How to Turn a Complimentary Personal Training Session into a Long-Term Client

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If you work in a commercial gym, there’s a good chance your company offers complimentary personal training sessions to new members. (Or trial members, or disgruntled members, or random members who win a raffle…)

Which is great for you. Whether you’re new to the fitness industry or an experienced trainer, complimentary personal training sessions are an incredibly effective tool to promote your services and fill your client roster.

But it’s not easy. You’re taking someone you’ve just met through a sample workout, with the goal of getting them to sign up for paid sessions more or less on the spot.

To pull it off, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to make a great impression before, during, and after the complimentary session. Here’s how to put yourself in the best possible position to land a new client.

What to do before the complimentary session

It’s natural to assume the most important part of the complimentary session is the workout. It’s what they signed up for, and it’s what you’re hoping they’ll hire you for at the end. But what you do before the session matters. If you aren’t prepared, you may lose the sale before you even get the chance to show the prospect what you have to offer.

Give some thought to the following before you meet with your prospect.

Make a good first impression

If you need to contact your prospect to book the session, call during business hours. Write your introduction out in advance so you don’t stumble:

“Hi [prospect’s name]. This is [your name] at [gym name]. I understand you’re interested in a complimentary personal training session, and I’m calling to set that up.”

Make sure you sit up straight when you call, as you would if this were a face-to-face job interview. (Or, even better, stand up while you talk.)

Confirm the appointment

There’s a nonzero chance the prospect will forget all about the session, even if they booked it within the past few days. Confirming the session the day before will reduce the risk of a late cancellation or no-show.

Send a simple email or text like this:

“Hi [prospect’s name]. This is [your name] at [gym name]. This is a friendly reminder that we’re meeting tomorrow at [time]. Don’t forget to bring a towel and water bottle. See you then!”

Plan your session

You probably won’t know much about the prospect’s health, fitness, or training experience before you meet and start working together. Nor will you know a lot about what they’re looking to achieve.

So anything you plan is subject to change if they can’t do a movement, or if they’re more or less advanced than you anticipated. That’s on top of the everyday challenge of working around equipment availability in a crowded gym.

Keep in mind that your complimentary session doesn’t have to be a full workout. I like to give a prospect just enough to pique their interest. For example, I might take them through one or two rounds of a strength circuit—enough to work up a sweat and feel their muscles working. Then I end the session.

It’s better to give them a taste and leave them wanting more, rather than push them too far and make them wish for less.

The flow of the workout also matters. You want smooth transitions from one exercise to the next, especially for a client who’s older, heavier, or has injuries or movement limitations.

A simple way to organise your exercises is with an ascending or descending sequence. For example, you could go from a floor-based exercise to tall kneeling and then to standing. Or do the opposite—standing to tall kneeling to floor-based.

Finally, think about the training environment. If you know the prospect is an overweight female who’s never worked out before, you could plan to work out in a quieter area of your gym, where the client is less likely to feel self-conscious.

Conversely, if the prospect is a young male who wants to get bigger and stronger, you want to plant yourselves in the middle of the free-weight section, where he can get inspired by people doing what he’s most interested in.

Give yourself more time than you think you need

Learn from my mistake: Don’t sandwich a complimentary session between paying clients.

You need to give yourself at least 15 extra minutes at the end of the free session to answer the prospect’s questions and have a relaxed conversation about what training options work best for them.

What to do during the complimentary session

Let’s begin with the obvious: Don’t make a prospect do things they hate. Ask before the workout begins if any exercises cause pain or make them feel uncomfortable.

Don’t worry about why they hate running, or what underlying issues make their knees hurt when they do lunges. Just don’t have them run or do lunges.

The same applies to their goals. They may have completely unrealistic ideas about how fast they can lose weight or gain muscle, or how much work they’ll need to put in. Bite your lip and focus on getting them started in the right direction.

Once they commit to training with you and you establish some trust, you can gently work to reshape their goals and expectations.

Sell the benefits

Connect your program to the prospect’s goals throughout the session.

If the prospect wants to lose weight, for example, it’s not enough to say how your program will help them achieve it. Plant a vision in their mind of what life will be like with a lighter, leaner, stronger body: more energy, better sleep, healthier joints…

Make them feel welcome

The gym can be an intimidating place to a newbie. Just showing up for this complimentary session may have taken more courage than you can imagine. If you can make the gym a friendly, inviting place for someone who’s new to training, it’ll be a lot easier to make them comfortable with you as their trainer.

A couple of quick introductions can go a long way. When the opportunity presents itself, introduce them to a fellow trainer or a client who happens to be on the gym floor. Give them a sense of the gym’s culture and community and how easy it is to fit in.

Rise to the occasion

Now is the time to put your best self on display. Whatever you normally do for your clients, do that plus a little more. Make more eye contact, listen with more empathy, explain exercises with more clarity, move with more purpose and energy.

Resist the urge to think ahead and start formulating your sales pitch. The prospect’s experience with you right here, right now is what matters most.

Be the coach they never had

Keep your coaching cues clear and succinct, and don’t cue every rep, as this only reduces their impact.

When appropriate, use tactile cues to help the prospect set up for an exercise. Just ask for permission before you touch them (“Is it okay if I put my hand on your back to show where you should feel it?”). Then watch their body language to make sure they’re comfortable with it.

Don’t overdo it, though. Your prospect probably hasn’t had any hands-on coaching before, which means a couple of simple cues add a disproportionate amount of value.

Use downtime productively

A deconditioned prospect might need longer breaks between sets. That gives you an excellent opportunity to talk about your prospect’s lifestyle and diet, and show how the value of working with you goes beyond what you do together in the gym.

But don’t overload the prospect with information or advice. Modify your language to meet them where they are, and pay close attention to how they react. Too much talking can be counterproductive if it annoys or confuses them. And keep any strong opinions you have to a minimum. This isn’t the time or place to start an argument about the prospect’s nutrition beliefs.

How to close the sale after the complimentary session

You’ve gotten to the end of your complimentary session, and it’s crucial to go for the sale. If the thought of selling fills you with anxiety, you’re not alone. Even some experienced trainers dread this part of the process.

Think of it this way: You’ve been selling from the moment you first spoke to your prospect. You were selling during the workout, and you’re selling now. Asking the prospect to become your client is just the logical endpoint of what you’ve been doing all along.

Some clients will make it easy. They’ll either make it clear they have no interest in becoming a client, or they’ll ask how much you charge before you start your pitch.

Most often, though, you’ll have to guide them to the sale. Keep two things in mind:

  • The prospect expects a sales pitch.

  • The prospect has probably decided whether or not they want to train with you.

To get the client to reveal that decision, ask two straightforward questions:

1. “What did you think of the session? Did you enjoy it?”

2. “Would you like to continue training with me?”

If the responses are positive, you’re almost there. Move to an office or conference room where you can discuss training packages without interruption.

Prescribe, don’t sell

Think about your training service the way a doctor thinks about medicine. Most of the time, after examining the patient, you prescribe a solution.

You’ve spent the past hour listening to and observing the client. You’ve discussed their goals and training history. You’ve taken them through a sample of your training program, and drawn some conclusions about their fitness level and movement ability. Who better than you to prescribe the best training plan?

If you have a fixed fee for your training sessions, make a simple, direct proposal like this:

“Based on your goal of losing 10 kilos and reducing pain in your lower back, I recommend working out four times week—twice with me, and twice on your own, following a custom program I design for you. How does that sound?”

If you offer packages of training sessions, with a lower price per session for a longer commitment by the client, pitch that. Finish by asking,

“Which package would suit you best?”

Note the assumptive language. You’re not asking if the prospect would like to purchase training. You’re asking them to choose which one they prefer.

Once you make your proposal, stop talking. Don’t open your mouth again until your prospect responds.

What to do if the prospect objects

I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of one of these three common objections:

  • “I would love to continue with you, but I can’t afford it right now.”

  • “It’s just not a good time for me to make a commitment.”

  • “Thanks for your help, but I’ll have to think about it.”

Notice what the client didn’t say. They didn’t say no. They didn’t close the door. They’re asking for more time, more information, and more space to mull it over. If you throw the towel in as soon as the prospect objects, you’re probably giving up on a sale.

The most effective way to work around an objection, in my experience, is to isolate it, with the goal of discovering the true barrier to their decision.

If the objection is based on cost:

Begin with empathy:

“I completely understand. Personal training is a premium service, and it certainly isn’t an investment you can take lightly.”

But just because the prospect says it’s a money problem doesn’t mean that’s the whole story:

“Just to clarify, if we put the cost of training aside for a moment, and imagine it’s not an issue, would you continue with training?”

If they say yes, they would purchase training if not for the cost, you can offer a few more options. Keep in mind that the prospect wouldn’t be in the room with you if they have no discretionary funds. Your goal now is to figure out what they can afford.

Maybe they train with you once a week, or once every two weeks, and do the other workouts on their own. Or maybe they pay you for program design and instruction on how to do the exercises, but do all the workouts on their own.

The one option you don’t offer is a lower price. It’s a statement of your value, and it should only go up as you gain more experience.

If the objection is based on time:

As you did with cost, you need to find out if lack of time is a legitimate concern, or if it’s a smokescreen for something else. Ask a question like this:

“Just to clarify, if we put the issue of time training aside for a moment, did you enjoy the session, and do you think training with me would help you achieve your goals?”

If your prospect says yes, they would train with you if they had the time, ask a few questions to help you understand why they don’t think they have time to train, and how they might be able to make more room in their schedule.

Keep in mind, as you did with the cost objection, that the prospect wouldn’t be talking to you if they didn’t want to pursue some kind of training program. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to make it work.

If they say they need to think about it:

Begin with a simple question:

“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you need to think about?”

Maybe there’s another decision-maker they need to consult. Maybe they need to crunch some numbers to see what they can afford, or look at their calendar to figure out a training schedule. Ask when would be a good time to follow up, and leave it there.

Or maybe what they’re really saying is, “I have the time. I have the money. What I don’t have is confidence that what you offer is what I need to reach my goals.” In that case, ask what you can do to gain the client’s trust.

What if you don’t make the sale?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even the best trainers can’t sell their services to everyone who walks in the door. Here’s what you should do now:

  • Create a record of your prospect’s training goals and contact details.

  • Set a reminder in your calendar to follow up in six to eight weeks.

You aren’t sending them a new sales pitch every two months. Just send them something of value related to their goals, like a link to an interesting article or podcast. Make sure your email signature includes links to the social media you use most, like your Instagram page or a free Facebook group. Don’t expect anything in return, not even a response to the message.

Your goal is to show you’re thinking of them, and to ensure they’ll think of you when they’re ready to hire a trainer.

Who’s a more logical choice than the person who helps them reach their goals without getting paid for it?

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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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