Lesson 3 Know Your Enemy (Understanding the Fitness Industry, Part 4)

The Crucial Conversation

The following section is extremely important, and easy to breeze through without picking up on the many nuances of the lesson. It is therefore imperative that you go over it more than once to catch all the detail and let it germinate in your mind.

The professional sales staff or manager is usually trained in overcoming your basic objections. One is time. They will ask you how often you can commit to working out. I am tempted to give you perfect responses to these questions, but then they would be mine, and not yours. I do not suggest making up lies, because that is dishonest. Besides, if they are smart they will smell your dishonesty, and then you have no trust and hence no rapport, which you need. However, if it is true, you can respond by telling them you already workout quite a bit, X number of days per week and you are very happy doing what you do (either at a different club, or on your own). This will force them to unearth your reason for being there in order to convince you that they have a better way, or place, for you to work out. This is fine, of course, since it allows you to force them into price comparisons, which is more challenging for the salesperson. If your life is extremely busy, then tell them that. Tell them that you are unsure you will even have any time at all. They will then have to go back to the prioritization argument about your health. You can then agree that your health is important, and that you want to workout, but you are so worried about using the club at all that you need to get the least amount of access possible, and therefore the lowest possible price.

All of this is discussion to help you see how to work this conversation. A good salesman will look at everything as an opportunity to lead you to their offering. You have to become a salesperson too. You have to sell them on giving you exactly what you want for less than they thought possible. You have to get them to believe that there is a creative way to completely cave in and give you everything and more for free, without them having to lose face. At least, that is the mindset.

Everything eventually comes down to time and money. Now that you have them realizing you have no time, you are almost ready to work on the latter. First, however, you have to understand the sales process further. If they are using something like the intake form or Client Analysis Form, they will be gathering information about you for multiple purposes.

The first purpose was to gather your contact information in order to track and follow up with you. The second reason is to gather health information. The most important reason to a sales person, however, is to uncover your needs, wants, don’t wants, and your hot buttons, the crucial information that you will respond to and take action upon.

A harmless-sounding question like “Do you eat fast food and if so, how often?” may sound as if it is geared towards establishing your health trends, when in reality it is designed to plant seeds in your subconscious mind about your lack of self-control, your need for a professional to change, and most importantly, your wasteful use of money. After all, if you just cut out the fast food, you would have extra money to afford your membership, wouldn’t you? The sales person can sow these seeds into a conversation that will get you to part with your hard-earned money.

These questions, whether they are on some kind of a form, or in the form of a memorized script of thought patterns coming from the sales staff, can come in many forms. They are all geared towards your habits: fast food, restaurants, smoking, TV, job type (both to take a guess about your income, as well as if you are sedentary), all to find an argument to get you to pay for their club instead of paying for these other things. Used properly by a trained professional, they can be used to hit your “hot buttons” and uncover hidden objections that you aren’t stating as to why you wouldn’t sign up immediately.

Some very good fitness professionals may use what are sometimes referred to as “X-Factors”. These are strategic questions that are designed to get you to a point of red-hot desire to join the club today without thinking further and hopefully paying top-dollar. Be on the lookout for these questions (or variations on the themes):

  1. What physically are you interested in accomplishing?
  2. How long have you been thinking about getting back into shape?
  3. Have you ever been on an exercise or weight loss program? Or, for that matter, have you ever belonged to a fitness center?
  4. Is your spouse in favor of you being healthy? Has she/he ever encouraged you to start any kind of physical fitness program? Is your spouse active recreationally or does she/he do anything that helps her/him to stay in shape? Does she/he belong to a fitness center? How long has she/he belonged? Does she/he worry about your health?
  5. Do you work or live in the area and what do you do? Is your work active or sedentary?
  6. Do you have 2 to 3 hours per week to achieve your desired results?
  7. Once you get the physical results you are looking for are you interested in keeping them? Are you interested in permanent results?

The primary objective of these questions is to get you to a point where you won’t have objections to signing up immediately. Let’s look at these and analyze what is going on so that you can be prepared.

The first question is designed to get you talking about your specific fitness and health goals. Over 70% of surveyed people join to lose body fat, so they are mostly prepared for this particular answer. Regardless of your answer, they are going to take what you say and show how their program (weights, cardiovascular training, personal instruction, and supplements) is going to solve your problem. Only 10% of IHRSA polled participants join for increased muscle, 10% for sports-specific training goals, and 10% for health. You might want to use one of these reasons (as long as it is true for you) to throw them off their pattern. Another option here is to let them know you are still working on these goals, since there are so many directions you could go.

The second question about how long you have been thinking about it is to help you realize that you didn’t just stumble in to the club and decide to look. The average person has been thinking about it for 4-1/2 years. They are usually disgusted with themselves every time they look into the mirror, and that is what gets them to finally show up at the club. Not only is this question designed to increase your desire to start now, but it is also designed to show you that you have been procrastinating, and that if you don’t join today, you are still procrastinating, which is a painful thought you will want to avoid. If it is true for you, admit you have been thinking about it, but that you are really careful about which program you get involved in, since there are so many great deals out there and so many things that don’t work. You are shopping for the very best deal you can possibly get. Being honest about your skepticism helps to deflate the emotional environment the sales person is trying to create in order to get you started “right this instant.” The sales person is trying to avoid you ending the conversation with “I want to think about it.” Make sure you tell them your entire plan involves and requires you to “think about it.”

The third question about what exercise programs you have done in the past is designed to get you to admit that exercise is effective, regardless of where you might do it. The second part is to get you to open up about your past experience (good or bad) with gyms so that this one has a chance to show you how “this time” it will be better or different. If you were burned, they want a chance to convince you that you won’t be burned again. If this particular gym or sales person is any good, they will also be able to show you a program that is somehow unique and better than the competition. If they do, that is good, but don’t be fooled into paying more. You should treat it like an extra bonus you get at the same price as the competition. If not, then that is still good, since you can use their competition to beat them down on price even more.

The fourth area of questioning revolves around the spouse or significant other. The purpose of this one is extremely important for the sales professional. First, they are looking to find out if the spouse is already into fitness and whether or not the person sitting in front of the sales person is there of his or her own accord. The second is to find out if the spouse will support the buyer’s decision. The third is to find out if the spouse is already spending money elsewhere, which means that they are already committed to fitness and support your decision to join and/or might be turned into a member as well. The “spouse objection” is when you say: “I need to talk to my wife/husband before I do this.” It is the easiest excuse in your toolbox that most fitness sales professionals can’t handle, so use it as an escape key if you need. These questions are all designed to manipulate the conversation so that you don’t “need” to get their approval. If they already approve and you are a grown up, you should be able to make a decision on your own two feet about your health which is very personal, right?

One way that you might use this to your advantage is to get your spouse working on this little project with you. You have your spouse shop a different club with the same techniques. Then, if the sales person tries to overcome your spouse objection, you can simply tell them the truth: your spouse is at another club getting the necessary information for you both to make an informed decision. When you get a chance to sit down and go over everything, you will then make a decision together. This one is pretty tough for a sales person to overcome! It also puts them under some pressure to give you a smokin’ deal!

The fifth question is about where you work and what you do. They are looking to find out if you have any money, if you do something sedentary, and how much time you have. Even if you are unemployed, the gym still wants your money. If you don’t have a job it just means you have plenty of time! These questions are also to build rapport with you and to get to the root of your inactivity problems that the gym lifestyle can overcome. As compelling as all of this pro-fitness talk is, remember, you could always go take a walk, do some squats, push-ups and pull-ups, and never have to open your wallet!

The sixth question is about time. They are going to convince you that it only takes a little time, and if you are too busy for 2 to 3 hours of exercise per week, then you don’t really care about your health. Just tell them you understand this, and that you are planning to utilize your time wisely in the right program for you, that you are intent on researching well first.

The seventh question sounds ridiculous, but is very important to them. The reason they ask if you want permanent results and keeping in shape is that they want you to see it as the lifestyle change that it is, even though most people come in on “six weeks for $20”, etc., looking to get in shape really quick for a wedding or cruise. They are looking to see if you will sign up long-term or at least to make you a regular dues-paying member. It is also a great segue to personal training if they sell that too. One way to handle this is to reply that you want to make this a permanent lifestyle, and that you are excited about all the options available for you to do so in this growing industry, like all the other clubs, and all of the independent personal trainers, classes, YMCA, yoga classes, Pilates studios, boot camps, working out in the great outdoors with friends, sports, and the many other things you are planning to do to create a well-rounded fitness life. Remember, the gym is only one of your options out of many! If you convey this to them, then they will know you don’t need them and can move on if they don’t give you a great deal.

All of these questions are designed to get positive responses. Now, if you want to have fun with them, you could always tell them something like this:

Hi, I’m Bill. I don’t really care to get in shape because I think that all the science is bunk. I just started thinking about this for the first time of my life and it is just a funny whim to walk in here. In fact, I’m just lost and looking for the Laundromat. I was on an exercise program before that my militant father forced on me, and I got hurt and it was a terrible experience that I ended up paying through the nose for it and was lied to. I don’t think any of these programs work at all and frankly, I don’t even care. My spouse would freak if she knew I walked in here today because she hates all of these places and really doesn’t want me doing this exercise stuff since I might hurt myself and we don’t have insurance. In fact, we don’t have jobs and are behind on our bills and really need to keep the lights on and try to scrape together enough to buy groceries this month. Do you guys take food stamps? I have no time at all, since I have to go down to the unemployment line every day by bus and I put in a 12 to 16 hour day just getting there and back for no work, and I have to go home and help take care of 6 kids and 5 dogs. Finally, I don’t really care if I keep my results here, since it is all temporary anyway and I don’t care at all what I look like or even what I feel like, since I can just drink my worries away when someone feels kind enough to give me a bottle.

I do NOT recommend you tell lies just to be the worst prospect ever for the sales person. If you go in there with some line, they will smell it and just put you on their loony list. Like I said before, bad attitudes don’t get you any special deals, and lying is just as bad as far as this subject is concerned. Remember, the sales person needs to become your friend, so don’t bother lying. It is better just to be aware of the techniques and general structure of the sales presentation so that you can keep your emotions out of it and focus on your goal of saving lots of money while simultaneously getting the membership you want.

One of the best conversational places you can go to get leverage over the sales person, which helps eliminate many of their best laid plans, is to get to a “no money” situation. This is often the only objection that even the best fitness salespeople can’t handle. Again, we need to tread carefully here, since if you are a millionaire, you don’t want to be lying about being poor. Still, there are artful ways of getting the same result.

Start by finding a way to talk about all the bills you have to pay this month and embellish as much as possible. A good place to get to this is when talking about your job. If you cover in detail how much you are frustrated about property taxes for instance and the new tax on the cable bill, the sales person will likely cringe and forget all about their sales plan. They are going to be thinking all about the money, and that will give you a chance to get back on offense and ask them more questions about themselves, thereby putting the spotlight back on them. This will leave the impression that you are currently tight with your money (which is true), but doesn’t say you are broke or poor. Next, talk about how excited you are to get out of debt and that you created a great budget with your spouse that you have agreed to use to get out of debt finally and be free of financial worry (make sure this is true; check out Dave Ramsey programs if need be). Lastly, let the sales person know that you really aren’t sure this will fit in your budget and the price has to be really good to make it work. If not, you might have to sacrifice something else that is important to your spouse, which of course would require their approval, and you have already asked them to cut so much that this one more thing might put them over the top. If you are going to get out of there unscathed, this gym membership better be ridiculously low!

The “no money” situation helps you to establish your lack of funds, and forces the sales person to search for ways to help you… in the form of a lower price point. Simply by asking for a discount, you are going to get one nine times out of ten. If you ask in artful ways, you increase your chances significantly. Be their friend first, and then ask that friend for help in the form of special deals, waived fees, discounts, or promotions, whether they currently exist for others or not. They can always make an exception for you… just this once.

Finally, just as you would with anyone working the front desk, remember to make a friend. This person who is the “enemy” will drop all defenses if you become a friend. You are more likely to get what you want if they like you. The key is to ask questions and put the spotlight on the sales person. This is the key to the Crucial Conversation. The Crucial Conversation is the conversation you have with the most crucial person in the game, which is the decision maker that will get you your final deal. This person is likely to be a sales person or a manager that actually writes deals on paper for you. It’s the most crucial point in this process, because all of your efforts can be leveraged or destroyed based on your relationship and influence with them. You may end up having to talk to a sales manager for a final decision, but they are all the same in your eyes; just new friends that are going to give you a great deal… whether they like it or not.

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