What You Can Learn From Customers Who Lie to You

Understanding the real truths behind prospects' excuses gives you the power to build a stronger business and offer a service worth paying for.

By David Dellanave
Jul 25, 2016

Your customers are going to lie to you.

It’s not intentional or meant to be unethical, but it’s going to happen and you should be prepared for it.

The lies come in the form of excuses—reasons people give for doing or not doing something, after the fact. Before anyone gets offended by the idea of dismissing someone’s reasons as excuses, let’s make our definitions clear: Reasons have legitimacy behind them and are explanations of facts; excuses are attempts to shift or lessen blame.

The three biggest excuses people give for not joining a semiprivate or group training gym are time, money and preparedness. These excuses are lies—in the vast majority of cases, anyway.

The Optional Illusion

People say they want more time slots available for using the gym (sometimes all the way up to 24 hours), and they want that access to cost less. Yet which clients almost never miss their training sessions? The most consistent are the ones who are paying an extraordinarily high price (compared to just a membership) for one-on-one personal training.

What does this tell you, and what can you take from it?

When people say they want more options for when to attend a gym, it’s because they have illusions of flexibility and they’ve convinced themselves that they’ll go to the gym during their free time. I’ve got news for you: Nobody has any free time. The only time people have is the time they commit to specific things, like work, meetings, lessons and appointments. What’s left over gets swallowed up by family, friends, fires to be put out and so on.

When people schedule gym training into their day in an unimpeachable, nonnegotiable way, they will honor that commitment. When they can go anytime, they won’t. Don’t believe me? Look up the statistics for big-box or 24-hour gyms and see what their oversubscription rates are. “Planet Fitness, which charges between $10 and $20 per month, has, on average, 6,500 members per gym. Most of its gyms can hold around 300 people,” writes Stacy Vanek Smith for NPR’s Planet Money. For a facility to be as profitable as possible in that niche, a good benchmark is to have 10 times as many total members as active members.

Now ask the owners of a CrossFit® box or a gym like mine (The Movement Minneapolis) what their active participation ratio is. Finally, ask good personal trainers what their ratio is. I’ve saved you the trouble and have come up with a close approximation for each: 20% for 24-hour, 80% for training-gym and close to 100% for personal training.

What can you learn from this as a trainer or gym owner? Give your clients fewer options. Make them commit to choice A or choice B rather than giving them the agony of a multitude of options.

Money Matters

The second biggest excuse clients give revolves around money, and there are some whoppers coming your way on that subject.

Here’s the big psychological blind spot most of your customers fall victim to: By and large, the more people pay for something, the more value they attach to it. This is why it’s easy for people to write off a $30/month gym membership even though they never use it. On the other hand, it’s not so easy to write off a $200/month membership without using it, and it’s even harder to blow off $100 per session a dozen times a month. The people who spend more on their gym time not only ascribe more value to it, but they also get more value from it because of their attendance and adherence.

Certainly, membership at a high-quality gym that includes some level of coaching “costs” more. But if clients approach this the way an accountant would, they’ll be able to understand it as an asset that produces income for them (in many, many ways), not as a liability that reduces their income. One of my favorite examples of this comes from a member whose improved self-worth resulted in a bigger payday at work: “It has definitively been since joining The Movement. Slowly and steadily I gained a ton of confidence to stand up for myself, ask hard questions and push for what I want in a situation that was testing really poorly.” What this client got was a 35% increase in personal income—over $12,000, at the same job, per year. That’s six times the cost of the membership fees paid out over the past 2 years.

As a trainer or business owner, you should be thinking about how you can deliver higher value and higher-priced services—not racing to the bottom to offer the cheapest service. While I believe that group training is the absolute best value and bang for the buck a customer can receive, I also know that some people want the additional accountability and personal interaction of one-on-one personal training, so I offer that as an option. On the group end of the spectrum, I’m always looking to “do more and charge more” so that my customers are fully invested in what they’re doing.

The “If/Then” Conundrum

The third excuse centers around people saying they will join the gym when they are “fit enough” or when they’re a little more physically prepared to join. They have this idea that they must be at a certain level of fitness or ability before they can train with you.

This one is a little trickier, because in my experience the white lie about “not being ready” masks the real reason, which is fear or doubt. For a lot of people, the prospect of joining a gym is daunting—especially with the scary image that much of the fitness industry has put forth regarding “soul-crushing workouts” and “making your sweat cry.” These depictions can be very intimidating—at the same time that they place a spotlight on the reason many people join a gym, which is “I’m not comfortable with the way I look, and that’s why I’m here.”

This is a case of an excuse masking a very real and very valid reason for deciding against hiring a trainer or purchasing a membership. The clients’ excuse is that they’re not physically fit enough or they’re not ready, but the reason is that they’re terrified of the idea.

To combat this, create ways for people to interact with your company so they can see how accessible it is. One simple example is to post videos or photos on social media, showing clients from all walks of life and all stages of fitness.

Another way The Movement Minneapolis makes it easier for people to stay within their comfort zone but edge closer to the gym is to host gym social events and happy hours and encourage people who aren’t yet members to visit and integrate with the community. It’s a lot less scary to come in for your first workout if you know you’re going to see some friendly, familiar faces in the room.

Ultimately, only individuals can determine the difference between a legitimate reason and an excuse for why they can’t join your gym. Always respect your clients’ unique circumstances, and hear their concerns with empathy and understanding. But if you want to be as successful as possible, you have to observe and learn from the broader patterns. Let these inform your decisions and enable you to help the most people and achieve the greatest success.

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David Dellanave

David Dellanave is a lifter, a coach and the owner of The Movement Minneapolis. He implements biofeedback techniques, teaching his clientsÔÇöwho range from athletes to the general populationÔÇöto truly understand what their bodies are telling them. At www.dellanave.com/, he writes articles to make people feel stronger, look better naked and definitely deadlift more.

David holds several world records, including one in the Jefferson deadlift. And his alter ego, Dellanavich from Dellanavia, has a penchant for coaching classes wearing a weightlifting singlet and speaking with a (terrible) Eastern European accent.

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