At the beginning of every year, we see a massive influx of new exercisers looking to conquer their fitness goals. With first quarter of the year generating upwards of 37% of a fitness facility’s annual membership numbers (Laferriere, 2011), this is also the best time of the year to ensure we have proven systems and processes in place to yield the highest return from each and every one of those new member engagements.
The goal of the initial member greeting – commonly referred to as a new member orientation or new member onboarding – is, of course, to efficiently convert them into zealous clients. Having a predetermined, seasoned approach for converting new members into clients is critical to this process. It’s similar to the art of designing a masterful fitness program...you spend countless hours meticulously planning and crafting programs to get the greatest possible results for your clients. Don't you also owe it to yourself to invest the same way in getting great results from your new member orientations?
A systematic approach – with a high degree of attention, practice, scripting, and preparation – will guarantee the greatest consistent return. There are three key factors in creating a proficient new member experience: the Needs Analysis, the Presentation, and the Proposal.
Step 1: Needs Analysis
While this fact-finding step is focused on gathering “meaningful information” about the new member, remember that this is also typically the first contact between trainer and member. Why is this important to know? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs (1943) states that before people can move toward achievement, esteem, recognition and/or growth – which are many of the desired outcomes that drive members into our facilities – their need for safety both emotionally and physically must be met. In order to feel safe in the surrounding environment (“the club”), they must also feel some degree of certainty.
What uncertainties can create anxiety or even fear for members?
- uncertainty in their personal ability to achieve their fitness goals
- worry about their ability to juggle the demands of exercise with competing life priorities
- concerns regarding the relationship between them and the trainer (i.e. is the trainer competent? will the trainer relate to me? judge me? give me approval? etc.)
A member’s fear can be one of the single greatest barriers to change because fear creates one of three responses: fight, flight, or freeze. In our world, this means that until the member feels a degree of certainty (safety) they will likely resist your recommendations (fight), quit the facility (flight), or just verbally agree with your directives while doing nothing to implement them (freeze), which means they will continue doing what they have always done and continue getting no results.
Knowing this, the needs analysis is not just about gathering information, it's about gathering that information in the right way. While there are many established needs analysis models readily available to health professionals, the most progressive, personal and successful versions include an emotional and behavioral aspect to identify the key drivers in the member’s decision-making process. They instill in the member a sense of emotional safety by asking the right questions, allowing the member to do the talking while the health professional listens.
A purpose-driven needs analysis allows you to not only identify the member’s outcome goals – the “what” they want to do (i.e. lose weight), but it also gets the client to declare their behavioral goals – the “why” behind their outcome goal (i.e. why losing weight is so important to them). The member-declared behavioral goals identified during the needs analysis provides you with the exact and personalized strategies and tools to close the gap between where the member currently is and where they desire to be.
Some questions that can help guide the member-dominated conversation include:
- If you could achieve just one goal with me, which goal would be most important to you? Why?
- If you don’t make those changes, and stayed the way you are or even regressed in your health and fitness, how would that affect your life?
- What consequences of could occur as a result of not getting to your goal?
- Which of those consequences are most disturbing to you?
- When you do successfully reach your goals, in what ways will life be different?
- What benefits are most important to you?
- On a scale from 1-10, how important is it for you to make those changes right now?
- Why is it not a 2 or a 3?
- What would it take to make it a (go one number higher, e.g. if the member said 6 inquire about a 7)?
When done correctly, a well-crafted needs analysis gathers the information necessary to:
- Identify pre-existing risk factors, determine the member’s readiness to begin a fitness program and establish the appropriate recommendations based on their conditioning level and past exercise history. This is usually accomplished through a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PARQ).
- Determine the member’s:
- Goals – “what” they want to do and “why” (outcome & behavioral).
- Needs – emotional and physical.
- Wants – “how” they prefer to exercise, including fitness likes and dislikes – this is extremely important for decreasing anxiety and increasing compliance and trust in you.
- Abilities – understanding what they are capable of is critical to designing a successful program.
- Compile the personal, behavioral, and physical information that will enable you to structure the presentation of the program in a way that emotionally connects with the individual and allows you to give the best possible options on how to proceed toward the realization of their desired outcomes, including how or why the individual might elect to participate in personal training.
Step 2: Presentation
If the needs analysis is the “input,” then the presentation is the “output.” It must look, feel, and sound like the member’s own words and gestures while delivering a solution that fits with the member’s desires (the behavioral “why” behind their goal). This enables you to connect emotionally with the client and remove the guesswork from the process, which gives them the necessary feeling of safety and empowerment. For the purposes of a new member orientation, presentations are commonly conducted via a screening or first workout.
During this first workout your job is to:
- Conduct an individualized screening. This is not just a movement screen, but a snapshot of what has worked in the past, what has failed to work, and the member’s perception of why. What strategies does the member believe can ensure the achievement of their goals? In what ways do they believe you can help?
- Give recommendations that align with the member’s goals, needs, wants and abilities. Don’t simply apply the science required to help members achieve their “what” (outcome goal) or their “why” (behavioral goal)? Make sure the member is an active participant in the process, rather than an afterthought. Your recommendations should take into account what the member enjoys most about exercise, as well as what they fear or dread most. All of these factors impact the program’s ultimate success.
- Connect each activity to the emotional reason that is most deeply meaningful to the member. Again, when you do things that activate the reward pathways of the brain, those things require very little discipline and coercion in order to be repeated. In what ways are you connecting every recommendation not just to the goal an individual will achieve, but the emotional driver behind it? Are you bringing a sense of escapism and play to each session?
- Draw out feedback from the member on the experience so you can continually modify it. How do you know what your clients think about their sessions with you? Are you asking for their expectations prior to each session? Or how they evaluate whether or not the session was successful at its conclusion? Do you use a quantifiable, subjective assessment that allows the member to gauge their enjoyment throughout the session?
- Offer a transformational experience. When you go to a movie, you want to be affected, even transformed. Yet that is only possible if you are drawn in from the first scene, and become completely engaged and a willing participant, allowing yourself to become part of the story. That’s the kind of experience you’re trying to achieve in your sessions with new members and clients.
Step 3: Proposal
The key to a great proposal is a great needs analysis and presentation! The perceived value of your services must exceed the proposed cost if the sale is going to happen. You can only create meaningful value if you’ve drawn on all the information the member has provided you during the needs analysis and crafted the solution based on the feedback they offered during the presentation.
The systematic, client-centered approach used by top-performing trainers is to make a simple recommendation (proposal) based on the member’s desired outcome and behavioral goals. The recommendation needs to be emotionally compelling as well as scientifically sound. The solution-based proposal must link all three elements of the orientation process into a series of options that give the individual the greatest relative benefit possible for each. The key to a successful recommendation/proposal does not lie in your ability to “overcome objections,” but to involve the member in a decision process that is void of pressure and elicits a sense of empowerment. Bear in mind it’s not what you say or do, but the conclusions you encourage the member to arrive at on their own that will determine your ability to close the sale.
Following a complete summary of every goal, concern and motivation that was identified in the needs-analysis and linking it to a solution-based summary within the proposal, a couple of suggested questions that are directive yet inclusive are:
- Do you believe you can make these changes?
- On a scale from 1-10 how confident are you?
- What would it take to make it a (one level higher)?
- Are you ready and willing to change at this time?
- In what ways do you believe I can help you?
Self-determination is always far more effective than persuasion (Deci & Ryan, 2002). When you argue or try to overcome objections, you can unwittingly cause a member to rationalize the reasons why your recommendations may be valid, but not for them. Nothing is more compelling than the conclusions they arrive at on their own, based on their own beliefs. By asking the questions above, you give the member respect and the means by which to evaluate your potential value for them, rather than trying to convince them of it.
When the needs analysis is comprehensive as well as empathetic, and if you do your job in the presentation (initial workout) of linking everything that was important to the member to every facet of the experience you provide, then the answers to the above questions will often be positive.
Your job is not to convert every member into a client. This is not only an unrealistic expectation, but a backwards one. Your job is to focus single-mindedly on learning as much as you can about the member so you can minimize obstacles to the achievement of the member’s goals and creating a blueprint for success that is conscientious of the member’s fears, preferences, and abilities. If you do this, then the next step is to remove the guesswork from how they can get started down whatever path they choose. Whether that path be personal training or going on their own, as long as you are focused on yielding the highest value per session, some members will, some members won’t.
Regardless, with a proven, systematic approach you can forecast which performance indicators will allow you to build your book of business with a predictable percentage of individuals while building your reputation for excellence with the vast majority of them.
- Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (Eds.) (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
- Laferriere, K. (2011, December 11). Personal Communication.
- Maslow, A.H. (1943). Conflict, frustration, and the theory of threat. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 38: 81-86.