Sitting outside our group fitness studio one evening, I saw a membership advisor approach while on a tour with a prospective member. What I heard made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The advisor bypassed the studio and offered the following unenthusiastic “pitch”: “This is our ‘aerobics’ room. We have all kinds of classes in here. They’re free, and anyone can do them. There’s some kind of Pilates class that you have to pay for, but you don’t have to take that.” Needless to say, I wanted to jump up and intervene to tell this prospective member all about the many classes and benefits awaiting her in our group fitness program.
Obviously, not all salespeople have this offhand, “drive-through” mentality. But the incident made me think about the importance of selling group fitness, not only to members, but to staff. This article will show how you can “sell” your group fitness program to your sales team so that they, in turn, can pass on the value of your classes to new prospects and existing members.
The Missing Puzzle Piece
Typically, the primary focus of the sales staff is to bring in new members, with retention of existing members being the secondary goal. Unfortunately, few salespeople realize the extent to which a well-rounded group fitness program can assist in both bringing in new members and keeping existing members satisfied. Many sales advisors overlook the group fitness piece of the puzzle, when it should be their go-to weapon in the sales arsenal. This oversight can be attributed to lack of product knowledge, lack of time or a failure to understand the power that group fitness packs.
Many clubs offer their members a schedule of classes that do not require an extra fee. But that does not mean there is no value in those classes. Group fitness may not be a separate “profit center” in your club, but it greatly affects the bottom line when you consider how many members and potential members it reaches.
Educate the Sales Staff
As a group fitness director, you are responsible for educating other staff about the value of your program. Do not assume that they know your product and have the knowledge needed to sell memberships. The return on empowering and educating your sales staff benefits everyone: you will have more satisfied members, more new members and more participants in your group exercise program.
Keep in mind that time is always at a premium with sales staff. Their plates are full with prospecting, addressing membership concerns and achieving revenue goals. That’s why it is imperative that you reach out and share your knowledge with them. Meet with the sales manager to determine a time when all salespeople are available; it is best if you learn which days and times are slowest for them. Set an initial meeting that is mandatory for the entire sales staff. The time you spend with your sales team can be lucrative for both parties.
Act as a salesperson during this meeting; treat the sales staff like potential members. Take them on a tour of the group fitness studio and point out the myriad benefits of different classes. Continue to hold weekly meetings with the sales director and offer a written “weekly update” on new and existing programs. This simple update can be a newsletter with bullet points highlighting new classes, changes in class times or new instructors coming on board.
Sales Staff With Facts
Make a list of facts related to the importance of group fitness and share this list with your sales team. For example, cite current industry facts, such as how group fitness can affect retention and sales. When discussing the facts with your sales team, open the floor to questions and concerns. This kind of feedback can help you keep your program fresh and current and will be a window into the needs of your members.
Compile a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers regarding your program, to serve as base-line knowledge for staff when they are selling group fitness. Consider placing the FAQs list inside sales packets as a marketing tool as well.
Sell the Experience
Before your sales staff can sell group fitness, they need to experience it. Simply outlining the benefits of a yoga or cycling class does not provide real insights into your program’s benefits and special features. Your sales staff must experience firsthand what each class offers or they will not sell it effectively to others. For example, without personal experience your sales team will probably bill a class as just “stretching” or as “aerobics on a bike.”
One way to integrate sales staff into your program is to host mandatory meetings in which the team can try out new or existing class formats. While they are participating in an activity as a group, explain its benefits and describe the demographic it is geared to and why a person would want to attend the class.
Provide new sales staff with a list of classes they must attend within 90 days, making this part of their on-the-job training. Encourage them to attend a “live,” regularly scheduled class alongside members. This way, they can feel the energy and pace of the class. Additionally, members will see the sales team in class and see that they really believe in the product they are selling.
Pull at the Heartstrings
When I worked in sales, I was trained to “pull at the heartstrings” when consulting with a new prospect. This term refers to understanding the person’s goals or needs in joining a health club and then highlighting aspects of your club that meet those needs. Every prospective member has different needs and must be handled in a different way.
Encourage your sales staff to make note of all the details a prospect discloses and to use these details when selling group fitness. Salespeople who are savvy about the variety of your classes will steer prospects toward the options that are most appropriate for them. Tossing a schedule at a prospective member without this sort of personalized attention is potentially dangerous, because not every class is for everybody! For example, if a prospect explains that she has recently had a hip replacement and suffers from chronic knee pain, your sales team needs to know which classes to recommend and which to steer her away from. If she ventures into an advanced Latin dance class, she may feel out of place and might never attend another class, since that particular format is not going to meet her needs. The combined knowledge of product and prospect will allow your sales team to guide her to a more appropriate selection, such as an aquatic fitness class or a low-impact class, in which she will feel more comfortable and successful. In the end, you will have a member for life who will continue to thank you by sending her friends to your facility.
Hit the High Points of Value
Most clubs offer some type of group classes for their members. What sets your program apart from your competitors? Teach your sales team how to capitalize on the differences! Furnish them with pertinent information regarding not only the classes you offer but also the accomplishments and credentials your instructors possess. One of your best selling tools is the great value of instructors who connect with members while keeping their practice current by continuing to learn the best and safest teaching techniques. Whenever possible, sales staff should personally introduce prospects to any instructor who is available at the time of the tour. This personal touch allows the prospect to ask more detailed questions about particular classes.
Variety in your group fitness programming also adds value that salespeople can use. People are impressed with a schedule that offers many choices; they feel there has to be something there for them. Why not book tour appointments during popular class times? This lets prospects see and feel the energy in the studio.
Warn your sales staff to beware of pitting fee-based classes against “free” classes. The truth is, value can be found in all classes. Prospective members need to grasp the dynamics of fee versus free classes and understand the differences between them. Salespeople should explain that a fee-based class is typically a specialty class led by a fitness professional with extensive training that goes above and beyond primary certifications. They should stress that participation in fee-based classes is often kept to a minimum so that the instructor can give personal attention to the attendees, which isn’t usually possible in a large group.
Above all, salespeople need to understand that selling a free class short will inevitably affect fee-based classes because, in many cases, your free programs act as “feeder” classes for revenue-based, small-group programs.
Don’t Stop at Sales
Don’t rely on your sales team to be the sole cheerleaders of your group fitness program. All employees who work in a fitness facility should consider themselves part of the sales team. This includes front-desk staff, personal trainers, daycare staff, managers and, yes, even your own group fitness staff. All employees should regularly take classes as part of their commitment to continuing education. After all, instructors and trainers are expected to stay abreast of industry trends. Why shouldn’t you also require support staff to be educated about your club’s programs, policies and procedures?
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Does your sales team know that the terms aerobic and group fitness are no longer synonymous? When many people hear the word aerobic, they envision a 1980s Jane Fonda video and think of leotards, leg warmers and headbands. To its credit, the fitness industry has tried to change its verbiage to reflect what is now a much broader umbrella. We’ve evolved from obtaining aerobic dance certifications to seeking out group fitness certifications. This is not simply a matter of semantics. Rather, this evolution reflects the fact that not all group classes are “dance based” and not all classes are “aerobic” in nature. When selling your group program, your sales team would be better off using the term group fitness to explain the great diversity of your program. This term dispels the many stereotypes associated with an “aerobics” class.
Also, the word exercise may make participants reluctant to attend. Think of how many people tell you they want to get fit but hate to exercise. These people are not going to be interested in an “exercise” class, because that word has a negative connotation for them. They may, however, attend a class that promises and promotes “fitness.”
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