Skip to main content

In a disruptive health club environment, is the traditional sales process broken?



Maintaining sales in the fitness industry is a difficult task. We're not selling wine, holidays, or tangible products that can be consumed pleasurably or enjoyed immediately. In many cases, these sales require our members to change their habits and commit to a healthy lifestyle. But members can get results from anywhere, they can go for a run, a bike ride or work out at home, but many people don't. They simply lack the motivation. When they come to you, they may seek specific results, a new environment or better facilities to train in. They're primarily coming to you in need of real motivation and in many cases, they're expecting you to provide that something extra to gain loyalty.

So, what is the typical sales process like for a prospect? A casual membership consultant will ask some standard questions, conduct a quick club tour, and offer the member a deal. The reality is this strategy doesn't work for clubs as well as it used to. Consumer buying behaviour has changed dramatically over the last 5 years due to the online environment, mobile applications, and the demands of millennials, who now make up 50% of your potential members.

First we need to understand that today's consumers are different, so we can adapt.

1: Your prospects are shopping you online:

Clubs tell us that walk-ins are declining. This doesn't mean people aren't interested, instead, members are doing their shopping in a different way. A new study from Deloitte showed that 9 out of 10 shoppers do their research online. People have more choice and less time these days, so travelling to each club to find the right one isn't a practical option. They will venture online, check program offerings, read reviews, and also search for prices before they call or walk in to meet you.

Things to consider:

When is the last time you updated your website? Is it easy to navigate? Have you done a Google search on your club? Are your program offerings and timetable easy to read and print so members can easily plan their workouts? What is your social media presence like? Are you adding more value to your members through your website and social media platforms? What are people saying about you? If you read negative comments, do you respond, showing that you care about rectifying any problems?

Your online presence is so important these days, and with small changes you could see a big difference in enquiries.

2: Your prospects don't want a hard sell, and rely on your expertise:

If your sales team doesn't know the product, your prospects won't feel confident buying. Your sales team may be overly focused on up-selling, not necessarily communicating the value that you truly provide. You may have high turnover in Member Consultant roles and therefore not prioritise staff training. There generally is high turnover in the role, but many other industries have the same issue, but staff are constantly upskilling. The restaurant industry is a great example. Servers turn over all the time but still require thorough product knowledge before they start. They try most menu items, can describe them to guests, know the ingredients, options for allergies, and even which wines and beverages to pair. If diners receive subpar service at a restaurant, they rarely go back and will tell friends and family about their experience. The gym industry isn't any different. You may have the best classes and PTs but if front line staff don’t know the product, and have an attentive and friendly approach, you will probably miss sales. This is one of the strengths of boutique clubs like Soul Cycle and F45. Everyone knows the programs and sell with passion. The largest health club chain in Thailand has gotten rid of the tradition MC model and now have wellness coaches selling memberships and even working out with their prospects before asking for the sale. The results have seen membership and revenue growth over 3 years.

Things to consider:

What information and training am I providing to my front line staff to ensure they are knowledgeable about our products and services? Have our front line staff tried our programs or at least spoken to our Instructors and PTs? If your front line staff can't speak knowledgeably about programs, who is available on the gym floor, studio, creche, or pool that can help sell? Have you considered using an exercise calendar to program workouts for your prospects before asking for the sale?

3: Your prospects want a place to belong:

Traditional marketing messages in the gym industry tend to be all about membership prices. This is irrelevant to people out there who know they need to get moving and take control of their health, but don't enjoy exercise due to a bad experience or not discovering activities they enjoy. Advertising your price doesn't attract these potential members. Advertising calls to action like '$0 joining fee, 1st month free, only $10 a week' only appeal to a select few. We need to remember that the industry is highly competitive, and there will always be someone cheaper than you, and also clubs charging much more that are full.

Prospects will be drawn to you if they resonate with your story. If they believe in your 'WHY'. If you haven't watched Simon Sinek's “Start with Why” TED talk, I highly recommend it. Communicating WHY you are in the industry, followed by what and how, is an effective way to attract people to your business. People will be drawn to your club if they feel like they will fit in, meet friends and share common interests. If you look at the success of boutique clubs, they have become the new places to go out and be seen. Instead of friends catching up for drinks, they're going to Soul Cycle, Hot Yoga, or Orange Theory. Why not advertise that culture in your messaging and attract people who want to be part of your community?

Things to consider:

Stop advertising based on price. Determine what your story and point of difference is. Why should a member join you over the competitor and what difference can you make in their lives?

As consumers needs continue to shift, so shall the need to adapt your sales and service processes. What will always stay the same in sales is that prospective customers have wants and needs. If you can identify, adapt and meet those quicker and better than those around you, memberships are bound to grow.


Miriam Cohen Regional Account Manager (VIC & SA)