elitefts™ Sunday edition

Selling Timmy

In my last article, I went through in great detail why so many piss-poor trainers in commercial gyms are making bank, while the minority of great ones are often left fighting for the scraps.

This time, I’d like to go into even more detail about how personal training is typically sold…the good, the bad and the ugly. Just to be clear, I'm approaching this topic completely devoid of agenda. I'm not making a case for or against the methods described below, so take from it what you will.

If you're a good trainer who's having trouble selling your services, hopefully you'll pick up a trick or two that will steer clients towards your services instead of one of the many jokers walking around in “Trainer” t-shirts. If you or someone you know is considering getting a trainer, the information below can help you prevent getting taken advantage of.

While sales processes vary among fitness companies, there are way more commonalities than differences.

Lead Generation

A personal training department is essentially a business within a business. Without some form of lead generation, no sales-based business will survive. In the case of personal training, the vast majority of your prospective clients do not know they need your services, and would be perfectly happy chugging along on their recumbent bike for a half hour at a time, three days a week.

The likelihood of a member actually approaching a trainer with cash in hand is relatively low. Sure, it happens from time to time, but most clients will need to be “sold.”

This means that leads are the lifeblood of a personal training business. Now, to be clear, lead generation is only the start. A trainer/gym might generate tons of leads, but they are wasted unless said trainer can close the deal.

The three most common lead generation techniques are:

  1. Complimentary training sessions. These can be either a free training session, a fitness evaluation, or in some cases, both. The trainer (or manager) will be expected to close the deal upon completion of the free service.
  2. Approaching the member on the floor, often called a “floor pull.” In this case, the trainer will approach a member on the floor with a correction or suggestion. If the member is receptive, most trainers will offer an impromptu complementary workout. If all goes well, this workout will lead into a close. If the member is hesitant and you don’t want to push, the trainer can always schedule them for an “official” comp session and get another shot. 
  3. Point of sale. Some companies will work the PT manager into the sales process, so that as little time and momentum is wasted as possible. A competent PT manager will get the complementary sessions scheduled before the ink on the membership is dry. A more ambitious one will try to close the deal on the spot. The sooner, the better, otherwise they run the chance of the member losing interest and disappearing.

Typical Sales Techniques

The following is a list of sales techniques commonly used to sell personal training. Most of them are common techniques used by salespeople of all types, but I will be presenting them in the context of fitness sales.

Assuming the sale.

If you’ve ever sat in front of a personal trainer or fitness manager while they were delivering their rap, you may have noticed that they tend to speak as if you’ve already signed with them. They’ll talk, sometimes in detail about the process that they will (and it’s always “WILL,” never “may” or “might” take you through to accomplish your goal.

This is not an accident, nor is it over-confidence. What the salesperson is doing (and regardless of their job title, you’d better believe that they are a salesperson) is getting you used to the idea of working with them, as if this is just the normal process. This makes it much more comfortable for you to say “yes” at the end of the pitch than “no.” If they do it well, combined with some of the tricks below, you won’t even get the opportunity to say no.

“Hot” Buttons

Whenever a trainer is discussing your goals with you, they’ll always (if they know what they’re doing) ask you how you decided on this goal, and what motivated you to want to achieve it. They will tell you that it’s to help them design an appropriate program.


If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, it really doesn’t make any difference what your motivation is. Your motivation will not affect the laws of biochemistry or determine how to program you.

What they are looking for is your “hot” button. This is a term we use for a reference that will elicit a strong emotional response. For example, maybe the prospect has a vacation coming up and wants to look their best. Maybe they’re recently single and re-entering the dating pool. Maybe their doctor just told them that they need to lose weight or they will not see their kids graduate.

Once the trainer has this deeper motivation, they'll bring it up repeatedly over the course of the session. It might sound like they’re just trying to motivate you, but what they are really doing is getting you to associate personal training with these deeply important, deeply personal wants and needs.

Throughout the session, they will continue to refer to (or “push”) these hot buttons with statements like “high intensity intervals like this will get you into amazing shape for your wedding!”

When the time comes to close the deal, you're no longer saying yes or no to the trainer. If this technique is used properly, you are basically saying yes or no to achieving happiness.

Remember that next time you are spilling your guts to a 23-year-old stranger in an Under-Armor t-shirt.

“Yes” Questions

Sales people are big on positive language, and with good reason. If over the course of the session/pitch they can get you into the habit of saying “yes,” you'll be more likely to say “yes” when it counts.

They’ll do this by asking you questions to which they know you will answer “yes.” They will do this over and over, making sure to associate the "yes" with your “hot” button. For example:

“Can you see why these intervals will get you ready for your wedding faster than low intensity cardio?”

They will also combine “yes" questions with assuming the sale. For example:

“Do you see why wokring together will be more effective than trying to figure it out on your own?”

Folder Closing

One of the obstacles we trainers face during a sales pitch is the fact that we do not have a physical product to sell. As a client, you’re basically buying on faith that we’ll do our job properly.

Say what you want about car salesmen, but no matter how full of shit you think a car salesman is, at least you know you’ll get a damn car out of the deal!

The folder close is a technique we sometimes use to give a physical dimension to the service we’re selling. It works best when we are able to pre-screen the prospect and we have some idea of their goals and abilities.

Basically, before the complimentary session, the trainer writes out a 4-6 week program in advance. They’ll make a point of showing the client all the work they’ve done, and then take the prospect through the first day.

Upon completion of the session, the program goes into a folder or envelope. Now the trainer has a physical product to sell. If you’re ready to commit to personal training, you can have the program, and go through it together with your trainer. If you decide to pass, you don’t get the trainer OR the program.

Prospects occasionally get upset at this one, but it does drive home the point that the trainers time AND programming abilities are valuable. 

Option Closing

A good sales person will NEVER ask a question that might result in a “no.” So rather than ask you IF you're willing to buy, they will ask you, “Which option would suit you≤  ,best?” This approach makes it harder to answer “no” because this was not a “yes” or “no” question.

Additionally, it forces you to actually think for a moment about which option would work, rather than if you want it at all. Even if you give a weak answer like, “Well, IF I was interested I’d probably go with option B,” you still indicated to the salesperson which option they should zero in on.

Combined with a lot of yes questions leading up to the close, the option close can be surprisingly powerful. 

Do all trainers use these tricks at all times? No. In fact, I’ll bet that most of the trainers featured on this site can be more selective about their clientele, and wouldn’t bother. But you’d better believe that the average Joe (or Timmy) roaming the floors of your neighborhood big box club, is going to pull every trick out of the bag when there’s money on the table.

As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, I’m not here to offer my opinion on this process. I’m just the dude telling you how it is.

Depending on who you are, hopefully you can use this information to be either a more successful trainer, or a more informed consumer.

Until next time…