The way personal trainers are taught to get clients is not only antiquated but also ineffective in today’s marketing world. Offering free sessions and trying hard to close the deal on the first try have resulted in a lack of trust from the consumer and an uphill climb to book business. It’s time we traded in this system for a newer model.

Relationship marketing “is a strategy designed to foster customer loyalty, interaction and long-term engagement” (Olenski 2013)—which sounds like exactly the type of client relationship we want to land! This type of marketing is rooted in trust. And trust is a complicated dance, requiring credibility, reliability and intimacy, devoid of self-interest (Maister, Green & Galford 2001).

If you can find ways to build trust, you can easily increase the size of your business. We must reframe lead generation and develop deeper interactions with leads after the initial meeting or contact. Instead of believing you must convert on the first try, think about the long game. Begin to envision “courting” clients versus pressuring them into a quick commitment. Let’s dig in.

How to Build a Better Mouse Trap

Many times we offer folks a free session. Then, we try to give the best workout we can, build a need for what we offer, and focus on how to “close the deal” and overcome objections at the conclusion.

But we may be missing out on leads who aren’t quite ready to take advantage of our free session—because, in their minds, doing so carries a hefty price tag that doesn’t yet match the amount of trust they have in you or the product. For them, the risk isn’t just about dollars; risk also includes perceived embarrassment, judgment, discomfort, time and energy. You don’t need to ditch the free-session offer altogether. But open your mind to other no- or low-cost options that allow you to build credibility with potential clients, thus leading them deeper into your sales cycle.

Such options could include the following:

Writing handouts for new members. Provide a quick-fix workout to help people get started, or give a list of gym-bag essentials.

Building a video channel (YouTube or Vimeo). Create playlists for different types of leads (e.g., new to exercise, returning to exercise, women, millennials), and provide free access.

Hosting happy hours on the fitness floor. Offer free, quick meetups at peak times to warm up, cool down, stretch out or work on core or mobility.

Teaching group fitness classes. As a trainer, get on the schedule; find classes that make sense for you to teach, and invite potential clients to come exercise with you for free!

Once you offer your potential clients lower-risk options, you can provide opportunities to move deeper into the sales cycle. Leads may progress linearly, or they may move straight from reading your free workout handout to booking sessions. You never know. The secret is to provide options that showcase your knowledge. But you can’t stop there.

I live by the motto “All the people I come in contact with are clients; they just might not be paying me yet!” When a client doesn’t jump into paid sessions, it doesn’t mean your information is less valuable. You don’t need to drop the price. Most folks don’t purchase on the first try. Instead of losing hope and crossing another person off your list, institute ways to build up the value over time to better match the investment. Then, when the lead feels the time is right, you can book the business.

Building a system that allows you to be there for your leads shouldn’t incite panic. It doesn’t require a ton of time or energy on an ongoing basis. But, you do have to build the system first. The secret to your success is creating—and diligently working—a robust keep-in-touch strategy.

Keep-in-Touch Strategy

To begin building your KIT, find a system to organize your leads. The system must store the lead’s information, track activity and trigger next steps. You could manage this with an Excel or Google sheet if you’re just getting started, but these methods are not ideal long term. Try one of the customer relationship management tools listed below.

Get people out of your email inbox and address books and into a system that tracks their path to you and stores notes on their activity. When you can remember relevant information for each contact, you can keep in touch a way that provides value and, therefore, builds trust.

Once you’ve selected a CRM tool, utilize this KIT strategy:

  1. Keep track.
  2. Keep giving.
  3. Keep trying!

Keep track. When people ask for your advice, try your services, take one of your handouts, watch a video clip or interact with you about personal training, keep a record of it. Who are they? Where did you “meet”? What did you give them, do for them or say to them? What are the next steps? Capture names, email addresses, phone numbers, relationships (with other clients), referrer (if someone referred the lead to you) and additional details that will help you personalize your communication.

Once you’ve met someone and exchanged information, you have permission to contact that person individually. However, this doesn’t mean you have permission to add the lead to a mailing list—yet. Leads must opt in to your broader marketing campaigns (Godin 1999). You can provide this option in one of your initial, individual communications to the lead (once you’re pretty sure of a yes response!)

Keep giving. Once someone is in your system, reach out at regular intervals. The frequency is up to you. You can contact your entire list or segments of your list, as well as individuals on your list. The better you get at targeting the message to specific leads at regular intervals, the better the outcome. Stay in touch even when they don’t buy—until they decide they no longer want to hear from you. The more valuable the information, the longer you’ll have them in your pipeline and the more chances you’ll have to convert.

Regular communication full of quality information is the most critical step in landing long-term clients. Most people don’t buy on the first try, but you’ll eventually get the sale if you show up when the timing is right. But you can’t just pop back in; you need to have been there all along, offering assistance without expecting anything in return.

What can you give? Share curated resources (books, articles, exercise clips from others), create your own resources (fitness tips and tools) and/or introduce people in your network to one another. Create a folder on your computer, and categorize the resources. Then, when it’s time to reach out, use the content that’s the best match for the individual or group you’ve chosen from your list. Eventually, you can create “drip campaigns” that send out emails automatically based on triggers and types of lead. We’ll save that information for a future article!

Keep trying! Don’t sell to your leads each time you talk with them. Instead, give and connect three times for every offer you make. Then make an appropriate offer. For example, if you’re starting with a lead and you’ve never worked face to face with that person, your next move should not be to jump into a long-term, one-on-one offer. Instead, the next step might be a free fitness consultation.

Shifting from the quick-sales tactic to the courting process will land you better and higher-paying clients. And, more importantly, you’ll be helping more people live fitter lives.

Customer Relationship Management Sources

Although this is not an exhaustive list of CRM options, it will provide a starting point for your research. Your CRM should be able to capture (at a minimum) names and email addresses and allow you to segment people into categories (like states, interests and purchases). You will also need a way to email these contacts legally (mass emailing software); some of these CRM packages offer that as well.

  • AWeber
  • Constant Contact
  • Contactually
  • Emma
  • HubSpot
  • Infusionsoft
  • Insightly
  • MailChimp
  • Nutshell
  • Salesforce
  • Zoho


Godin, S. 1999. Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Maister, D.H., Green, C.H., & Galford, R. 2001. The Trusted Advisor. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Olenski, S. 2013. “This is the most important word when it comes to marketing.” Forbes. Accessed Apr. 20, 2018:

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable is a sought-after speaker, author and thought leader in the area of fitness business development and strategic innovation. She has spent more than two decades helping impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, ACE, FIT4MOM® and BOSU® with business and program development. Fable served as chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the co-founder of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool that she successfully sold to Daxko in 2019. As a certified Book Yourself Solid® business coach, she helps fitness professionals navigate the industry to build scalable and sustainable careers.

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