Common Presentation Pitfalls for Fitness Professionals By: Rich Fahmy
We all join the ranks of fitness professionals largely out of our “save the world one client at a time” mentality. Many of you might remember the first thoughts you had about becoming a trainer. Chances are sales were not a big part of it and all you ever wanted was a full schedule of clients to magically appear on your calendar. Then you can service the heck out of your client base, re-sign most of them, and roll on from there. Statements such as “I’m not a salesperson; I’m a trainer” and “I don’t sell; I get people results” can be heard ringing out throughout gyms across America.
Then reality quickly sets in – you realize that you’re not going to have much of a client base unless you have some sales skills. Then what? Work the floor? Sit down with prospects at complimentary assessments? Then questions come up, such as “How do you behave at those contact points?” and “What are your objectives when you sit down with someone?” These can be frustrating situations and are one of the big reasons trainers leave the industry; they can’t generate a large enough client load to earn a living.
Here is a wonderful truth of training: you need to have sales skills to succeed, but you don’t have to be the greasy, stereotypical “salesperson” that many of us associate with the word sales.
By sales skills, we don’t mean tactics that trick people, but just the know-how behind gathering needs and being able to demonstrate that you can meet them. Yes, you can still get to be the trainer that saves the world without being sales driven. From this point forward, sales must have a new meaning for you. It should now be seen as your desire to help the prospect in front of you realize the life-changing impact you can make.
Why the sales process is dysfunctional
There are two basic flaws with the common sales process that make it a challenge for many of us. First, you as the sales person do not want to lose the sale. Second, the prospect does not want to feel “sold.” That is, he or she doesn’t want to feel tricked into a purchase they are going to later regret. This sets up an atmosphere of self-preservation before any conversation even takes place. The prospect is reluctant to answer questions and elaborate on their responses, and we attempt to control the conversation to place things in our favor, often at the expense of developing a relationship. This disrupts the very important process of information gathering. Information gathering is the key to effective interaction with the folks you hope become clients.
You must learn important information about your prospects, not just weight and body composition, but their true reason for going to the gym. We often refer to this as “digging deeper.” The reason this is important is that if we can identify the true needs of the individual, we can then show him or her how we meet those needs as fitness professionals. This individualization of needs is what brings meaning to the conversation. When we can establish our services as being meaningful to the individual, then we build value. If we can build value, then prospects understand what you’re worth, what you’re asking, and will be more likely to become a client.
In short, gather important information; establish meaningful, individualized needs; show the prospect how you meet those exact needs as a fitness professional; build value in your services.
OK, on to the mistakes that we make. I’ve given each of these their own name and we’ll examine each one over the next few paragraphs:
- Loading the gun
- Listening for our response
- Fix, fix, fix
- Complex language
1. Loading the gun.
This one is very common, especially when we are new to selling. We use this method to bolster our case and gather some evidence to try and convince the prospect that they need us. The problem is that this technique actually backfires most of time because it gets in the way of gathering important information.
Here’s how it works: We ask questions that we generally know the answers to and we make a mental list of these answers to bring up later and build value in how we can “fix” them. For example, we often ask “How many meals do you eat in a day?” We all know the answer to this one; they’ll say one of two things: “I eat 1-2 meals and sometimes a snack; I usually skip breakfast and have a larger lunch or dinner.” Or the ever popular “I often have coffee for breakfast, skip lunch, and have big dinner.”
We ask the question that we already know the answer to so we can later in the presentation say “We’ll get you eating 5-6 meals a day to help you lose weight.” We feel like it builds value in our services so we load the gun with the question and fire our answer back. We get to appear knowledgeable and hope this aids in our case. Here’s the major flaw with this common error: we have no idea if this is even important to the clients. We directed the conversation with our loaded question, looking for our answer. See the problem here? It had nothing to do with their issues. Remember, we build value with meaning, and meaning is built by customizing your services to their needs. If meal frequency has nothing to do with their needs, you didn’t create meaning; you just told them something else that they are doing wrong and may have reduced your chances at a sale.
2. Listening for our response.
This one is a pretty basic error that we all make at all levels of expertise. When we are talking with our prospect, we aren’t truly listening. We are hearing what they are saying but our mind is forming our response at the same time. It looks like this: the prospect tells you “I would really like to lose 10 pounds by the time I go on my cruise in two weeks…” Your brain automatically says “I need to be sure and mention that realistic and healthful weight loss is really one to two pounds a week.” And meanwhile your prospect is still talking. When your internal dialogue does this, you stop listening.
This one has two problems with it. The first is that we could actually miss something important that the client has to say. So the prospect may follow up her unrealistic speed for weight loss with “I really want to look good for the cruise because I’ve never felt good in a bathing suit and have been self-conscious about my body since having my baby.” This is important, meaningful information; but since you were internally dialoging, you may have totally missed it. The other problem is that it can lead you straight to the next error: fix, fix, fix.
3. Fix, fix, fix.
This error is a verbal extension of pitfall number two. So not only would you think that “I need to be sure and mention that realistic and healthful weight loss is really one to two pounds a week,” but you would immediately blurt it out as soon as you had the opportunity. You are coming up with a solution to what you perceive to be a problem for the client. You may be solving something that is not a problem for the client at all. This again wastes valuable time and you build value in something that carries no personalized meaning to the client. It also may cut clients off as they relay the importance of their fitness goals to you, again interfering with effective listening. As fitness professionals, we are dying to help people, and we often are so excited to do so that we throw out solutions with the subtlety of a machine gun.
4. Complex language.
No matter how much we all know we do this, we still do it. It goes back to our passion for the knowledge that will help us change the world one client at a time. We are all sponges for good fitness information (that is why you are reading this article in the first place, right?) and sometimes our passion and excitement fools us into believing that everyone else must be just as excited about this stuff. This, unfortunately, isn’t always the case. We can trap ourselves using technical jargon that is way over the heads of our current and prospective clients. We must assume they know absolutely nothing about fitness unless they inform us of the contrary. Remember, some of the folks you talk to will get into a clearly marked seated row machine and attempt to perform chest presses on it (I’ve seen it more than I care to admit). We also must stick to their needs and how we meet those needs, not how the oxidative capacities of Type I versus Type II muscle fibers are going to impact their training (again, heard this more than I care to admit).
We often use technical language to sound like the expert and justify the fact that it says trainer on our uniform. While it may impress some people, most of the time it actually backfires on you. It may make them feel ignorant because the ease with which you speak about exercise leads them to feel like this must be common knowledge that they should know by now. When you assume they know what you’re talking about, and they don’t, they may feel intimidated and not ask questions in fear of looking foolish in front of you, the expert. This again gets in the way of, you guessed it, effective information gathering because they ask fewer questions, talk less, and want to get out of your session sooner.
Working on these errors
The first skill to improve upon is listening. I know it sounds unusual calling it a skill, but it really does take some developing to get right. For us to truly listen, we must turn off our internal dialogue completely. Our goal is to gather as much information as possible. So as much as we want to start presenting solutions, we just need to write down what we hear and keep gathering. When we feel we have assembled a complete and meaningful list of needs, it is then that we can properly respond to them.
We also need to gauge the quality of the information we gather. If we are asking questions to load the gun, then we are not getting quality stuff. When we present our services, this information doesn’t provide meaning and value. We need to get to the answers that are tied to their emotional reasoning behind being there: the real “why” behind losing 25 pounds, along with information that will help us motivate them and clue us in to designing the right program.
Next, we need to stay away from solutions while gathering information; don’t start telling them how you are going to design their program and what they are going to need to change until you have the right list of needs down. Remember that while all of your solutions are probably necessary to their program, they will not all be meaningful to your client. In a presentation setting, stick to meaningful items. To give you an idea of what I mean by meaningful solutions, I included some examples that build value through meaning versus ones that tend to establish you as the expert or load the gun. Now depending on the client’s needs, solutions may flip flop from meaningful to trivial and vice versa, but I tried to tie the meaningful solutions to more emotionally-centered needs.
| Topic || Necessary But Rarely Meaningful Solutions || Necessary And Meaningful Solutions |
| Cardio || |
We will establish a target heart rate zone for you to work out in to maximize your time on the treadmill
Cardio can help build endurance so you can make it up a flight of stairs without gasping for air and keep up with your grandchildren while playing tag
| Posture || |
Proper posture improves the recruitment of muscle groups during exercise
Proper posture may help you feel better about yourself immediately because you instantly look thinner and more confident
| Flexibility || |
The right program will achieve optimal length-tension relationships across muscle groups and lead to more coordinated motor function
The right program can help you achieve mobility to lead the active life you’ve always dreamed
With respect to technical language, assume they are starting from scratch when it comes to exercise and speak to them at the appropriate level. If you do need to use a technical term, always define it when you use it. And finally, just RELAX; they know you are the expert, that’s why they are in front of you.
I hope some of the tips included here are helpful. Good luck!
Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play
Franklin Covey Publishing; 1999