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Out With the Old, in With the New

After all these years, you'd think the fitness industry would have evolved beyond attempting to talk a potential member into submission as part of some archaic sales ritual dating back to when dinosaurs ruled the world. Pressure sales should be as extinct as the pterodactyl.

As an industry, we haven't grown past sales techniques that are more than 40 years old. The sad part of this is that the consumer has evolved. Real adults with real money don't want to make a buying decision for a $700 membership 20 minutes after meeting a 22-year-old sales rep.

Clubs that put a heavy emphasis on first-visit closings artificially limit the monthly fee they can charge. The consumer looks at the price, the pressure exerted to close right away, and then evaluates the risk. The higher the pressure, the higher the risk, the lower the price. This is why clubs that base their sales system on a first-visit closing seldom get a monthly price greater than $34. This seems to be the maximum risk factor a potential member will accept if forced to sign during the first visit.

To evolve, we need to grasp basic sales psychology. Buying decisions are based on how the individual processes information - how the person learns.

Consumers make decisions based on one of three learning or decision-making styles:

1) One third of people make their decisions on what they hear (auditory learners).

2) One third make their decisions on what they read or see (visual learners).

3) One third base their decisions on how they feel after experiencing something (doers).

We make the fatal mistake of assuming all potential buyers are auditory learners, and we sell all memberships in the same fashion - by talking the person into submission. "If we only find the right words, we can sell them anything" is the endless speech by sales managers everywhere. This philosophy effectively eliminates two thirds of all your potential members.

To maximize sales, we must learn to address all three learning styles by offering a broader sales system based on this statistic: 70 percent of potential members need two or more visits to fitness club before they will commit to a memberships at a price above the $34 mark.

To reach all prospects, clubs must: - Offer some type of trial membership for the doers who learn by experience. And one visit is not enough. These people will not buy until it feels right, which may take several visits or a few weeks.

- Send the consumer home with something more than a cheap, three-fold brochure with pictures of the club. One third of prospects will make their decisions at home, with their feet up, reading something. Therefore, consider a starter kit (see sidebar, Building a Starter Kit) for all potential members; the kit might have 50 or 60 pages of information in it about working out, the club, schedules, etc.

- Offer positive first-visit incentives. The consumer we want is too bright for first-visit pressure closing or fake discounts. If a potential member decides to join during the first visit, give him added value in the form of something such as a combination of gym bag, T-shirt and water bottle. Remember, it's not about the money. It's about feeling good about buying. First-visit, pressure closings don't make you feel good as a buyer leading to large first payment defaults.

A prospect shouldn't walk out of your club with only a price sheet or cheap brochure. The more sophisticated buyer wants something to take home and evaluate before committing a year of his life and a lot of money to a club he has just encountered for the first time. He needs a starter kit, a simple yet impressive way to answer all of his questions.

A starter kit is a powerful tool since no other club usually will give away something this elaborate. Think of it this way: A club can typically spend $3,000 to $4,000 a month prospecting for clients whom it hopes to get through the door. Doesn't it make sense to spend another $2 on a person who actually comes in the club if it would improve the closing rate?

Here's how to build a starter kit: - Use a half-inch binder (available from any office supplier or discount warehouse for about $1.65 each).

- The first item in the kit should be a letter from the owner or manager emphasizing the club's position statement and how the club differs from its competition. The letter should also mention that you offer a trial membership, allowing consumers to try before they buy.

- The next section should list all of the club's services, including the prices and contact person.

- The next section should be something motivational, telling members how they can get the most out of their first 30 days in the club. We forget that the consumer is buying a solution for a specific problem, not fitness.

- Be sure to include at least five full-page testimonials from current members.

- Include a section with all the basics: schedules, hours of operation and other must-know information.

- There should be one section answering common member questions. Members hate to look stupid, so let them know how they can get a locker, how they find a trainer, what is acceptable dress in your club, and other things that could embarrass them if done wrong.

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