Ask yourself this question: what business are you in? Your first reaction might be, I’m in the fitness business, or I’m in the business of helping people get healthy. Maybe you’d even say that you’re in the business of changing lives.
I’d add something important, though—you’re also in the relationship-building business. Let me explain.
People buy trainers, not training. Yes, you need to help your clients get results, but unless you can build relationships with your clients, you’re likely to fail in your career. And one of the most critical aspects of building a relationship starts with creating rapport between the two of you.
So what is rapport? Dictonary.com defines it as a “relation; connection; or especially harmonious or sympathetic relation.” I define it as when your client feels that you “get” him or her. A client who feels rapport with you knows that he’s not just a paycheck to you, but a person you care about. And when he feels rapport, he’s likely to enjoy training with you—and meet his goals.
I struggled as a new trainer until I figured how to connect with clients of both genders, all ages, and varying backgrounds and lifestyles. But I found the six following strategies in Chet Holmes’ book, The Ultimate Sales Machine, and have used all of them to build rapport with clients:
Rapport-Building Strategy #1: Ask Great Questions.
It’s easy to give advice as a trainer. But the best trainers not only know how to give advice; they know how to ask the right questions—and what those questions are.
Let’s say you have a new client, a single guy in his mid-20s. You ask him what his primary training goal is. He says, “To put on muscle.” If he’s read anything about fitness, he may even adopt the lingo and say, “To get a shredded six-pack”. But why does he want a shredded six-pack? Probably to get laid, right? Or at least attract women? Well then, being more attractive to women (with the end goal of getting them into bed) is his real goal, not the six-pack he claims.
My point? You need to dig deeper with your questions. Don’t be satisfied with the first answer you receive. You want to help your client recognize—and possibly even uncover—his true goal(s) so you can help him achieve it.
The questions you ask should go beyond the fitness sphere. You may start with questions like:
- “What brought you to the gym?”
- “What were you doing for exercise before?”
- “That sounds cool. How did you like it?”
But as a trainer, you also want to find common or shared interests with your clients. That will help you connect with them. And the faster that you can make the relationship personal, the more successful you will be with that client.
Consider asking questions like the following [and see Rapport-Building Strategy #4: Find the common ground, below]:
- “Have you seen that [name of blockbuster or popular movie]? What did you think?”
- “Did you catch the game this weekend? Do you have a favorite team?”
- “I’m reading a great book by [name of author]. Do you have a favorite author?”
- “Have you tried that new restaurant? What did you think?”
Rapport-Building Strategy #2: Mirror.
One of the quickest ways to build rapport with a client is to “mirror” him or her by matching their body language. This creates a connection and a subconscious affinity for one another.
So if a client stands, you stand too. If she kneels, you kneel too. If she’s speaking softly, so do you. If she’s sitting on a bench after a set and you want to speak with her, pull up a ball and sit beside her—don’t talk down to her from a standing position. This will help you create rapport from your first training session.
Rapport-Building Strategy #3: Commiserate.
Your clients want to feel that you get them, and tuning in to their emotional state is a great way for you to demonstrate this.
Follow the five-minute rule. If you sense that something is wrong with a client, take five minutes out of the training session, and ask him to join you in your office or other private spot. (Never discuss anything personal on the gym floor.).
Once you’re in the office with the door closed, in the office with the door closed (a physical barrier is important), ask, “What’s up?” Continue asking questions until you get a solid answer. (Don’t offer advice—listen.) When you feel that he’s done venting, say something like, “Thanks for sharing that. Are you ready to train? We can leave this in the office.”
Give a big smile, a hug if appropriate (a fist pound if not), and stand up to lead him out of the room. Take him through a fun warm-up and get training. The five minutes lost from the session are worth a motivated client who feels understood by you.
Rapport-Building Strategy #4: Find the Common Ground.
Remember the questions we talked about in Rapport-Building Strategy Number 1? Use those to figure out what you have in common. What music do you listen to? What are your favorite books? Movies? Sports teams? What else are you passionate about?
I love to read and always made sure to “forget” to leave the book that I was currently reading on my desk. My taste is pretty eclectic and ranges from non-fiction marketing books to fiction to classic literature to comics. I found that books were something to talk about with clients—and one year I got gift cards to a book store from six different clients!
Another client of mine, a big red meat eater, loved to eat out in restaurants. We’d meet for dinner occasionally and tell each other about great smokehouses that we’d found. There’s always a common ground that you can find with a client; you’ve just got to find it.
Rapport-Building Strategy #5: Show You Care.
Take an avid interest in your clients. Know what’s important to them. Know their family members’ names. Know what important events are coming up. Keep track of their hobbies, interests, and quirks. Send a text or email to check in, or a card for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. Send a link to an article you think he might be interested in, or print out a copy of a kale recipe for your veggie-loving client.
Even these little things can create rapport between you and your clients.
Rapport-Building Strategy #6: Have a Sense of Humor.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of a sense of humor.
When I was a fulltime trainer, gym members would tell me that the minute they arrived, they knew I was at the gym because they could hear my laugh. My clients worked hard, but we had a great time doing it. I advise you to create the same sense of fun. Create a balance of hard work and enjoyment. Depending on your training style, it may be more one than the other, but there should always be a balance between the two.
People’s lives are stressful, and laughter is a proven stress-reliever. Laughter exercises muscles, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and improves mood. You don’t have to be a standup comedian, but having a sense of humor will help you develop rapport with your clients. People like to laugh, and they like people who make them laugh—and that sense of connection will help you create lasting relationships with your clients.