Identifying Potential Clients
During the course of your career, you should expect to work with three general types of personal training clients. These are anecdotal categorizations based on my experience, but have been supported by professional colleagues and can be considered a fair representation of the types of clients that you can expect to meet. In general, personal training clients will fall into one of three different types based on their stated fitness goals: short-term, intermediate-term and long-term.
Knowing the type of client you are speaking with, as well as your particular strengths, can be extremely helpful for guiding conversations with prospective clients. A successful marketing strategy is to use the first conversation to determine whether he or she is a short-term, intermediate-term or long-term client. Then, use this information to offer a defined-results program which can best meet his or her needs. You can also use the information you learn about the client in the initial conversation and compare it to the strengths and weaknesses you identified in your SWOT analysis to determine whether or not you have the skills to meet their needs or if they would be better served by being referred to another trainer.
Short Term Clients
Many health club members are motivated to exercise, but just need to learn the most efficient and effective way to train for their goals. Short-term clients are existing health club members who use the club regularly and have fitness goals they want to achieve in a timeframe of six-to-eight weeks or less. These clients are highly motivated to exercise and want to work with a trainer to learn a specific workout routine, how to use the facility’s equipment or a particular type of equipment such as a stability ball, suspension training system or kettlebell. Short-term clients are self-directed to achieve their goals, they just need the professional advice and structure from a trainer to help guide their efforts.
People who are beginning an exercise program for the first time or after a long lay-off, might have short-term goals, but would be considered intermediate or long-term clients because they require help with implementing behavioral change strategies to make exercise a regular habit. On the other hand, short-term clients are people who exercise regularly and want to work with a trainer to learn the most effective way to train for their goals. When you have identified a potential short-term client that meets these criteria, don’t try to oversell them with long-term programs or packages of more than ten sessions, instead market a program (or session package) that will meet their exact needs.
Short term clients will probably be most interested in a defined-results program to achieve a specific outcome related to strength or muscular development, or to learn how to develop and implement their own training program. Defined-results programs which focus on educating would be an effective marketing strategy for these clients. Examples of programs such as “Strength Training for Results, “Core Training Strategies,” or “Introduction to Kettlebell Training” which could meet for two times a week over five weeks would be attractive to them because they present specific opportunities to learn about a specific style of training.
Another strategy for short-term clientele is to teach them a couple of workouts they can do on their own. Teach a lower body exercise routine, a core-specific routine and a routine for the upper body muscles. Teaching three different workouts will give him or her four options they can do on their own; the client can then do each workout separately, or if they have more time on a given day, do the entire workout as a total body circuit. Once a short-term client has a program to follow make an appointment to follow up in four-to-six weeks to provide a program update.
Once short-term clients learn a program to do independently, they become a semi-regular client who will only train with you once a month or every six weeks. The purpose of this meeting is to give them a program update by increasing the intensity of the current exercises, teaching the next level of progression for a variety of exercise movements or organize the training to create a challenging circuit. The bottom line is that the semi-regular training session is simply an opportunity to earn an additional training session by changing some component of the training program.
Semi-regular clients give you an opportunity to fill spots that might normally be left open when regular clients are traveling or otherwise unable to make their appointment. From a marketing and sales standpoint, short-term clients go on a “tickler” list to fill open spots when regular clients are unavailable for their appointments. Having a list of clients to back-fill open session times is extremely helpful because there might be a week when two regular clients, who usually train two times a week, are both traveling. This is a loss of four training sessions. If there are no clients to put into these timeslots, then that is lost revenue or income. Additionally, if you work for a company that provides a training bonus based on productivity over a two-week pay period, this could add up to a significant loss. This also gives you a stronger position for enforcing a cancellation policy. If clients know that you will schedule someone else in their spot, they will have more commitment to their scheduled appointments and they will provide proper notice (more than twenty-four hours) if they know they won’t be available. This leads to fewer missed appointments and more earning power.
A semi-regular client on a tickler list can be contacted whenever a regular client needs to miss a session which would otherwise go unfilled. For example, if your regular client who usually meets with you on Mondays and Thursdays at 6:30am, lets you know that she will be traveling and not able to meet the following week, then you know that you have a couple of valuable prime-time training sessions available. This is an opportunity to call short-term clients and have a conversation such as: “Hi Jane, this is Bob, how is your training program going? We haven’t seen each other in about five weeks, and it is time to update your program to the next level of intensity, I have either this coming Monday or Thursday at 6:30am available. Since you are an existing client you have the first opportunity for one of these spots and I will hold those openings for you until 8pm this evening. Please let me know when you would like to meet so that we can update your program and progress you to the next level of training. If I do not hear from you by 8, then I will assume that you are not interested in meeting right now and will contact you again in another couple of weeks.”
This message creates a personalized touch for the client while enforcing the fact that your time is valuable. If clients know that you have only a limited amount of time, then they will take the opportunity to work with you and be much more consistent in showing up for the session. Otherwise, they know that they might not have an opportunity to meet with you again for a period of time. When you do meet with a short-term client use the session to update their program to the next level of intensity. Remember, these clients are extremely motivated and work out on their own. They are just looking for some guidance and structure to maximize the efficiency of their time in the gym.
Intermediate Term Clients
There are two types of intermediate-term clients; they are either existing health club members—meaning they are currently exercising on a regular basis, or they are new to exercise and need specific guidance and structure to help with adherence to an exercise program. Intermediate-term clients who are currently exercising will want to work with a trainer because they have a tangible fitness goal and need assistance to achieve it. Examples of goals for intermediate-term clients include: training for a race (running, cycling or triathlon), getting in shape for a wedding, preparing for an action-based vacation (skiing or hiking) or training for an upcoming sports season such as golf or tennis. These clients are extremely motivated and need the structure and organization of a professional to achieve their goals.
The other type of intermediate-terms clients are those who are new to exercise and will need a lot of assistance in program development and adherence to help make exercise and healthy lifestyle choices part of their regular routine. In either situation, intermediate-term clients have a goal that is attainable with eight-to-sixteen weeks of training (give or take a few weeks for the actual specificity of the training objective).
The benefit of working with intermediate-term clients training for a competition or result, is that there is a specific date and a quantifiable training objective; therefore they are excellent candidates for a systematically periodized exercise program with varying levels of intensity and challenge. Periodization is a method of organizing exercise program design that calls for varying time periods of training intensity. The main purpose of periodizing a program is to organize the training stress in such a way that allows for adaptation to the applied stimulus so the body successfully accommodates with the desired fitness improvements. Periodization allows for periods of recovery and super-compensation so the clients can adjust to and adapt to the applied training stress. Exercise which is too stressful or that does not allow adequate recovery between stimulus, will lead to overtraining which will greatly restrict the amount of gains. Overtraining could lead to issues as simple as a fitness plateau or as complex as developing a chronic disease or endocrine system dysfunction.
An intermediate-term program is one that is periodized with at least two meso-cycles of varying intensity, for more specific information on how to periodize a training program,reference Allen Hedrick’s or Rob Orr’s articles on ptonthenet.com. Defined results programs such as “Performance Enhancement,” “Body Sculpting” or “Race Training” would appeal to these types of results-oriented clients. These clients are fun to work with because they are dedicated and focused on achieving their goal. It doesn’t matter whether they want to look great in a wedding dress or drop minutes off of a race time, they are willing to put in the effort to achieve the desired results.
The second type of intermediate-term clients, those who are starting an exercise program and attempting to make healthier choices, will require a different type of focus but can be great to work with because it is a chance to have a positive impact on someone’s life. These intermediate-term exercisers are making an effort to change their habits and adapt healthy lifestyle behaviors so they are motivated, but require a different style of training. When working with first-time clientele, it is important to begin with lower-intensity exercises which can help reduce the risk of injury or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and help the client adapt to the stresses of regular exercise. Clients making the changes to adopt healthier lifestyles need to initially focus on making exercise a regular habit before increasing the intensity of the training.
Defined-results programs which are focused on outcomes such as “Weight-loss,” “Jumpstart Your Fitness,” or “Lifestyle and Wellness” would appeal to intermediate-term clients looking for a trainer’s assistance to live a healthier lifestyle. These programs can also feature periodized workouts with varying levels of intensity, but they will be training at a lower initial intensity because the primary goal is to primarily make exercise a regular habit before increasing the intensity for specific results. Working with these clients is very rewarding because it is an opportunity to help people make the right choices for healthier behavior. Both types of intermediate-term clients allow for quantifiable results; the first type can see improved performance while the second type can watch their numbers change on the scale or body-fat calipers, both of which can be very motivating for the clients and rewarding for you as the catalyst for these results.
With the right type of customer service, intermediate-term clients can become regular clients over the long run. Even when a client is specific about training for only one goal or a given time period, be sure to deliver what the Walt Disney Corporation calls a “magic and memorable experience” so the client will want to work with you again if, and when, the opportunity arises. For example, the same client might want to train for the same race every year and seek to improve on the performance year-after-year. A member who starts out on a two-time-a-week for twelve week “Weight Loss” program might be so motivated by the results, that they sign up for a “Race Day” training program to train for an event such as a 10K or half-marathon. Another example is a woman who hires you to help her prepare for her wedding could come back and ask you to train her during her pregnancy or to help her return to exercise after the delivery.
Once you have helped intermediate clients to achieve a goal, be sure to stay in touch with them on a regular basis to see how they are doing, how they are progressing with their training and to demonstrate that you sincerely care about their long-term well being. If you are sincerely interested in a client’s long-term results, then you could be rewarded with repeat business if he or she decides to use a trainer again, or by referrals from their friends or family members.
Long Term Clients
Long-term clients, also known as executive clients, are those people who know the benefits of exercise and value the service of a personal trainer to help maintain a regular training schedule. In general these are successful clients who have financial means and can afford to pay for a trainer every time they exercise. Long-term clients appreciate the value of working with a trainer and will pay for two-to-four training sessions per week because they know that if they don’t schedule and pay for the sessions, then they won’t make time for exercise. These clients tend to be successful people with busy schedules and are the clients most likely to cancel at the last minute, often due to an uncontrollable business engagement. But, they are also the clients who will gladly pay when they do cancel at the last minute because they respect your professional status.
Long-term clients are focused on staying healthy, fit and controlling their bodyweight and tend to leave it up to the trainer to develop the specific exercise program. Long-term clients tend to participate in hobbies such as golf, tennis, skiing, cycling, or sailing and want to maintain their fitness to pursue their chosen activities. They tend to be competitive and driven so their goals usually don’t just include participating in the sport, but excelling at it. Clients that meet these criteria can receive a tremendous benefit from the appropriate application of the principles of periodization, specifically by changing the training stimulus as the time of year changes.
The application of “seasonal periodization” calls for adjusting the exercise program to change the applied stimulus on a regular basis. Besides being active in a variety of sports or hobbies, long-term clients have the ability to afford a number of trips every year to exotic destinations around the globe. The long term exercise plan has to account for various activities that take place different times of year. For example, during the winter, long-term clients might take ski vacations which require time to prepare for and maintain a high level of fitness. Towards the end of the winter and beginning of spring, they will need to change the training so they can be ready for warmer weather and participation in outdoor activities such as golf, tennis, cycling or running. In the fall, it will be the time to transition from outdoor to indoor training in preparation for their winter activities. Once you learn that a prospective client has the potential to be a long-term client, you will want to feature long-term training programs and discuss how you will help them maintain their fitness as well as to plan a year-round program so they can maximize the participation in their favorite activities.
The way to organize a long-term program is to take each season, which is approximately three months, and divide into various meso- and micro-cycles as part of the overall training plan. If clients like to run or cycle, then use the winter to develop an aerobic base and focus the strength training on muscular endurance. As the spring gets closer, progress the program to include anaerobic intervals and increase strength training intensity. This will help prepare for outdoor activities and achieve a desired physique for lighter-weight clothes. If the client likes to play outdoor sports like tennis or golf, then use the winter and spring to prepare them for the strength, power and endurance they will need for their favorite activities. Another example is during the winter when the client might take one or two ski trips. It makes sense that as the season turns from summer to fall, to change the training stimulus to in preparation for their favorite snow activities. The challenge with long-term clients is that many of them do not have specific goals and just want to exercise to stay in shape and maintain their bodyweight. Therefore, it is up to you, as the professional, to identify their specific needs and design a program to meet those needs.
Putting It All Together
Based on what the prospective clients identifies as a desire from a fitness program, and whether they have short-term, intermediate-term or long-term goals, it is your job to provide them with the specific program based solutions that will meet their needs. This allows you to change the focus of the sales presentationfrom selling on the price of a package of sessions, to one that positions the value of achieving a specific outcome from a training program. Applying the science of periodized training allows the personal trainer to demonstrate to the client the benefits of working with a trainer on an ongoing basis. Most clients expect a personal trainer to provide a challenging workout, but a trainer who designs a long-term exercise program for his or her client based on the concept of periodization creates an added value to the personal-training experience. Creating a periodized workout for a client establishes the trainer as an expert in the field who is providing a value-added service with the design of a year-round exercise program, as opposed to a series of individual workouts. Using the science of how the body adapts to exercise will allow the client to make the physiological adaptations to the imposed demands of the training program, while at the same time providing a science-based client retention tool for you.
Now that you have completed this entire series you have the ability to create your own brand, identify prospective training clients and communicate the values of your brand to prospective training clients. Now it is time for you to become the one trainer in your club who everyone looks to as a leader because you are successful and stay busy no matter the time of day.
- Bompa, Tudor. (1999) Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training,4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Dalzell, F., Dyer, D. and Olegario, R.(2004) Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 years of Brand Building at Proctor and Gamble.Boston,MA:Harvard Business School Press.