One of the best sales lessons I ever learned came from watching an amateur 10K race from the finish line. The winning runners made excellent times, easily cruising across the finish line while barely breaking a sweat. The next group had obviously undertrained and overpushed, stumbling to the race’s end flushed and sometimes physically ill. Last were those who clearly embraced the joys of strolling and socializing, but who seemed unconcerned about how well they finished.

To me, these groups of runners make a fitting analogy for sales seekers. Are you in the selling elite of personal trainers? Or does sales make you feel exhausted and undertrained? Or perhaps you amble along, past the point of caring about your results?

Good sales managers know that their top performers—those who cross the finish line first—have key traits in common with elite runners. Learn their secrets as we discover the top 5 truths of winners in the race for fitness sales.

Truth #1: Top Trainers Self-Motivate and Resist Blaming Circumstances

The underprepared salesperson has many excuses: “If only this gym had more clients.” “Nobody has money right now.” “Nobody wants to get serious about exercise.”

Unsuccessful trainers “typically point fingers at a lack of marketing, a poor uniform or a lack of business cards and posters as the catalyst for their poor performance, rather than assessing their own productivity,” says Darren Jacobson, an industry speaker and head of product for Virgin Active South Africa in Cape Town.

In contrast, top trainers believe they are the masters of their own destinies, actively approaching potential clients and not waiting for opportunities to present themselves, Jacobson says. A true sales pro constantly works to get the best value out of interactions with every potential client, agrees Lesley Aitken, the sales, service and management trainer for Fitpro UK, a fitness industry association based in London.

Ensure your attitude matches your ambitions, and know that it’s not the clients, the economy or your manager that determines your sales record. It’s all driven by you and your desire to succeed.

Truth #2: Top Trainers Offer More Than “Likeability”

Trainers should try to be “helpful” instead of just “friendly,” says Thomas Freese, a renowned sales trainer based in Atlanta and author of Sell Yourself First (Portfolio 2010).

“You’re not going to be able to be friends with me in 20 minutes, but you still want me to hire you after 20 minutes,” he says. People buy from whom they like, but they may like you for reasons other than friendship. Such reasons can include being purposeful, relevant and professionally valuable, he says.

Top trainers think like a potential client and put themselves in the customer’s shoes, Aitken says. For example, if you approach a new client while feeling supercharged, you can actually intimidate people, Freese cautions. “There’s this out-of-shape or older person thinking, ‘You can’t understand my body—you don’t know me.’ ”

Freese’s solution? “Verbalize their concerns [back to them]. And the customer will think, ‘That’s right. That’s exactly how I feel.’ ”

Be friendly. But also take care to clearly present your professional traits (see Truth #3).

Truth #3: Top Trainers Don’t React—They Consult

There are two ways to discover what customers need, Freese says. One is to ask what clients think they want. The other is to help them understand their needs. He says that in the average client-trainer consultation, most customers won’t raise all their concerns. “What they’ll do is give you some symptoms, [but you] must resist the temptation to chase symptoms. If I was an engineer, that’s what you’d pay me for. If I was an accountant, that’s what you’d want me to do.”

To get beyond symptoms, trainers should offer recommendations beyond the scope of what clients know to ask for. For example, you could offer clear ways to make their goals more action-oriented (running a 5K rather than “getting fit”), or ideas for further success (recommending a specific physical therapist for their long-term back pain). Covering such topics in your initial client consultation clearly demonstrates your consultative value.

“Most trainers ask the customer what they need and then devise a plan based on that. But they just missed an opportunity,” Freese says. “Why would you hire a consultant who doesn’t provide any ideas?” Top trainers make useful suggestions, which ultimately helps them sell more.

Truth #4: Top Trainers Create Credibility and Artfully Manage the Elephant in the Room

In any sales situation, the unspoken elephant in the room is customer skepticism, Freese says. “When you first meet [someone who is selling his services] you don’t think, wow, I bet this person’s out to help me and not himself,” he explains.

However, this elephant must be managed quickly and effectively. “Customers don’t want to know what’s in the brochure. They want to know what’s not in the brochure,” Freese says, noting that making over-the-top promises hurts your credibility and impedes sales.

He urges trainers to consider the fitness industry images that bombard the average out-of-shape person: The 3:00 am infomercial for pills promising instant weight loss or the reality TV show touting tortuous, boot camp–style workouts as the ultimate answer.

Because consumers know deep down that such situations are unrealistic, Freese urges trainers to combat skepticism by verbally acknowledging these perceptions. “The way to win sales is not by out-claiming the next guy. “It’s by ‘out-realistic-ing’ the next guy.”

“You should say, ‘There are a few things in training that are very effective and two or three things you should absolutely avoid. Would it be valuable for me to pull back the curtain and give you the straight scoop here?’” Of course the customer will answer yes, giving you credibility and a great segue to discussing the reality-based value of what you offer.

Truth #5: Top Trainers Get the Fewest Complaints

Many fitness pros who sell are nervous that clients will perceive them as pushy. Yet the truth is that the highest-producing salespeople in any industry tend to have the fewest customer complaints.

“More often than not, top performers are customer service ambassadors who [sell by] building strong relationships and trust,” Jacobson says, while acknowledging that inflated egos or poor business models sometimes impede this trend.

How do revenue-producing trainers create great client experiences? “They build strong systems that work, and then tweak these accordingly for varying client profiles,” Jacobson says.

Less successful trainers have poor follow-through and become inconsistent in sales and service, he says. “Weaker trainers tend to fly by the seat of their pants, filling in the blanks as they go along.” For example, they may fail to follow up on client queries, to update client programs as promised or to take client feedback into account.

If you want to create customer satisfaction, remember that top-selling trainers tend to have the fewest customer problems, from the sale to service delivery. Learn their systems and emulate their results to keep customers satisfied.

Replicating the Truth

It’s not uncommon for aspiring athletes to copy the training practices of their personal sports heroes. In the same way, the training truths of best-selling fitness pros can provide a blueprint for your success. The patterns of top performers are remarkably similar from person to person, and they are reproducible. The truth is out there to be modeled, modified and made your own. Learn from the best, and soon you’ll be crossing the finish line of sales—no sweat.