How to Help Personal Trainers Improve Their Sales Skills

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Looking for a good laugh while walking through your gym? Approach one of your personal trainers and ask, "How much does personal training cost?" Enjoy the show as your trainer stumbles all over the place, trying to pull words out of thin air. Then consider what you would think if you were a member asking that basic question and receiving that bumbling response. Not good, right?

Rob Bishop and Barry KleinRob Bishop and Barry KleinThe problem with most personal trainers is that they're not salespeople, and they don't want to be. There are gyms where trainers harass members with sales pitches, but the problem with most personal trainers isn't that they are overly aggressive, sophisticated salespeople. Just the opposite. Trainers want clients provided to them so that they can do what they've been educated and certified to do, which is to help people get in better shape. The messy business of sales makes most trainers uncomfortable, and rightly so, because they have never been trained in basic sales skills. And that's a shame, because trainers skilled in sales can be a differentiator for your club.

Recall that the former CEO of the industry's leading low-cost provider, Planet Fitness, made news a couple of years ago by eliminating personal training services and saying, "Most of the people doing personal training are just renting friends." If the Planet Fitness in your area doesn't want personal training business then you sure should, because your other competition likely will step into that void.

In fact, the explosion in the number of personal trainers in the United States is reason alone to make sure your trainers are better businesspeople than the ones down the street. Personal training is one of the fastest growing fields in the country, having grown roughly 40 percent to 234,000 individuals between 2002 and 2012, according to The New York Times. With trainers popping up everywhere, your trainers need to know how to present themselves and accept ownership of their own business.


5 ways5 ways

And it is largely "their" business, even if it is "your" gym. We put our trainers through what we call "Business Bootcamp." (We'll be presenting "Business Bootcamp for Your Personal Trainers" Nov. 21 at the Athletic Business Conference and Expo in San Diego.) Our gyms, like many others, feed clients to our trainers, but any personal trainer who wants to make a living at it will have to take responsibility for his or her own success. That's where they get uncomfortable. Most trainers fear that "selling" is synonymous with being "sleazy."

To us, personal training sales are simply an outgrowth of the service we provide every day. The key is for your trainers to introduce themselves to your members - all of whom are potential clients - in the natural course of their daily interactions. As they take the (often considerable) time to build relationships, they can eventually ask the simple question, "Would you like to do a demo training session with me?" There's no need for the cultivation of clients to feel like selling your soul.

Behind the scenes, they must utilize good sales processes in order to take advantage of their evolving client relationships. Your trainers must learn to track their leads and keep good notes - just like a "real" salesperson. When they meet someone on the workout floor, they need to write it down and find a way to track their interactions, because eventually there will be too many people for them to remember. They'll be lost when it's time to, say, put together a 6 p.m. small-group training session, because they won't remember who their 6 p.m. gym-goers are who might be interested in small-group training.

Tracking their leads is also vital because trainers must constantly fill their sales funnel. Clients come and go, and without a constant stream of new customers - even when they feel like they're so busy that their future is bright and secure - they will eventually be complaining about not being busy enough and not making enough money. One of the best ways to fill the funnel is by contacting new members: "I saw you recently joined and was wondering if you needed any help with your workouts?" Most people won't answer the phone or will say "no," but that should be an easy and honest offer for a trainer to make, and we can't imagine a member being insulted by the suggestion.


That brings us to money, and your trainers must become comfortable discussing money. We emphasize to our trainers that they should feel secure and confident in what they offer, and they should be proud to be paid for it. We ask them, "Does your doctor hesitate when telling you what it costs for an office visit? Does your accountant?" Too many personal trainers have a hard time believing that a) they are worth the price we ask and b) people will pay it. If they don't believe that their training session is worth $40, $50 or $100 per hour, then why would anyone else?

But, we also know that not everyone is a candidate for one-on-one training, and that's why we have various programs and lower price points. If someone can't afford one-on-one, maybe they can share the cost of a buddy session. Maybe they can do small-group or bootcamp training. Maybe our payment plan can help the customer get into training. If your trainers aren't comfortable talking about money and helping their potential clients find the right package, then their lives will be much more difficult, requiring a manager or owner to intercede.

Finally, we believe you must mandate role-playing sessions with trainers, so they can practice saying the words you want them to say. If trainers are going to call new members on the phone, give them a script. By the time they are done laughing and messing it up in front of you, they'll be ready to call actual human beings. Behind closed doors, make them answer that basic question, "How much does personal training cost?" By the 10th time they do it, they'll feel better. And so will you. After all, it's really not a good laugh when one of your staff people fumbles a sales opportunity.

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