How you onboard a new member is absolutely crucial to the long-term success not only of that member, but also of your facility.
Too often, owners and operators focus on the sale and then assume the member will be OK if left to their own devices. Either that or they try to channel the new member into personal training.
But the member won’t be OK in either of those scenarios. They need support in getting started, and pushing them into personal training as the only way of getting this support is a flawed strategy — one that assumes personal training is a retention tool, where actually it’s an attrition tool. You’re pushing new members towards a service that ultimately fewer than 10 or 15 percent are likely to continue with. And if that’s their only point of contact with the club, what happens when they decide they don’t want to do personal training anymore? Simple: they leave the facility altogether.
Meanwhile, if you have a proper onboarding process, you create a culture where your staff actually want members to fall in love with fitness. The focus is shifted away from sales and toward building relationships — and relationships are what keep members loyal, happy and exercising regularly. If you invest in relationships, all the rest will follow.
Are you ready to make a change to your acquisition and onboarding strategy? Here are 5 tips to help you prepare:
One: Hire people who are relationship-driven and genuinely like others. You don’t have to employ instructors and personal trainers who look “normal” — looks and age don’t matter, provided your staff knows how to speak to people and build relationships. They also need to have a great fitness story themselves — one that helps them understand how hard it can be to get started. So how did they come to exercise? What’s their story? Who do they know who exercise has really helped? These are the questions you need to ask when you interview potential new instructors and personal trainers
Two: One of the key reasons members leave their facility is because they started badly, with a negative first experience. So how can you make sure they have a positive first experience?
First, don’t push personal training at the point of sale. Second, don’t put the new member through a punishing first workout. Encourage them to take one step at a time — suggest they do only the first few exercises of a group exercise class, for example — so they feel good about the experience rather than being put off forever. Talented and educated instructors should know how to express to new participants that its OK to leave and continue to build over subsequent workouts.
In fact, encouraging them to try group exercise generally is a great place to start. It’s an environment where people can handle the early days of exercise, because it’s more fun. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing where people are both physically and mentally and meeting them there.
Three: Take time to really understand why the member is joining. By this, I don’t just mean finding out their weight loss (or other) goals. You need to understand why they want to lose weight. Not only that, but why are they joining today? What has been the tipping point — the event that has caused this sudden determination to act? It’s also important to establish how many times they’ve tried to reach this goal before, and at how many facilities. If the answer is “lots of times,” you’ll need to discuss what they’ve done before — and then make sure you’re helping them do it differently this time.
Four: Sales people aren’t natural relationship-builders, and if you try and make them fill this role, they won’t be as effective in their sales role. Accept that sales people sell. You need someone else — preferably instructors — to take the member journey on from here. What the sales person should commit to, however, is ensuring they give the new member a great handover to an instructor. This should be the sales person’s role in the onboarding process. That would ideally involve asking a few leading questions to set the stage, which takes us on to my next tip.
Five: Sales people can set the member up for success by putting the right thoughts in their mind. Using elements of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) when they discuss the member’s first few weeks, suggesting an accepted norm to gently steer behavior can encourage the new member to do all the things we know play a key role in establishing an exercise habit.
For example, you might try:
- “Most people find it helpful to talk with an instructor to create a personal program when they first start out at the gym.”
- “Most people try lots of different things in the two weeks, to see what they like best.”
- “Most people find it easier to get into a routine if they have a friend to train with for the first little while.”
That final comment can even be followed up with: “Would you like me to arrange a free seven-day pass for one of your friends?” But then you must stop selling! This is an opportunity to give the new member a great start. It isn’t an opportunity for the sales person to make another sale.