Additional club revenue used to come from tanning, massage or supplements. Now personal training is boosting the bottom line.

Consumer interest in personal training has had a huge impact on our business for reasons beyond the initial revenue. Clients see results and renew their memberships. The word-of-mouth marketing generated by happy clients is phenomenal. You can’t buy that. However, it still takes sales finesse and a positive attitude to keep a business growing. Managers can do only so much. It’s frustrating when personal trainers get complacent and don’t help themselves.

Business success is a numbers game. You know how many calls you have to make to get appointments. You know the percentage of new business you need to generate from those appointments. When you give a proven script to employees only to see them struggle or fail, it’s disappointing. Some managers are too far from the front line and forget the newness of it, the pressure to make a sale. That nervous tension can overshadow an employee’s passion for fitness. How do you turn things around so that instead of feeling pressure, staff can simply focus on doing their jobs well?

This is where coaching comes in. Coaching enhances communication, bridging the gap between managers and directors, directors and personal training staff, and staff and potential clients. When you merge effective communication (coaching) and efficient marketing techniques (business management), your personal training numbers will grow.

Welcome Aboard—
Now Sell!

Few personal trainers enter the industry with sales experience, yet they are expected to immediately fill their schedules with clients. A certain percentage of personal training business comes from inquiries. A trainer can develop a “full” schedule from inquiries, may do a good job and may even retain clients. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help a department grow.

Too often, if it’s done at all, sales training is left to the manager, who says, “Do this, hit these numbers, here’s the list of questions to ask, here are the objections you’ll get, and here’s how to respond to them.” The personal trainer only hears “sell” and feels pressure. He chose this career out of a desire to serve, to affect the quality of life for others and to work in a healthful environment. All of a sudden his beloved career feels cold and calculated.

The solution to this problem is twofold. First, the manager has to select her language more carefully when speaking to the trainer. Second, she must understand that while the need to educate before a sale is made still exists, the person who needs educating has shifted from the consumer to the personal trainer. The manager no longer has to convince the consumer that exercise is a good thing; for the most part, consumers understand this. But she now has to educate the personal trainer, who can’t expect business to fall into his lap. He must recognize that potential clients will sign up only if he conveys how he can help them get results. He also has to take the next step and ask them to commit to a starting date.

There are many daily tests like the one described above. The following situations detail ways to blend business management and a coaching approach to find more integrated, contemporary solutions to the challenges of growing a personal training business.

Scenario 1: Fear
vs. Reframing

You ask Ann, a new employee, to contact members who have not been in the club for at least 90 days. She is charged with making x number of calls a day and offering fitness assessments to encourage members to come back. She is also tasked with explaining how personal training can help them get better results faster.

After a short time on the job, it’s obvious Ann isn’t comfortable making the calls. She doesn’t want to “bother” members at home. She likes doing fitness assessments and personal training but believes posting a sign in the lobby is a better idea than calling members. Her daily and weekly appointments are far below expectations.

>Manager Approach

The job description was very clear from the start, and the expectations were explained. After reviewing her numbers and hearing her reluctance, you set up a meeting to determine if she can do the job or if she needs to make another career choice. After all, you need someone to get the job done.

>Coach Approach

There is a disconnect between what Ann wants to do with her fitness career, what motivates her and what she feels you as the manager are asking her to do. She needs to understand how awkward a member might feel about coming back after so long.

Ask Ann what it feels like to attend a party where she doesn’t know anyone. Now have her think of meeting a friend at a specific time. How does that change her comfort level? Remind her that the people she’s calling are already members. They originally saw value in fitness and health or they wouldn’t have joined. She is the lifeline that will bring them back and renew their faith in the process so they can get the results they want.

>>Blended Approach

You hired Ann because of her passion and excitement for the job, and you still see potential in her. Educate her on the role she plays and heighten her importance. This reframes the responsibility involved in making phone calls. As a result, Ann agrees to stay in her position and make the expected number of calls and appointments.

>Manager Approach

Two weeks later the appointment book is still not filling up! Ann again says she does not like making calls. You’d assumed this was a done deal, and now you find Ann didn’t follow through. You told her what to do, cleared up the issues she had, and she still didn’t produce. You’ve already spent more time than you wanted to on this and you’re frustrated.

>Coach Approach

Is Ann intentionally avoiding responsibility? Is she purposely trying to deceive you? If the answer is no, then identify her biggest challenge. What is she afraid of? What is getting in the way of her success? Ask Ann for commitment in her own words:

  • How many calls will you make today?
  • What will a “no” tell you?
  • What will support you in making these calls?
  • How do you get better/learn best?
  • What do you need from management?

>>Blended Approach

Ann had agreed to set her own goals for making appointments and selling personal training packages, but after digging deeper you realize the material is too new to her. She needs repetition to learn. Repetition breeds confidence and allows personality to shine through. If she uses repetition on the phone, however, it might cost her appointments. This will not set her up for success. She needs “safe” practice, so you arrange weekly role-playing meetings and support her as she learns a new skill. You agree that if Ann thinks she cannot or will not be able to follow through with a task, she will inform you instead of you checking up on her.

Scenario 2: Average vs. Extraordinary

Your management standard for personal training renewal rates is 85%, and you are not reaching it. The club occasionally offers low introductory rates for personal training. These are offered to new members and also during summer so that trainers can stay busy during slower months. In this way, trainers show interested clients the value of personal training, and you hope the clients will continue once their sessions are finished. However, trainers aren’t getting renewals. They’re also resentful about having to provide these packages for a lower commission rate. Clients report that they don’t renew because it’s “not fun” or “not motivating.” In other words they don’t see the value.

>Manager Approach

These clients are a gift! They eliminate making cold calls or creating new contacts. The trainers’ attitudes about these sessions result in poor service. Trainers who know they aren’t providing great service are afraid to ask for more business. They are providing average service, and clients don’t renew for “average.” They don’t have to anymore; they have too many other choices. The personal training director isn’t motivating staff by conveying the value of good service or giving specific examples of it. If personal trainers are willing to settle for being average, maybe you should hire different trainers.

>Coach Approach

Ask trainers what they believe their clients are thinking regarding these introductory packages. The trainers’ own perceptions may differ drastically from what the clients are actually thinking. For example, the trainers may automatically presume clients will not renew. Ask trainers if they think this belief is helping or hurting their performance. Is there truth to this belief?

Most personal trainers want to be great at what they do. No one wants to be average. But they need tools to become great (see “Service Tools for Personal Trainers,” page 80). Toward that end, ask staff to share examples of how they provided great customer service and how it was received by clients. The enthusiasm will be contagious and reinforce positive behavior. Success breeds success. Acknowledge what trainers are already doing well and empower them with more great service ideas.

>>Blended Approach

Cross-train the front desk, sales and massage personnel on personal training services. Then ask them to critique each other and refer members. People tend to do a better job when they know someone is judging their performance. It keeps them on their toes.

Clients are constantly assessing performance, so tell trainers to ask how their clients are doing at the end of every session. Ask for a letter grade and for specifics on what worked well or what they could do more or less of to improve. Whether or not they ask, clients are still giving a grade. Why wait until the end of the “semester,” when it’s too late?

Also track the value-added “extras” that trainers provide. Those who give the most and make training a “personal” service have the highest renewal rates. Their clients are also having the most fun.

Scenario 3: Struggle vs. Flow

The personal training director’s schedule is fuller than any other staff member’s. He fields the calls, fills his appointment book first and then hires additional staff as needed. This is how the program began. The personal training boom in your club has caused the need for an expanded staff, regular meetings and training for the new hires. The personal training director says he doesn’t have time to dedicate to training new hires, based on his own client load. He is reluctant to give up his own loyal clientele in order to fulfill this job
responsibility. He obviously does not want to lead others in marketing and selling packages to increase their client loads.

The director continually seeks additional knowledge to enhance his skill set as a trainer, but the department is not benefiting from this in terms of additional revenue. He also isn’t sharing the new information with his staff. His defense is that the revenue generated by the department continues to grow and is over and above last year’s,
despite the lack of leadership.

>Manager Approach

It’s true that the numbers are better than they were last year. However, the director’s less-than-enthusiastic management style makes you wonder how much you are leaving on the table. If you are doing this well without leadership, you wonder how much better things would be with the right kind of direction and a full staff. If you hire trainers and they don’t receive help with marketing and sales right away, they’ll never get out of the gate. They may be given some overflow clients to start, because you are receiving so many calls for training. But if they don’t know how to retain these clients and ask for business with confidence, they’ll lose the opportunity that’s right in front of their faces. If the sales training has to come from you, why do you need a personal training director? You aren’t attending to your own job responsibilities—the bigger picture—if you are covering his.

>Coach Approach

Identify the personal training director’s greatest fear. What is the worst possible scenario? Is it reducing his client load and leading the staff, or keeping the clients and losing the director position? What does he think his choices are right now? What is he most passionate about? Which aspect of his job does he like the most? What does he like the least? What are you willing to tolerate and for how long? After you’ve both had a chance to think about these questions, sit down and write separate job descriptions for the personal training director position. When you compare your descriptions, there should be some incongruency. Next determine what you will do to bring your ideas into alignment. This gives both of you options and creates a way to move forward rather than staying stuck with the same issue coming up repeatedly.

>>Blended Approach

Clearly examine the personal training director’s strengths and weaknesses. This will bring you closer to a solution for optimal program growth. The director may choose to continue feeding his passion for training clients and passing on staff development, or he may choose to take a risk by assuming a greater leadership role. As the demand for personal training services grows, he must explore options that serve the company’s mission statement rather than his own best interest. It is possible to find options that are a win for both parties.

Customize Your Approach

There is no one right answer to the challenges that crop up as a personal training business is growing. You must always weigh the different choices and options. Find your own approach as you hire and train individuals for a team. Personal training’s evolution promises to be exciting and filled with opportunities for those who take it. A move forward, whether it is a leap or a fall, always provides a learning opportunity. The path is paved for personal trainers, but only as far as they are willing to walk or run to get where they want to be.