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When someone walks into your gym, often intimidated and a bit confused about what they're looking for, what do you try to sell them?

Usually, the first questions out of someone's mouth are things like:

- How much does it cost?

- What time are the classes?

- Can I go to unlimited classes?

- What do you do in the classes?

Those questions are not where you should be focusing your attention if you're trying to offer a professional coaching service, make a real difference in people's lives, give coaches the chance to earn a professional wage and make a profit yourself—all the things we have learned most gym owners are after.

I was working out at a (non-Madlab) gym recently when I was out of town and overheard a brief conversation between a walk-in and a coach. It went like this:

- Coach: Hey, how's it going? Are you looking for some information?

- Prospect: Yeah, I drive by all the time and thought I'd check it out. How much does it cost to come here?

- Coach: It's $175 a month for unlimited classes and $125 for a twice a week membership.

- Prospect: Is there a class schedule somewhere?

- Coach hands him a pamphlet with the class schedule.

- Prospect: So I show up to a class?

- Coach: You have to do the fundamentals program first. We're starting one next week. You can sign up on our website. It's Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 pm for four weeks. After that, you can start coming to regular classes.

-  Prospect: Cool, I'll check out the website. Thanks, dude.

They shook hands and dispersed. Will that guy sign up and drop $350 on fundamentals? Maybe. But he might also end up at the gym down the street…

In the Madlab world, we call the above a short-term success gym. In other words, it's a group exercise facility that offers ten classes a day. It's usually marked by poor client retention because most people are there just for a workout and eventually get bored or injured. It also likely has poor coach retention because coaches work for $25 an hour to cheerlead during group classes and eventually realize they can't make a decent living coaching, so they leave to open their own gym or leave the industry altogether.

But the main challenge with the above business model is when all you're doing is selling a group exercise class, you are not offering a professional service. Your coaches are not health professionals, and your clients do not receive the care they need to get fit and stay fit for life.

So what should your first encounter with a prospect look like?

Tom Sarosi of Madlab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. said some of the first words out of his mouth are this:

"We are a coaching service. You're paying for a relationship with a professional coach, not a place to show up and work out. If you're looking for "just good sweaty workouts and feeling like you got hit by a truck," we're probably not the place for you."

It can be tricky for a gym owner to give the prospect a way out before they have committed to anything, especially if you're feeling desperate for new clients. But it puts you in the power position and piques the prospect's interest a little more to discover what your gym is all about.

From there, the relationship-building begins: Tom sits down with the prospect and asks a ton of questions about them, what they're looking for and why they're really there.

Remember, "I'm just looking to get fit" isn't why the 55-year-old woman is really there. She is there because her daughter told her last week that she didn't trust her to look after her granddaughter alone because she was too slow and didn't think she could chase after a two-year-old. That is the kind of pain you need to get out of the client to help put her on a path to a better life.

If you can get the client to trust you and become authentic and vulnerable, taking the next step—dropping $850 on one-on-one personal training—is a piece of cake!

Don't sell a workout: Sell a relationship and a solution to a real problem!

- Emily Beers

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