a client! Ask guided questions to get the information you need, e.g., “What kind of exercise are you doing? How many times per week? For how long? Do you stretch? Why do you think the exercise program isn’t working anymore? Do you think your body has adapted to your program? How’s your nutrition? Do you have any injuries I should know about?”] “So, Sue, how would you like me to help you? What are your goals?”

Client: “Well, I’d like to . . . ”

Trainer: [Ask guided questions so you’re very clear on her goals.] “So let me see if I’ve got this right. You would like to restructure your exercise program so it’s more effective at burning fat; you’d like to have a leaner, more fit physique; and you’d like a program that offers more variety so you don’t get bored. Is that right?”

Client: “Yeah, that’s exactly it!”

Trainer: “Okay, well, I can definitely help you out! What I’ll do is design a program that offers some changes so your body is forced to respond. We’ll start some weight training, which you haven’t been doing, and this will help raise your metabolism, making it a lot easier to burn more body fat. Weight training will also increase your muscle tone and definition. In addition, we’ll set some nutrition goals to ensure that you’re doing the right things. How’s that sound?”

Client: “That sounds perfect.”

Trainer: “Good! Now all we have to do is decide how you and I are going to work together. There are lots of options. Some of my clients train with me four to five times a week, which is an amazing method of ensuring each of your workouts is effective—but only if you can afford it. Other clients see me a couple of times a week, once a week or even just once a month.

“The most popular and economical way is to train two times a week with me and then do the rest of your workouts on your own. This option allows me to constantly update your program so you can advance more quickly, and commits you to coming to the gym for your more challenging workouts. What do you think would be best for you? How many times do you want to train with me in a week?”

Client: “Maybe I should try once or twice a week.”

Trainer: “That’s great, Sue! Why don’t we start with twice a week and then you can see how it goes?”

Client: “Yeah, that would work.”

Trainer: [If you want to discuss prices, you can do this now or wait until your first session. Generally, clients will ask you about prices anyway, so you might as well educate them on the options.] “Now we should decide which personal training package you’d like to start with. We offer 50-, 35-, 20-, 15-, 10- or five-session packages. Of course, you get a better rate with the larger packages. Since we are going to be working together two times per week, if you bought, for example, 20 sessions, that would allow for 10 weeks of training. You’d definitely notice significant changes by then. What do you think?”

Client: “I think I’d like to start with 10 sessions.”

Trainer: “Perfect. And then at the end of 10 you can decide whether you’d like to start training on your own or renew.”

Client: “Good.”

Trainer: “Sue, can you grab a pen? I’m going to give you a list of things to do before we meet for the first time. The first thing to do is get a client information package. You can stop by the reception desk at the studio to pick it up or I can e-mail or fax it to you. It has an eight-page questionnaire that outlines your health and fitness history, and details your goals and interests. This information will allow me to design the exercise program that’s best for you. You can fill out the questionnaire and then return it 2 days before our first appointment. This will give me enough time to prepare for our first session. Would you like to pick the package up or would you prefer that I e-mail or fax it to you?”

Client: “Actually, I can pick it up on my way home from work tonight.”

Trainer: “Okay, well, let’s get started as soon as possible. When can you meet?”

Client: “Can you meet me on Friday at 9:00 am?”

Trainer: “Yes I can! Okay, write this down. We’re scheduled for Friday, July 25, at 9:00 am. Be sure to come dressed to exercise. All you have to do is pick up the client package at the reception desk, at which time you can pay for a 10-session package. Then fill out the questionnaire in the package and return it to the reception desk, addressed to me, by Wednesday, July 23.”

Client: “No problem.”

Trainer: “Okay, I’ll see you on Friday. I really look forward to training with you! Bye.”

Client: “Me too! Bye.”


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Sherri McMillan, MS

Sherri McMillan, MSc, has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for 30 years, and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2010 canfitpro International Fitness Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 1998 canfitpro Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is an international fitness presenter, personal trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, including Go For Fit: The Winning Way to Fat Loss, Fit Over Forty, and The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing, and a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.

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