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How to Win at Personal Training Sales

The winning formula for maximizing all of your personal training consult opportunities isn't in promising to cure all your client's fitness ills, but it is in listening, leading, coaching and creating a partnership.

Success isn’t a happy accident and neither is conducting a successful personal training orientation. Although most trainers are great practitioners, few ever receive substantial sales training.

We wouldn’t expect a mechanic to also be a fantastic car salesman. Nor would we think that our homebuilder is the same person as our real-estate agent. However, in personal training, often times we find that we have to both sell agreements and provide the results. Not an easy task. Fortunately, there is a winning formula for maximizing all of our consult opportunities.

First, let’s talk about what an initial personal training consult is and isn’t. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are the expert they need to meet their goals. A first consult isn’t where you promise to cure all their ills and give them a first workout. Often times, I will see a personal trainer take a few moments and listen to what the prospective client wants to accomplish and then they will take the client on the floor and give them a few exercises that relate in the hopes that the client rewards them with a contract. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Fun fact: If you are showing circuit equipment on an initial consult, you are building no value for yourself. You are building value for the circuit equipment.

An effective one-hour orientation structure looks like this:

  • 1st 15 minutes: Listen and validate. Your client has a story, and they want to tell it.
  • 2nd 15 minutes: Lead and Learn. Time to define yourself as the expert the client didn’t know they needed.
  • 3rd 15 minutes: Coach and motivate. Put them through a specific set of exercises that maximizes why personal training is a tremendous value.
  • 4th 15 minutes: Create a partnership. By conducting a proper price presentation, you eliminate the stress of the sale and define that if they are willing to invest in you, you will in kind invest in them.

Let’s take a deeper dive into how to be maximally effective in each area.

Listen and Validate

Everyone has a story to tell. A potential client is sitting in front of you because they feel that in some way they are not meeting their own expectations. That could be as simple as not being able to lose weight or as complex as trying to overcome medical limitations. Either way, they didn’t get that way overnight. Listen to their story. People like to talk about themselves, and everyone likes someone who listens and cares.

In this first block of time you should be embodying what we would picture as a therapist. Cool and calm. Speak slowly and softly sitting back in your chair. Do not interrupt and do not give advice just yet. You are building trust and rapport. The best way to do that is to listen genuinely and intently. Let them speak.

Great questions to ask while you are getting to know someone:

  • Why are we meeting today and not six months ago, for example?
  • Why do you feel you need to make this change in your life?
  • What has changed in your life that you believe will allow you to be successful now?
  • When you close your eyes and picture meeting your goals, what all has improved for you?

Ultimately, what you are looking to uncover is the emotional reason they want to make this change in their life. Not what they want to do, but why they want to do it. Once we establish this, everything else we do during the consult will circle back to how we help this achieve this goal.

Lead and Learn

Once we have an understanding of the potential client’s why, we can start to effectively build the case that we are the partner they need to best meet their goals. We do this best by shifting gears from the role of a therapist to that of a game-winning coach. Most communication is non-verbal. By getting a little louder, leaning forward and now leading the conversation, we are taking control and demonstrating that if they are willing to listen and learn, you can coach them through their obstacles.

This is also the time in which you want to start discussing some concepts that demonstrate your knowledge in the fitness field. For example, the differences in “time under tension,” chains of motion, etc. The ultimate goal is to get them to see that not only are you a great coach, but that you also are a professional in the fitness field.

Coach and Motivate

Now that you are halfway through the consult, take the potential client onto the fitness floor. Unless they have a medical limitation, I will always do 10-15 minutes of core. I preface this by saying, “John, so that I can best get an idea of where we are at so that I can plan for where we need to go, I would like to do a basic 15 minutes of core routine with you today.” I do this for a few reasons:

  1. You are building almost no value by putting someone on a piece of circuit equipment. They could read the “how to.”
  2. Give them tactile cues for range of motion. For example, on a torso rotation, use both arms to demonstrate where start and stop are.
  3. Count the reps for them on both the concentric and eccentric motion. I personally like to use a three-second eccentric cadence as guidance on most activities here on this first meet.

Create a Partnership 

Quick recap. We have demonstrated that we can listen and care about them meeting their goals. Then we jumped into leading and inspiring both through our words and our coaching on the floor. Now it is time for the dreaded price presentation. It is kind of like, “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.” Right? Well it doesn’t have to be that way. We are looking to create a partnership not a sale.

The first thing I say before the price presentation is: “I appreciate your time today, John. I think your goals are realistic, and I think I can be of assistance to you in achieving them. If I can find a way to make this work for your budget as well, what would be an ideal schedule for you, once a week or twice?”

Once they respond with frequency, “Great! Here’s what I recommend, John. I ask that everyone consider at least signing up for 12 weeks of personal training. Basically, what is going to happen is for the first four weeks, you are going to be sore and just plain angry at me. In the second four weeks, you are going to start seeing some changes. By the third four-week block, your friends and family will notice. Twelve weeks of programing is a monthly investment of X. Does that work in your budget?” 

If they respond with any form of “no,” the next thing you need to say is: “I understand that money is always a factor when making these types of commitments. I never want someone who wants help and guidance not be able to get it because of cost. If you don’t mind telling me what you believe you can afford per month, I will do my best to make it work.”

Ultimately, remember that this is a relationship business. You have to love what you do and believe that you can effect positive change in your client’s life. Supplement that with a solid business plan, and the sky is the limit. By following this one-hour orientation outline, you will set yourself up to best attract more clients and have a long and successful career.


Jason Stowell is the health and wellness director for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. He has worked in the fitness world since 1996 in sales, sales management and leadership roles. He launched a number of successful programs to increase personal training in ways outside of the standard systems, including Signature Sessions and Young Adult Initiatives. He created a personal training marketing campaign called Bring a Buddy that was adopted by corporate LA Fitness and rolled out to all locations nationwide. In January 2018, he was an award winner for Who’s Next: Fitness. He was a personal award winner for best customer service with franchised Baileys Powerhouse Gyms of Florida. He estimates that he has personally sold in excess of $5 million in fitness contracts over the past 20 years.

TAGS: Step by Step
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