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The Top 5 Sales Secrets of Successful Trainers

You already have basic sales tools; they may just need additional focus.

“They said they were interested, so why didn’t they sign up with me?” “They keep saying no.” “I just want to help people. What am I doing wrong?”

As a sales trainer, I have spoken with many struggling sales rookies. Having just completed their umpteenth unsuccessful consultation of the day, they often voice their frustrations with more than a hint of dejection.

Now imagine those rookies with several decades of experience. What do today’s top-selling trainers know now about sales that they wished they had known way back then? Read on to discover industry leaders’ worst beginner mistakes and to learn the top five hard-earned sales secrets that took them to the top.

1. You Are Already Good at Sales

“But I got into this industry to help people, not to sell!”

Does this sound familiar? For some trainers, the idea of “selling” has a negative connotation. And many mistakenly see sales as forcing people to buy things they don’t really want, says Nicki Anderson, 2008 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of Reality Fitness in Naperville, Illinois.

Yet your sincere desire to help people is precisely what will make you exceptional at selling your services. “Way back, when I was 17 years old, I was the highest-grossing and youngest salesperson at the gym,” says Anderson. “Why? Because I was so excited about offering people a longer, healthier life, I never ‘sold’ anything. I simply provided a much-needed opportunity.”

Providing opportunities, as Anderson puts it, is already in your blood. Think of how often you persuade people to follow an exercise program. Every day, you help trainees overcome their fitness fears and give clients healthy choices and recommendations. In other words, you are already in the selling business, and you are already good at it.

“Trainers need to realize that they already do more sales than most salespeople. When you give your clients [health and exercise] advice, you are ‘selling’ them on that idea,” says Eddie Tock, a Garrison, New York–based partner at REX Roundtables and marketing and sales training consultant who has advised more than 1,000 health clubs worldwide. “A sale takes place every time you get someone to believe in your ideas and then take action on them.”

You don’t accept exercise excuses in the gym. Why would you accept excuses at the sales desk? Prospective trainees need your help. Simply use the motivational skills you already have to get them on board with fitness–and with your training services.

2. Envisioning the End Is Key

Helping potential clients visualize a successful exercise endgame is a key sales secret of Alex McMillan, fitness business coach and owner of ALX Fitness, a studio brand and consulting firm based in Vancouver, Washington. McMillan, co-recipient of the 2006 IDEA Program Director of the Year award, uses the following words to get potential trainees to connect emotionally to their future success:

“I want you to picture this in your mind. It’s 6–12 months from now and you’ve been following a well-designed, guided fitness plan that we’ve created together, and together we’ve kept you on track, motivated and very consistent. It’s now 6–12 months later and you’ve achieved all of the goals that we laid out and planned for! Okay, now describe in detail how this looks. Describe how you feel about this. How has your life improved? Why was this a worthy use of your time and resources?”

McMillan reminds trainers that a sale happens when a client perceives that the value of their training services is greater than what the client could get spending that money elsewhere. “The sale happens naturally when the qualified prospective customer is taken to an emotional peak through [visualizing] and then is asked to make a logical decision to take action.” So, get your client to start by seeing the end.

3. “No” Is a Good Thing

What happens when you do your job well, you explain the benefits of your services . . . and the client still says, “I have to think about it,” “It’s too much money” or simply “No thanks”?

Don’t let a “no” send you into a tongue-tied tailspin of dejection and embarrassment. Remind yourself that the best salespeople in the world also hear “no.” A lot. This little word is not a measure of your abilities as a salesperson. The real test (and sales secret) lies in not letting the first “no” be the end of the conversation.

Instead, see through the client’s eyes and remember that the first objection is usually a cry for help, says McMillan. “[An objection or ‘no’] is often the client’s guarded way of saying, ‘Please remind me why I’m here, help me prioritize my life, and help me dig deep into why a relationship with you will make my entire life better.’”

Tock agrees: “Usually ‘no’ means ‘Show me more value’ and [says] that WIFM (what’s in it for me) has not yet been answered by the trainer.”

To get past the “no” and reinforce the value of your services, keep the client talking. McMillan recommends asking prospective customers guided questions that abolish excuses and self-defeating objections. And remember, “no” is just the first step toward sales success.

4. Discounts Serve Your Fears, Not Your Business

When business is slow, you may think of slashing your fees to attract clients. Think again, says Anderson.

“The biggest mistake I ever made was worrying that if I didn’t give some type of discount, my clients would go elsewhere.” She believes discounted prices give the off-putting impression of low-value services. “I’ve never seen a trainer’s business explode because he or she gave discounts.”

Plus, too-low training fees create a revolving door of the wrong kind of clients, in Anderson’s experience. “If I set my prices [too] low, just to get customers, I will not attract people that place a value on personal training and thus [the clients I do attract] will never take it seriously and stick with me.” To ensure clients are a long-term fit for her studio, she instead sets fees based on the kind of trainee she wants to attract.

Anderson observes that in her 20-plus years of experience as a fitness business owner, she has never once discounted her training fees–and has never lost a sale because of it.

5. It’s Time to Get Beyond “Packages”

The classic pay-up-front package of sessions is personal training’s past—but not its future. So says Thomas Plummer, fitness business consultant, speaker and founder of the National Fitness Business Alliance. Today’s top trainers succeed by offering time commitment options with autodebit payments or EFTs (electronic funds transfers—i.e., money drawn from a credit card).

“Every single training club that I can find that makes real money has established a monthly payment system [for personal training] as opposed to trying to get full payments [up-front] for a lot of sessions at once,” the Cape Cod, Massachusetts–based Plummer explains. He advocates selling 1-year time commitments to clients with monthly autopay, or a 3-month option if the trainer is new or less experienced.

Selling clients on “time” rather than “packages” can also make it easier to gain new business and close sales, notes Tock. “Talk to prospective clients about working together once or twice a week for several weeks to achieve the results they want. By doing that, you just convinced them to work together for 12–16 sessions. [Saying ‘Let’s work together for several weeks’] is more effective than saying ‘Want to buy a 12-pack?’”

Bottom line: Today’s successful trainers use automatic payment structures that streamline their systems and remove the psychological barrier that huge up-front fees present to prospective customers. Don’t let packages get in the way of potential sales.

Selling More, Helping More

Successful trainers–those with full client rosters and fit finances–don’t mind hearing “no” from prospective trainees. Their fees are fixed and their systems simplified. Above all, they understand that their attitude toward accepting excuses at the sales desk directly affects how many people they can actually help.

“Selling is learning to help people get what they want and need by patiently and professionally explaining what you do and how you charge for the service,” says Plummer. It’s no secret that more sales will boost your bottom line. But gaining more sales will also allow you to help more people by teaching them how to reach their personal best—and that’s a secret worth sharing.

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