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How to Sell Personal Training Without Selling Out

In my workshops with personal trainers, I hear the same feedback time and time again: “I didn’t get into this business to sell. I got into fitness because I want to help people.” Or “I quit the last health club I worked in because they focused on sales too much.”

I empathize with trainers who don’t like to sell. I also agree with trainers when they say they are not salespeople. They are correct. They are correct in the same way that our clients are correct when they say they don’t have time to exercise. Reality is in the eyes of the beholder. When someone doesn’t have time to exercise, they don’t. When it becomes a priority in their life, they make time.

If you as a trainer feel you are not a salesperson, you are right. However, just as you help clients change their attitudes and behaviors towards fitness and exercise, you can also change your attitude towards sales, and practice specific techniques to become more comfortable talking to potential clients and enhance your chance for success.

Changing Your Mindset Regarding Sales

One of the reasons trainers are intimidated by the concept of selling is because it makes them vulnerable. This is why traditional sales education courses – like those by Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie, and Jeffrey Gitomer – spend a lot of time on on motivation and positive self-talk.

When your business involves speaking to people, it’s possible that they will not want to even listen to you, much less buy what you’re selling. You need to think about sales in a different way. The owner of the little bodega at the end of my block in Brooklyn has to sell a certain volume of groceries in order to stay in business. The new big box store in the neighborhood does, too. Health clubs are driven by the same need for sales, and so are you, regardless of whether you work in the club or as a private trainer. You might not agree with the way a club manager articulates this to you, but it’s all the same.

Marketing Yourself in a Health Club

We always say we want to help people. It starts by talking to them.

Traditional sales training teaches us that we should begin by building rapport, and asking questions to determine whether someone is a good candidate for buying (e.g. pre-qualifying). Your club’s marketing efforts have already done this for you. In other words, the health club members in front of you each day have already expressed an interest in fitness by buying a membership. All you have to do is explain why training with you is a good idea. This is where your personal marketing efforts begin. Every single member that is currently not working with a personal trainer is a potential client.

Your marketing strategy is a combination of the different ways you can “touch” a member. It can be your trainer photo and bio on the wall. It can be the free workshop you provide. It can be the free stretches you offer during peak hours. Challenge yourself and decide on two or three new ways you can get in front of people more often in the club.

Sometimes we get so used to our everyday surroundings that we forget to appreciate the opportunities all around us. Walk into your gym as if you had never been there before. Look at all the people working out by themselves. Have you ever spoken to them? Don’t think about whether you believe they need a trainer. Do you truly believe that you can help them? Remember, it’s a numbers game. If you are nice to this person and they don’t buy training from you today, they will leave having had a great experience, and they likely will talk about you at least one more time that day. The results of this initial encounter can grow exponentially.

Marketing Yourself as a Private Trainer

The next person you meet can be your next – and best – client. The problem is that you don’t know who that is or when that will be. When you work as a private personal trainer, it is very important to remember that your community interactions are your billboard, and word of mouth is the most powerful advertising tool you have.

From the coffee shop you visit in the morning, to the streets in the neighborhoods you frequent, there are a lot of people who could notice you. I say “could” because you can either bring attention to yourself as being a personal trainer, or not. When I first left the health club setting to do more teaching, I continued with my private training business. I found myself thinking that I didn’t really want to walk around New York City looking like a trainer – in the spandex, the fitness clothes, etc. Then I re-evaluated my marketing efforts and thought, why not deliberately look like a trainer? So I started walking around with a band or a styrofoam roller or some easy-to-carry piece of equipment or toy to make myself stand out. When someone made eye contact or looked at me, I’d say something like “Yeah, gotta make somebody exercise today.” More often than not, that person would start talking to me about their fitness goals, and usually how their current fitness program was not getting them the results they wanted. I started building my private business through these interactions.

Communicating Potential Benefits

As stated earlier, many trainers find it stressful to talk to members about fitness and personal training. In my experience, this is often because we get tongue-tied or don’t know how to succinctly and persuasively explain the value of our services well enough to close the sale.

While I was working in sales at a health club, I learned a great communication tool. I would state a fact or make a statement, then tie it – bridge it – back to a benefit for the potential member if they bought a membership. I call this the “fact-bridge-benefit” concept. Now I use this in my sales workshops for trainers. Basically, it means being able to explain in simple sentences how what you are doing – or can do – will benefit this person.

For example, I once worked with a trainer who offered free stretches to a health club member who had a chronic aching back even though his doctors said there was nothing medically wrong. The trainer noticed that his hip flexors were short and tight, then stretched them out. When the member commented how good it felt, the trainer didn’t take the opportunity to say anything in response, and was surprised when the person walked away without buying personal training or even thinking about it.

If that trainer had been better at explaining in simple terms how stretching the hip flexors can help relieve and potentially prevent low back pain, he would have taken a step towards getting a new client. I call it “the four sentence challenge.” In other words, using this fact-bridge-benefit technique, can you explain in four simple sentences how what you are doing can be beneficial for this person?

Take a look at the video below to see the fact-bridge-benefit technique in action.

It is important to remember that you don’t need to memorize “scripts” to use these techniques. They are simply tools to help enhance your communication skills. These can be used with all aspects of meeting a potential client, including the initial interview, health history, any kind of assessment, and when you’re explaining the potential personal training program.

With a change of attitude towards sales, and practicing specific communication skills to better articulate how you can help someone, you won’t be selling. You will be helping people and getting new clients!

Additional Resources

  1. Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  2. Gerard, J. (1979). How to Sell Anything to Anybody. New York, NY: Warner Books.
  3. Gitomer, J. (2004). The Little Red Book of Selling Attitude. Austin, TX: Bard Press.
  4. Gitomer, J. (2004). The Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude. Austin, TX: Bard Press.
  5. Ziglar, Z. (1975). See You at the Top. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Group.
  6. Ziglar, Z. (1982). Secrets of Closing the Sale. New York, NY: Berkley Group.