This is my last installment of the four-part series. I’ve addressed the importance of trainers developing their respective identities and gone into an exploration of our true responsibilities. In the last installment I took us into the health club arena to examine the paradigm trainers have been drawn into, one that was not created with respect for our professional talents and attributes, but was created by the health club industry before personal training even gained its rightful place as a profit center. In this final piece, I’ll stay, in part, within the health club arena, and identify “the other stuff” trainers need to know, the skill sets that are typically taught in business, but trainers have had few resources for. I’ll then share a summation of “The New Paradigm,” a set of rules and operating practices that allow health clubs to recognize the inherent value of those of us who are competent, committed, passionate, and capable of changing people’s lives in amazing ways.
I hope this four part series will serve, not only as a mindset adjustor for personal trainers, but also as an eye-opener for owners, managers, and operators of health clubs who have not yet optimized the true value of the industry’s true heroes. I believe it can serve as a stepping stone to industry-wide excellence!
SHORTEN THE MENU!
One vital element trainers need to take control of is their pricing and compensation structure. Allow me to point out firstly how we can make our services affordable for anyone, and along with that allow me to illustrate the shortcomings inherent in fitness operations with extensive “menus.” Many club operators feel that the more options they provide, the more training business they will attract. This leads to confusion among members as well as among the trainers themselves.
Do you presently have a lengthy menu of personal training options? Most health clubs have personal training service menus that look something like this:
- 1 session $75
- 3 sessions $150
- 6 sessions $240
- 12 sessions $400
- Group Training $60 per hour
- Couples Training $50 per hour
- ½ hour session $40
- Fitness Assessment $35
- Re-Assessment $25
Trying to select an option is more confusing than trying to decide what to order for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (on the cheat day of course). Forget the long menu.
Affordability and clarity will coincide if you limit your menu to two options.
The Short Menu
- The Single Session
- The Series
The Single Session will rarely, if ever, be selected if clients understand the distinction. A “series” simply means you’re committing to more than one session on a recurring basis. The Single Session will have a premium price tag since there’s no assurance for future business for the trainer. The Menu, with prices, might look like this:
- Single Session $75
- Series $50 per session
Clients pay as they go with a retainer paid in advance to assure attendance.
A series can be “every” Monday and Friday, which would amount to $100 per week using the numbers above. If a member is comfortable investing $100 per week, then the twice per week recurring series might be ideal. Suppose, however, that a member finds that to be exorbitant and way out of the comfortable price range. No problem. We simply distance the sessions further apart. It allows you to provide limitless options with direct control over affordability.
- “every Tuesday at 7 PM” would be $50 per week"
- “every other Tuesday at 7 PM” would be $25 per week"
- “the first Tuesday of every month at 7 PM” would be only $50 per month, roughly $12 per week"
Because trainers can be positioned as educators, because a strategically designed Orientation can provide foundational information, and because trainers can prescribe routines that can last up to 30 days until the next update, the flexibility of the series makes personal training attractive to every single client. Unlike in the case of the sale of “packages,” where clients pay a discounted per session fee and the club or trainer deposits money that was not yet earned, money collected represents money owned, and trainer bookkeeping becomes simple.
Standardizing your pricing and clarifying your “menu” is important. It is also the simplest of the elements I’m planning on covering in this article. Pricing can be adjusted almost instantaneously, but the other elements require an entirely new system of education.
In a structured program where “trainers” are in part responsible for revenue generation, there absolutely must be a structured training program to serve as a cornerstone of the training teams’ acquired skills. This may seem unusual to health club veterans, but what other industry as a rule creates “managers” without providing intensive management training? I don’t believe you’ll find any. What other industry as a rule expects “professionals” to sell, and fails to provide sales training? I don’t believe you’ll find any. Our industry is unique, but as it matures it must begin to take on the “musts” business professionals in other fields have integrated long ago.
THE CORNERSTONE – TRAINER TRAINING!
Many clubs expect that “certified” means “well trained.” “Certified” simply means the trainer passed an exam that may or may not have actual merit. Even if there were a standardized certification, certification wouldn’t prepare the trainer for success in the health club setting. It’s simply a prerequisite.
The New Paradigm of health club operation must incorporate a structured training program . . . for the trainers. Sure, it should include some elements of “the basics,” but it must go far beyond sets, reps, machines, and movements. Here are the topics a club should include in a structured Trainer Training curriculum:
- Consistency of the Message
- Recognition of the “Touch” Opportunity
- A Comfortable Approach
- Influence Power
- Need Isolation Mastery
- Capturing Skills
- Continued Commitment to Deliver More Value Than People Expect
- Recognition and Preservation of Thrill Moments
Let’s briefly explore each element:
CONSISTENCY OF THE MESSAGE
In most clubs, one trainer will sing the praises of “superslow training” while yards away another trainer will express disdain for that method of training. In most clubs one trainer will take clients through “the machines,” while yards away another trainer will tell his client why the machines do more harm than good. In most clubs, if you ask one trainer how to perform a lat pulldown, you’ll find the response is significantly different than that provided by another trainer.
Members don’t have a reference for determining which trainers are “right” and which ones are “wrong,” and the reality is, there’s so much gray area we can’t even globally define right and wrong. The member who receives conflicting information winds up confused, discouraged, and disenchanted with the training team as a whole.
Consistency is of paramount importance, and that comes from structured training.
RECOGNITION OF THE “TOUCH” OPPORTUNITY
“Touch” refers to marketing, and trainers can market to anybody. Literally. Anybody.
They can market within the club to active members, and when an individual is performing a movement that appears awkward, that’s a marketing opportunity. They can market to inactive members. The simple fact that a paying member stopped showing up is a clear invitation that the member needs to be “touched.” They can market to anyone in the outside world. They need to learn to tune into cues. There are cues in restaurants, at sporting events, in the supermarket, and virtually anywhere people gather. To power up your marketing, you, and any trainers you employ, must have their “touch intuition” tuned in at all times.
A COMFORTABLE APPROACH
Trainers are not typically taught to break the ice, to approach members tactfully using their rapport skills. As a result, they feel uncomfortable walking up to an exercising member and offering their services. Training should incorporate strategies that allow ice breaking without a sense of pressure or discomfort.
This is a biggie. In fact, this is THE biggie! This is where almost all trainers fall short. They hate the idea of “selling.” They acquaint selling with pressure, with deception, and with dishonesty, and as a result they shy so far away from selling they abandon their power to attract clients. If we can teach trainers to take pride in their ability to influence and persuade ethically, we create an all-powerful ground army that can sell, and most of all can deliver on promises!
“NEED” ISOLATION MASTERY
Salespeople learn that they can’t effectively sell unless they understand the prospect “need.” That’s Selling 101. Trainers, however, often conduct a generic assessment and then move into some variation of a routine, focusing more on the workout than on the client’s actual goal. Sure, the trainer can tell you whether a particular client wants to lose weight, build muscle, or “get in shape,” but that’s fluff. That’s surface stuff. Nobody ever taught the trainers to look further, to probe, to identify “the need.”
When addressing a fitness marketplace, I find the concept of “need” to be synonymous with pain. Every person considering a personal trainer has something they’re uncomfortable with, a pain, and they want to make a positive physical change. Until the pain is identified, the trainer’s attempts at thrilling the client are random at best. It’s analogous to a doctor who meets a patient for the first time. Until that medical professional understands the pain, he cannot prescribe a course of action. When we teach our trainers to probe, to understand the driving force behind each client’s commitment to improve, we dramatically increase both retention and likelihood of results.
Even when trainers do flirt with attempts at persuasion, even when they do take a sales initiative, they wind up expounding on a mix of benefits and features, but they want for a comfort level in asking for the commitment. In sales we call this “closing.” The word “closing” suggests that some tricks or pressure is applied to force a sales decision. We don’t want our trainers to be put off by the concept, so rather than calling it “closing,” we can call it “collecting a retainer,” or “capturing” a new client. Just as we have to create a comfortable strategy for trainer “selling,” we have to facilitate a very simple movement from the presentation to the commitment.
CONTINUED COMMITMENT TO DELIVERING MORE VALUE THAN PEOPLE EXPECT
This is the foundation upon which personal training excellence is built. “Cost” is not a concern when “value” exceeds expectation. When I first present this concept to trainers they initially perceive that I’m asking them to do something that may be extremely difficult, but when I point out the distinction between hope and expectation, they recognize the reality. While most people have high hopes of achieving a result, their long string of previous failures leads to a decline in actual belief. When a client tells a trainer, “this is unbelievable! I feel great, I lost weight, and I’m fitting in my old clothes,” the question must be raised, “Why is it unbelievable?” After all, that’s in all likelihood what the client paid for. It’s unbelievable only because belief has plummeted, thus, expectation is extremely low. When you deliver the results people hope for, in the great majority of cases you will have blown miles past their expectation.
RECOGNITION AND PRESERVATION OF THRILL MOMENTS
Creating the “arsenal of evidence” requires recognition and documentation. The “arsenal” is the section of the club, or the portable portfolio, used to hold your “ammunition.” Your ammunition is a mix of testimonials, before and after photos, and documented evidence of results. In order to provide health club membership salespeople with that feature that allows them to present the training options in a benefit oriented manner, the trainers have to be trained in recognizing those moments that warrant preservation. Not only must they identify the moments, but they must document them . . . on the spot! It sounds simple in theory, but in practice, it requires repetition, role playing, and developing a comfort level in creating the evidence on the spot.
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WOW! That seems like a lot of stuff to teach trainers . . . doesn’t it? Well . . it should. It is a lot of stuff. It is one of two options the health club owner faces. He can either leave trainers as the weak link in the organization and remain reliant upon new memberships in a fiercely competitive market place, or he can respect trainers as true professionals and give them the tools . . . ALL the tools, so they can prove their worth.
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TRAINERS AS A MARKETING ARMY?
In the previous installment, I mentioned that trainers can “market” in three distinctive “marketing universes.” To review:
- The Active Member Universe
- The Inactive Member Universe
- The Outside Universe
Health clubs typically think “marketing” equals “advertising.” When a sales team struggles to hit monthly goals, it isn’t uncommon for the members of that team to blame the club’s lack of advertising. This is representative of a poorly managed sales team and a sales presence that fails to understand the potential reach of “marketing.”
We’ll now examine a few marketing promotions that have little or no cost to implement, and can be handled competently by trainers. Before I get into the specific promotions, I’d like to briefly discuss the concept of “positioning.”
I’ve already suggested we “position” trainers, not as necessary workout supervisors, but as ADVISORS. Positioning refers to intentionally creating a market perception. We want to position trainers, not as health club staples who know how to count reps, but as something far more professional. When I referred to ADVISORS, I used the acronym ADVISE:
In our marketing we want to maintain those same traits, but we want to unify them so the members of our training teams are respected as “experts.”
Why do people write letters to those advice columnists in the daily newspapers? They send in their questions because the newspapers did an excellent job of “positioning” these columnists as experts. People respect editorial and shy away from advertising.
Advertising is the weakest form of marketing as it always has a cost attached and you’re fighting a perception battle trying to get those exposed to the ads to “believe.” The marketplace knows you paid to send out a message.
If we are going to position our trainers as experts, we have to facilitate marketing efforts that suggest that our “professionals” have unique and much needed expertise. We have to intentionally position them, not as features, not as trainers, not as staff members, but as “experts.”
With that said, here are a few marketing strategies that serve trainers well (this is a very abbreviated glimpse into what could be a mile-long list of options):
CAP Marketing – cardio hangers
One of the marketing strategies I’ve used for well over a decade with consistent success is CAP Marketing, Captive Audience Promotional Marketing. The idea is to put information that appears to be editorial rather than advertising in front of people who are going to read it. In the health club, when someone sits on a bike or adjusts his or her feet on the pedals of the elliptical, that person is committing to remain on that piece of equipment for at least 10 or 15 minutes. “Cardio Hangers” are articles written by the trainers that are tactfully displayed where they are accessible among those who are on the aerobic exercise equipment. Sit on the bike, read an article by a trainer, gain some knowledge, but most of all come to understand that the trainers are not simply workout leaders . . . they’re experts! They have solutions!
The Bodyfat Table is a great promotion for allowing a comfortable dialogue between personal trainer and prospective client. You may be surprised when I tell you . . .it has very little to do with measuring bodyfat. Let me explain. I mentioned that trainers need a comfortable approach, and when members are “approached” by individuals wearing trainer shirts and holding clipboards, they fear and resist the sales pitch. Little do they know that the prospect of striking up a conversation with the intent of getting a client makes the trainer’s stomach do flip flops. The bodyfat table draws prospective clients over to the trainers and offers a strategy for opening up a comfortable dialogue. I won’t spell out the specifics of the promotion, but in a nutshell, trainers set up a table near the exit of the health club and use a skinfold caliper to measure the tricep skinfold of interested members as they begin to ask about goals, results, frustrations, etc.
Marketing is all about putting your voice, image, likeness, or message in front of significant numbers of qualified prospects, and there’s no better way to deliver the message than by putting an expert in front of a group. Schools, corporations, social groups, and networking organizations are all ideal ready-made audiences, audiences made up of people with unique fitness needs.
There’s no better way to position a personal fitness trainer as a recognized expert than by developing a media presence. Radio, TV, print, or any combination thereof are ideal vehicles for putting the fitness message into the consumers head . . . and attributing the expertise to a given individual.
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In wrapping this up, let’s summarize the elements of the new paradigm. If a 21st century health club is going to operate under a set of rules that allow for profitability via a commitment to member satisfaction and professional respect, the following items are necessities:
- A true personal training leader with management competence
- A personal training team built upon a foundation of empowerment
- The ability to deliver more value than consumers expect
- Unity and interdependence between the selling entity and the personal training team
- Sales training including the presentation of the “training connection” as a benefit
- A small-group paid forum to introduce prospects to the training team (Orientation)
- A recurring billing strategy to ensure exponential revenue growth (Series)
- A structured marketing plan to allow service and sales staff to thrive and prosper in three universes
- A comprehensive trainer training program
So, in “short form,” the New Paradigm reads as follows:
Market and sell value based memberships utilizing the joint marketing efforts of the fitness staff and sales staff,and implement systems to reward trainers for profitably thrilling happily spending members.
I feel as if I’m standing at the front of a ship that’s about to sail from port to port delivering this information and making each port all that much richer in the process. As I’ve outlined it, the New Paradigm really is the proverbial win across the board. The club prospers, the members are thrilled, and trainers can finally claim their rightful place as recognized professionals in a field built upon the most noble ideals, those of helping others find health and well being.
Within any industry, a global change is initiated by a rare few willing to look outside the boundaries of convention and venture into the realm of possibility.
Be prepared for an exciting ride! You’re now in the driver’s seat!