How to Nail Your Initial Interview With a New Client

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The initial interview with your prospect is critical. Get the relationship started on the right foot and you cement your position as a trusted advisor and the solution to their fitness goals.

I’ve had more initial interview with prospective clients over the years than I can count—some in which I was able to form almost instant rapport and others that were just plain awkward from the beginning.

Because of this, I can tell you from experience that the initial interview with your prospect arguably is the most critical juncture in your relationship with the client. It will set you up for either success or failure in being able to win them as a client down the road.

There are three key elements you need to be conscious of to give yourself the best opportunity to build a quality relationship with your prospect and ultimately give yourself the best chance to sell them training: your first impression, asking questions, and listening.

Create a great first impression

First impressions count, and we form them quickly—often within seconds of meeting someone.

Keep this in mind prior to meeting with a prospective client. The moment before you shake hands with them, they’ll already be forming an impression of you based on your punctuality, what you’re wearing, your body language, etc.

You can’t guarantee a great first impression, but by controlling what’s controllable, you’ll put yourself in the best possible position to start your relationship off on the right foot.

Being a few minutes early for your appointment, waiting for your prospective client with open body language, and greeting them with a warm smile and a firm handshake will help to put your prospect at ease—and you in the driver’s seat to build further rapport.

Beyond greeting your prospective client and helping to put them at ease, you need to develop a sense of trust. This is a critical factor in whether clients choose to work with you in the long-term and is easy to recognize when it’s successful. I’m sure you can remember a time in the past when you met a prospect and the two of you clicked almost instantly—that’s trust.

Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and author of the book Presence, explains that ‘warmth’ is one of the key criteria that people use to judge whether they can trust you or not. She explains that warmth encapsulates qualities such as self-confidence, optimism, showing interest in others, passion, and authenticity.

Learn to ask great questions

1. Keep your questions open-ended

When interviewing your prospect, use open-ended questions to prompt them to open up about their training history and current training goals.

Questions that begin with what, when, where, who, and how are known as discovery questions. This sort of question prompts your prospect to open up and share deeper thoughts, rather than superficial answers. When you ask a great question, it will often entice your prospect to open up and share valuable information.

By asking open-ended questions, you’ll often be able to extract deeper, insightful information about your prospect, their buying state of mind, and their training goals that you can use to create a program to assist with the sale further down the line.

2. Avoid the typical boring questions

We’ve all internally ‘facepalmed’ ourselves at one point or another when we’ve asked a prospect what their training goals were and received a response along the lines of, ‘I just want to get fit…’

The thing is, the quality of the response you receive to a question is relative to the quality of the question you ask. Put simply, if you want a better response, ask a better question.

A question like, ‘What are your training goals?’ isn’t bad per se, but if your prospect is a little nervous, shy, or has been asked this question in the past, you probably won’t get anything beyond a one-dimensional response.

Phrasing your questions differently will prompt your prospect to think a little deeper about their answer before responding.

Read these two questions aloud:

  • What are your training goals?

Although this is an open-ended question, it’s not very insightful, and within a training context it more than likely won’t result in anything more than a superficial answer.

  • Can you share with me what your training goals are over the next 3-6 months?

This is essentially the same question, framed a little differently. First of all, You’re politely asking permission to discuss the prospect’s training goals—giving them a silent ‘nudge’ to expand on an otherwise plain answer. In addition, by asking what their goals are within the next 3-6 months, you’re probing, in a subtle way, at what their most pressing fitness goal(s) are at the moment.

Which question do you feel would yield a better response from most prospects?

3. Don’t forget about follow-up questions

Don’t stop at just one question when discussing important topics such as a  prospective client’s training goals, training history, and previous experience with other personal trainers.

Prospects can often be reluctant to share too much information with someone they’ve only just met (e.g., you), so don’t hesitate to ‘hang out’ in a particular topic of conversation for a little longer, instead of asking a question and quickly moving onto something else.

Asking follow-up questions can be a great way to keep the conversation rolling and to enable you to direct it in a way that allows you to extract more insightful information.

Here are some examples:

 ‘What makes this goal important to you?’

‘How long have you felt like this?’

‘Can you prioritize your goals?’

Give them the mic

Once you ask your prospect a question, be quiet and let them speak.

Too many personal trainers spend a disproportionate amount of time pitching ideas on different training styles and nutrition plans to their prospect. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place to pitch training methods and strategies. The problem is, that when you’re speaking, they’re not. This means you’re wasting time that could be better spent asking questions and actively listening to what your prospect has to say.

I like to keep the 80/20 rule of communication in mind when interviewing a new prospect. You want to be speaking only 20% of the time—primarily directing the conversation through asking questions—allowing your prospect to take the reins for the remaining 80% of the conversation.

Paint a picture of the future

Once you’ve collected all the information you’ve set out to collect in your interview, you should now paint a picture of your future training sessions together.

You’re still in the process of building trust and rapport with your prospect, and they’ll still be thinking about whether you’re the right person to guide them towards their training goals.

This is the perfect time to explain what comes next, whether it’s a physical assessment or their first training session. If it’s a physical assessment, explain how this will help in determining where they are physically and how it will help with their overall fitness goals.

If it’s a training session, explain what you’ll be taking them through and what particular style of training will be best-suited to their training goals.

Think of the last time you read a great book. When you got to the end of a chapter, you couldn’t wait to sink your teeth into the next one. This is the kind of feeling you want to instill in your prospect. You want to get them excited for their next session with you.

Final Thoughts

The initial interview with your prospect deserves care and attention. By starting to build a relationship and rapport with your prospect, along with asking insightful questions and creating excitement about future training, you put yourself in a great position to win them as a paying client.

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James McDonald

James is the founder of PT Blogger. He helps personal trainers grow their client-bases, earn more money and thrive in the industry.
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