There seems to be a never ending debate among personal trainers as to whether or not they should give complimentary sessions to prospective clients.
Listening to some of the concerns of fellow personal trainers, it is clear that many dislike the idea of ‘giving away’ their time to someone who isn’t a paying client.
Some of the reasons why some personal trainers dislike giving away complimentary sessions include:
- Giving away time for free devalues the time that we subsequently charge for.
- There is little benefit in giving a prospective client a complimentary session when trying to sell them personal training.
- Professionals such as doctors don’t give away their time for without charging, nor do restaurants allow you to try their food for free, so why should we?
While I am not unsympathetic to these views, as I certainly don’t think personal trainers should give away their time haphazardly, most of the arguments against giving away complimentary sessions are short-sighted and don’t consider the benefits that these sessions offer.
Additionally, it is foolish to compare personal training to seeing a doctor or eating at a restaurant. The comparison is false, as both are entirely different fields, and the social dynamic between patient/doctor and consumer/provider is very different.
Within a service industry—such as the industry we are part of—complimentary sessions, appraisals, consultations and quotes are common. They are an effective way to demonstrate in a hands-on way that we can coach a prospective client towards their desired goals. They help us to more easily persuade someone who is ‘on the fence’ that personal training is the solution to their needs.
Before we examine why complimentary sessions work so well for personal trainers, a caveat is required.
Complimentary sessions should only be given to prospective clients who have been pre-qualified. Before offering a complimentary session, you must determine, in your own mind, if the prospective client both suits your training program and you believe they have the time and finances to make the commitment.
It’s best to gather this information through a consultation or, at the very least, a conversation prior to taking the prospective client through a complimentary session. In this way, you avoid the position where you are presenting your services to someone who isn’t in the position to purchase.
Why they work so well
I believe that complimentary sessions can act as a bridge that allows us to demonstrate what we can offer to someone who may never have had a personal trainer before and may not know what the service involves. They allow us to demonstrate in a hands-on way how much value we can add to their program, results and overall fitness experience.
It is all well and good explaining the features and benefits of personal training to a prospective client, but actions speak louder than words. Taking someone through a complimentary session is an opportunity for them to touch, feel and sweat their way through a sample of your coaching. It enables them to feel the difference between the intensity and structure of a personal training session and a session of their own.
Building rapport with your prospect is another key element that will help you to effectively sell them your services. Complimentary sessions give you valuable time with a prospective client to help develop this relationship.
As previously mentioned, it is important to pre-qualify your prospect before offering a complimentary session. That said, the act of offering a complimentary session to a prospective client is a qualifying tool in itself. As you ask them if they would like to meet you for a complimentary session, be conscious of how they respond both verbally and non-verbally. If you are getting anything but a positive vibe, they may not be ready to make such a commitment.
During a complimentary session, you position yourself as a figure of authority in your relationship with the prospective client. Consumers are always more likely to purchase from someone who they like, trust and is in a position of authority—so walking your prospective client through a sample of your coaching is an opportunity to build a relationship with your prospect and demonstrate that you’re an expert in your field.
Complimentary sessions also help to develop a sense of reciprocity. When you offer your time and expertise without cost, your prospect is naturally going to be more likely to return the favour by being more open to discussing the idea of ongoing training with you.
I believe that giving away your time for free—in the form of a complimentary session—is an investment in the future. It’s certainly not a waste of time or a devaluation of our service as some seem to think.
I found several of my longest-serving clients on the gym floor, offering them a complimentary session as a way to prove to them that personal training was the solution to their needs. Considering that most of these clients are still with me 6–8 years later, I think the investment of free time has been a wise one.
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