By Shannon Fable
It’s time to refresh the idea of the comp training session if you want to land long term personal training clients. You, and your prospective clients, have to explore the real value behind the free session, beyond just the try before you buy mentality.
Before you write me off completely, hear me out. While I’m not suggesting you completely eradicate all opportunities for potential clients to experience what you offer for free, I am suggesting you open your mind to other possibilities. Sure, you can continue to hand out ‘free session’ cards and trade one hour of your time for the potential to land a long-term client. Or, you could re-examine the best methods for self-promotion, save some time, and increase your likelihood of landing the business.
It’s important we start on the same page; the ‘comp’ session, for the purposes of this article, is the free session we usually dangle immediately following the sale of a club membership to expose the new member to training or the option we provide to potential clients that might want to hire us. Typically, the session is around an hour long and involves a discussion, goal setting, assessments, working out and a sales pitch. The desired outcome is landing a new client. Most trainers use the ‘comp’ session as the number one lead generator and live and die with try before you buy.
Why has this ‘best practice’ been passed down generation after generation? Look at other professionals trading a skilled service for money: hairdressers, physical therapists, massage therapists, or even babysitters. I doubt many would be willing to show you their best work with fingers crossed you’ll retain their services in the future after the ‘comp’ experience. How can they continue to book their services without the comp session while we believe it’s the only way we can get business?
You might think it’s because people don’t know what you can do; so, showing them will increase the likelihood they will buy. While that may be true, we need better strategies for gaining awareness. While some may buy at the end of the comp session, most people need more time because we all make purchases proportionate to the amount of trust we have in the product or the person. Doing more of the same comp sessions will not net you the results you desire. Instead, you need an awareness arsenal that helps you build trust and credibility over time. Let’s explore …
People’s Perceptions Are Reality
Providing an option for people to ‘try’ your service isn’t all bad. It can be part of your awareness campaign. But, comp sessions certainly won’t be beneficial if qualified prospects don’t show up. Why are so many no shows? We can blame this, in part, on the prospect’s perception. Whether she wants the information but fears being pressured into purchasing training sessions or she’s concerned she needs to be in shape before getting in front of you, showing up for a free workout can cause anxiety.
If you want to get more qualified prospects in front of you live, you will need to do two things to break through the perception pitfall:
- Provide less ‘risky’ options for exploring your services first, and
- Provide a better title and explanation for the initial session
I know it doesn’t seem risky to show up for a free session; but the prospect’s perception is reality. The time and effort it will take is ‘payment’ and the return on the investment is an unknown. Are there less ‘risky’ ways you could showcase your talent? You will need one to two ‘products’ or opportunities for those that say no to the initial session or those that no-show the initial session to increase your odds of booking the business. These should not require the prospect to meet with you live but, rather, be usable anywhere and at any time. The goal is to have options that lead people into your sales cycle by building trust and credibility just as slowly as they need!
A few ideas to start the brainstorming:
- a ‘jump start’ guide in PDF form that can be downloaded or printed and provided
- a YouTube series (or similar video service) dedicated to getting started at your club
- a podcast dedicated to setting yourself up for success with fitness
Be sure to exchange prospect information for the product (e.g., collect name and email, along with permission to stay in touch). Create 1 to 2 products that are non-invasive, but helpful and relevant. Finally, each product should lead the prospect to take the next step with you. You would then follow up with the prospect and try to get him to move to the next ‘level’ of your sales cycle which might be the live, free session. Continue this ‘dance’ until he buys sessions or, at the very least, agrees to show up for an initial session.
Progressing to a face-to-face session will be easier if the title and description resonate. Avoid simply calling this a free personal training session. The prospect’s perception of a personal training session is unique to his past experiences which may (or may not) be good for you! Not to mention, shouting from the rooftops that you give away free personal training devalues what you do. Give the session a name that can easily be distinguished as a separate ‘product’ that you offer, beyond your personal training sessions. Perhaps it’s a consultation, orientation, goal setting session, or fitness fundamentals session. Whatever name you choose, be specific about the length of the session, what the session entails, and the promised outcome.
For example, if you titled the session: Fitness Fundamentals Fifteen you could create a 15-minute mini-meet and greet that walks the prospect through the basic components of a well-rounded fitness program, orientation to the different products and programs in the gym that might tick those boxes, and provide a weekly calendar that you’ll fill out together to get the member started. Create a leave behind that reiterates what you discussed and follow up over the next week to see how the member is doing. This could be a step towards getting the prospect to purchase one session with you to create a program that fits in the fitness fundamentals structure. Notice how the next ‘ask’ wasn’t a 52-pack! More to come on that topic.
Know Your Worth
Once you do get someone to commit to a live, free session, it’s important to make the most of the opportunity. To increase the ROI (return on investment) for the time you spend giving away your services, you’ll want to keep two things in mind:
- Protect Your Time
First, you must get in front of the right people. Not everyone deserves the opportunity to get a face-to-face! By creating additional products and opportunities that come before the face-to-face (discussed above) you have a built-in filtration system. You’re more likely to get those that are more serious about enlisting professional help with a fitness program if they’ve had to act on one or two previous steps before opting in to see you versus offering your free session to anyone and everyone.
Developing a way to track your prospects and set reminders for needed follow ups will not only help your sales process, but also your client retention. And, if you can automate the delivery and follow-up associated with steps in your sales cycle, you will save even more time.
One additional way to protect your time with the live session is to simplify the process and build a template for the session, as well as the leave behind products that will keep you top of mind. The template should be easily customizable, but provide a framework so you need not start from scratch with each free session. Providing a customized experience doesn’t mean you need to make each interaction completely different.
- Prolong the Process
While we want you to protect your time initially, the path to landing long term clients may take a while. I often use the analogy of crock potting clients versus microwaving them. You might need to let some folks simmer! Remember, people buy based on perceived value. If they say no to the next step in your sales cycle (e.g., purchasing sessions after the ‘free’ teaser session), it isn’t the price that was wrong. They simply didn’t equate enough value compared to the price. You’ll need to keep ‘dancing’ with a keep in touch strategy to increase the value.
Provide a leave behind after the initial session that is meaningful and useful; your best work (e.g., a month’s worth of workouts, an accountability tracker). Then, continue to add value over time. Whether that is through additional workouts, ideas for scheduling, providing accountability or motivation, you should stay in touch with those you see live and offer your services (in different ways) when the time is right. Of course, you’re not going to keep up the frequency if the answer is always no and you’re not going to ask for the sale each time you reach out, but you should aim to build your database of potential clients and continue fishing in this pool. The secret is to continue building up the value they see in you so when they are ready, it’s you they call!
Diversify Your Portfolio
Even if you follow all the steps above, you might still fall short of your financial goals unless you diversify your portfolio in two ways:
- Self-Promotion Strategies
Relying on the sales team to pass new members on to you or hoping that your business card at the coffee shop will make the phone start ringing is mistake number one. There are six core self-promotion strategies you must investigate; three are mandatory and the other three are optional. The more you do (and do well), the more leads you will have coming through:
Networking – it’s important to network with potential clients, as well as with colleagues and adjacent professionals. Networking doesn’t have to be juggling appetizers and a wine glass at the local chamber event. It simply means, showing up in places where you need to know people and starting conversations.
Referrals – your current and former clients are a great source for leads. So are other fitness professionals and complementary service providers. You must ask for referrals, incentivize referrers, and follow up with all opportunities. It’s also important to reciprocate!
Direct Outreach – then, you start reaching out (consistently) to the folks you meet through networking, referrals, and any additional lead generating strategies you have and start providing value. Remember the one or two products you dreamed up that come before the live session? These are great direct outreach tools. But, you can also share what you know, who you know, and how you’re feeling through email, social media, phone or letters.
Optional (choose the one or ones you can be good at!)
Speaking – speak anywhere and everywhere; local businesses, schools, events, at the club, yoga studios; wherever your message can be repurposed and meaningful, go there. Once again, the products you created that lead to the live session can be leave behinds in exchange for collecting the information of the attendees.
Writing – much like speaking, do it wherever you can if you’re good at it. Start a blog, write a column for the local newspaper, industry publications, these provide you with more great content you can share with direct outreach strategies. Published work enhances your credibility and sets you up as a category authority.
Web – having a presence on the web can be as simple as a business page on social media platforms or as elaborate as a well-designed website. Whatever you choose, the goal is to use the platform to generate great content that draws people in and makes them want to leave their information for you to continue providing great content over time.
Finally, you must have more than one product to sell. Not only must you have a variety of price points (this is not the same as simply packaging the same product together in different ways and giving price breaks for volume or length of agreement), but you need to also have variety in delivery. Not everyone wants 1-on-1 attention, 60 minute sessions, or in club/live workouts. Not everyone wants to invest in your services long term (even though we know that’s what gets results). Get creative about how you package your services to meet the needs of the widest number of clients given their risk profile (financial and time), as well as their personality profiles.
The ‘comp’ session isn’t all that bad, it’s just in need of a refresh. It’s important to see the ‘free’ session as part of a bigger sales process that comes at the right time with the right title and description. Well-placed, well-designed free sessions can certainly help increase your business. But, continuing to simply provide free personal training sessions and try to sell someone at the conclusion will make it much tougher to build a sustainable career. Take each of these suggestions one at a time rather than trying to overhaul your entire process right off the bat. Then, over time, you’ll be able to rebuild your sales cycle from the ground up and find yourself with more business than you can handle!