5 Sales Skills Every Trainer Must Have

Kevin Mullins | 04 Aug 2020
In a dream world you’d be able to build a successful personal training business without doing anything other than the obvious responsibilities of a fitness professional. Someone else would fill your book with people and you’d screen and assess them, write an incredible training program, show up and train like a superstar, and maintain a healthy communication between sessions. Life would be simpler, wouldn’t it?

Realistically, a personal trainer must have sales skills. Very few places are going to fill their trainer’s books for them, and even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to produce the deeply rooted commitments that a trainer full of care, tact, and verbal elegance could. 

The truth is that you want to be the person who performs the sales pitch. No matter how skilled you feel you are at sales, you need to be the one who creates buy-in. Because as Jonathan Goodman, founder of the Online Trainer Academy, says “people eventually stop buying the training and start buying the trainer.”

Not everyone is comfortable selling, and that is OK. The Universe must remain balanced. For a sly, pithy, and silver-tongued used car salesman to exist, there must be an awkward and shy personal trainer who loathes sales. There is good news though. It’s easier to learn how to sell than it is to learn how to be a good human.

Because, let’s face facts here, if you are unable to sell yourself and sell training, then it is going to be hard to help others and do right by the world with your knowledge and coaching skills. 

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t have to be expensive to learn the fundamentals of selling in the fitness industry. The following five tips are the building blocks for any fitness professional who is eager to increase their impact on the world.

1. Relationship Building

Let’s start with a foundational truth. In personal training you…work…with…people.

And for that very reason, you cannot be the 5-star General with the personality of a potato and expect that the people you meet will be jumping at the idea of paying you money for fitness.

The overwhelming majority of people who purchase a personal trainer want to invest in someone that provides them joy in addition to results. Of course, there is always that individual that is all business, all-the-time, and isn’t looking for a best friend, but they are few and far between.

If you’d like to improve your chances of closing a prospect, then focus your efforts on developing a real, authentic human relationship with them. Ask questions about their lives that go beyond the sort of thing you’d say to someone while passing time in a check-out line at your local Trader Joe’s. 

Genuinely listen! Not just to the words, but the emotion, the facial expressions, and the tone that someone speaks to you with. Mirror their behaviors and tonality as best as possible – they will find it easier to connect with you if they feel as though you are sharing similar energy.

And of course, you want to share details about yourself. The wise are crafty with their reveal. Emphasize the lessons your life has taught you instead of the accomplishments that might line your trophy wall. More importantly, construct a narrative of how your life has prepared you for this profession and how your experiences as a coach have empowered you to be confident in addressing the specific needs of your potential client.

Building this sort of rapport with a client creates a comradery that can’t be faked. Once you begin to know them, and they begin to know you, then it is much easier to ask for a sale. It becomes a no-brainer in the eyes of a client who reveres your knowledge and loves your personality. 

2. Discover the “WHY”

A deeper dive into relationship building also reveals the need for motivational interviewing, a counseling technique in which a practitioner co-creates a plan with their client that allows them to understand and resolve their issues with a sense that they are in absolute control. 

Ultimately, we want our clients to feel like they are the reason they are succeeding. Sure, we deserve some credit too, but the overwhelming gratitude should be within the client – a sense of pride and accomplishment that can never come from someone else doing it for us.

In order to co-create such a plan, it requires diving deeper into the assessment process and helping to tease out a client’s more meaningful motivations – AKA the real reason that they want to lose a certain number of pounds, or “get-in-shape” before a wedding. 

The bigger WHY is a more deeply rooted emotional goal that has layers of anxiety and pain associated with it. It is the sort of thing that creates nights where the pillows feel like stone and the temperature is never right.

Discovering this WHY, instead of settling for the standard “I want to lose ten pounds and be more fit”, is critical if we are to increase our chances of closing a client and earning their trust for a life-changing experience.

Once we acknowledge the greater WHY, we can shape our formal pitch to reflect our intent to address it. 

We could say “we’ll train twice a week and you’ll lose that weight and feel great in your dress on your wedding day.” 

Or, we could instead empower, “We’ll train twice a week to ensure that when you walk down the aisle towards your future husband, he’ll feel like he is falling in love all over again and you’ll feel like the most beautiful woman in the world”.

To be clear, we are not using a client’s deeper motivations in a nefarious or manipulative way. To do so, no matter how desperate you are to build your business, is despicable and embarrassing. No, we utilize this tactic to show how much we care about the human that is about to become our client. We don’t see a new client that hired us. We see a new person who trusts us.

3. Acknowledging Challenges before they Become Objections

Ask yourself this question: Are most objections completely avoidable?

If your answer is yes, then you are on the right path. If you feel like the answer is no, then there is a pretty good chance that you haven’t been provided the right framework to understand what an objection really is, nor the tools to avoid them.

Notice that we aren’t talking about overcoming objections, an overused phrase to describe the act of verbal conflict with a customer to win over their judgment. Honestly, if you are overcoming an objection, then you are already too late. 

At their core, an objection is simply a challenge that a potential client faces in their lives. This challenge could be easily overcome, or it could be, in that point in time, insurmountable and a hurdle that can’t be beaten.

Legitimate budget issues are the prime example of this instance. If someone, who is aware, accurate, and up to date on their financial situation, states that they cannot afford training even if they wanted it, then it is likely so. 

This isn’t the same as someone who is balking at price simply out of sticker shock or the desire to “work a deal”. That is a different element of sales altogether. The solution to these individuals would be to demonstrate greater value in the product and create a legitimate need for it. This is a challenge.

Most objections a trainer encounters are challenges, otherwise known as problems, for which the prospect in question has yet to arrive at a solution for. Things such as time, scheduling, responsibilities, and spousal approval are all challenges.

And all are things that can be addressed during a formal pitch to get out in front of them and disallow them from becoming objections. 

While your client is talking about their lives and the challenges that keep them from their goals, pay special attention to the details that sound like they are current and real. Getting the kids to school, the stress of their job, and the horrific commute in the evening are all challenges that have solutions if someone who isn’t emotionally tied to these moments were to logically solve them. 

As you begin your formal pitch, put an extra emphasis on the parts of your client’s lives that you can solve for them. Suggest a training time that doesn’t interfere with their children or their workflow. Suggest that their spouse attend the first two sessions with you – free-of-charge – to see and feel the value. Simply put, take their objection ammo and turn it into assets for your pitch.

4. The Magic Wand

This is the simplest way to gather information in history. Give someone, in this case your lead, a proverbial magic wand. What happens when they wave it in regard to their fitness?

Listen carefully to their answers. What they say identifies their biggest hurdles, their deepest dreams, and the things they need taken care of if they are to succeed.

Because that’s exactly what any of us would do with a magic wand. We’d remove the stressful things from our lives that bring us no joy, we’d suddenly become what we’ve always dreamed we would be, and we’d have the nuances of our lives handled by someone or something else so that we were more free to focus on happiness projects.  Give your client a magic wand and listen.

Shape your pitch to address as many of these statements as possible and demonstrate how much you are listening when they speak, care about their deeper thoughts, and want to execute on your promise.

5. Asking “What Happens”

Putting your clients into contemplation isn’t a bad thing if you’ve done a good job of representing yourself and providing a professional and effective training experience. In fact, allowing your client the space to think and feel before deciding may help them lower their own barriers and be more open to committing to a long-term strategy with you.

Two of the most powerful questions you could ask a client are:

What would happen if you achieved your fitness goals?
What happens when you change nothing about your health and fitness behaviors?

Both questions allow your prospect to begin contemplating their own future. They’ll imagine themselves down the yellow-brick-road with you and love the idea of being in-shape and accomplished. They’ll also lament the images of only getting more out-of-shape. They’ll begin comparing those existences to each other and conclude, on their own, that hiring you is a way better arc for their story than the alternative.

Give your client the space to contemplate what happens with and without you and you’ll be happy when more and more begin choosing you. 


To say sales is simple would be absurd. It isn’t easy or else everyone would be able to build billion-dollar businesses, become everyone’s best friend, and close every deal in their working and romantic lives. 

But sales doesn’t have to be hard. It just needs to be human. It must be a less scripted experience and a more authentic human interaction that demonstrates a legitimate desire to improve the quality of someone else’s existence. If you put these 5 tips into practice as soon as possible, then you’ll be well on your way to helping more people and closing more deals – the ultimate win-win in the fitness industry. 

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Kevin Mullins

About the author: Kevin Mullins

Kevin Mullins, CSCS is the Director of Product Development for The St. James in Springfield, VA. The author of Day by Day: The Personal Trainer's Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success is a former EQUINOX Master Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness coach. He has presented for the NSCA, SCW Mania, and contributes content to PTontheNet, other websites, and his own page: KevinMullinsFitness.com.

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