Discover a Different Approach to Health Club Sales That Requires Heart

Always Listen First
(Photo by Thinkstock.)

Personal training consultations, evaluations and assessments often are based on a deficit model, meaning the focus is on what the prospect lacks but the fitness professional has insights on and can help the prospect correct. In this model, fitness professionals lecture prospects on fitness by sharing facts. At certain times during the sales process, this approach is appropriate, but as an initial approach, it is not effective in helping people change their behavior.

In their book “Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change,” William Miller and Steven Rollnick write that this approach, which they call the Righting Reflex, turns people off from learning and changing their ways. If you find yourself lecturing, or using statements like, “you should do” or “you need to,” the implied meaning is that the prospect lacks something rather than recognizing that they have strengths, know what to do and have within them what it takes to make a change.

Instead, the authors write that you should focus on the prospects' strengths so you can help them call forth those strengths. Rather than focusing on changing or fixing something that’s broken, the fitness professional instead listens to the prospect and evokes the kind of action that the prospect already knows to take.

Prospects who are difficult to inspire and move to action are motivated. They have what the authors call "change talk." Change talk is when prospects talk about changes that would happen if they were to change behavior. The challenge is that prospects also use "sustain talk," which is talk about not wanting to change. For example, they may think, "I know that smoking is bad for me, but I love to smoke when I am with friends." Or "Yes, eating fast food is what’s causing me to gain all this weight, but it tastes so good and it's convenient."

Do you have the heart, the patience and the desire to sit and listen to these sorts of comments and not respond in a way that would be counter-productive to changing behavior?  Meaning could you stop yourself from say, “Well, you know, fast food is the reason why you gained weight and why you feel depressed.” Do you have the heart and the soul to listen to understand instead of listening to respond? In other words, fast food is the symptom not the cause for being overweight and depressed. Do you have the heart and the wisdom to know that people are whole and resourceful and don’t need to be fixed? If the answer is no to any of the above questions, then you likely feel exhausted and frustrated in a sales setting because you are likely doing all the talking, convincing and "fixing." If you instead feel energized after your session, feel that your prospect did most of the change talk, feel like it was a collaborative effort to come up with a solution that works best for the prospect, then you did well and you can expect great changes to come.

Focus on listening to understand. Put yourself in that person's shoes and try to feel what they feel like. According to the authors, the biggest missing link in behavioral change is true empathy. In a moment of true empathy, less is more. No questions are needed to keep the conversation going. Sometimes just repeating or paraphrasing what the prospect said is all you need to help the prospect open up more about the kind of a change they want to make. For example, simply reflecting what one just said is the best way to help move someone in the direction of change:

Prospect: "I just want to feel better so I can be there for my kids."

Trainer: "It seems like you are fed up with being sick and tired all the time."

The goal throughout the sales process is to promote change talk. One of the main reasons trainers have such a difficult time gaining new clients is that there isn’t enough support or voting for change by the prospect, meaning prospects don’t verbalize it enough throughout the sales presentation and it isn’t convincing when they start talking about reasons to change. We can all convince ourselves to do or not to do anything. When you are in a sales setting, make sure your prospects are convincing themselves of their need to make a change and why change is a must not a should.

Avoid giving advice prior to getting to know your prospects. Always ask permission to share information with prospects if you feel like it will promote change talk, and then ask for feedback based on what was just communicated. Remember, collaboration is key in promoting change. No one wants to talk to a know-it-all who just wants to hear themselves talk and doesn’t ask for feedback.


Michael Gelfgot is a franchisee partner in Anytime Fitness. He and his business partner John Spence operate 23 Anytime Fitness locations in the United States. His accomplishments include 2007 Club Operators of the Year, 2013 Success Story of the Year and Personal Trainer of the Year, and 2015 Community Outreach Award of the Year. He was the first Personal Trainer of the Year in 2012.

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