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Okay, so… most of this was a reply to a reader who’d found out I’d worked at a gym and wanted to know what I thought about being a personal trainer as a side hustle. I got long-winded, strolled down memory lane a bit. I don’t know, you might get a kick out of it.

Between the ages of 21 and 32, I was at the gym about 5 days a week. I worked at [Fake Gym Name] for a while, but I was a membership salesman. I spent a lot of time with personal trainers, worked out with them a lot, learned a ton from them… but I never was one myself.

That was over a decade ago.  At the time, personal training as a side hustle would have been a tough gig. To make a living, it required a full-time commitment. You had to be filling 6-8 hours of your day with clients and spending the time you weren’t training them getting more clients.

It was a hard time for that sort of thing, the economy had just crapped its pants (which, you know… it’s probably about to do again) and a personal trainer was looking for a person who (1) was motivated about their fitness (2) had a lot of expendable income (3) was coachable.

The third one is more important than it seems. If they don’t listen to you on things like diet, they don’t get the results they want. If they spend a lot of money not getting the results they want, you don’t get referrals, and they don’t buy more training sessions.

All that said, I was the best at selling personal training packages to folks who’d come in to buy a gym membership. I’m bragging a bit, but I’m not being hyperbolic, [Fake Gym Name] actually awarded me a trophy for this. It’s this ridiculous (but also kinda awesome) glass pillar that says: “Life Changer”.  

Back then, the secret to selling the personal training packages was…

Okay, you probably weren’t expecting a story but, whatever, buckle in, here we go…

[Fake Gym] kept trying to get me to teach other salesmen how to increase the number of personal training packages they were able to sell as add-ons when someone came in for a gym membership. I confess to playing dumb, pretending it wasn’t teachable, that I must have just had the right charisma. I don’t think they were fooled because… well… no one will ever accuse me of having ‘charisma’.

Occasionally, my managers would do a “training” exercise where they’d have me do a mock tour/pitch. Basically, show them around the facilities as though they were a customer. They’d tell me they just want to sharpen my craft. Course, the other salesmen didn’t seem to get these pop quiz tours as often … So… I generally left out any of my ‘how to sell personal training’ methodology when this happened.

Well, that and I wasn’t selling the personal training the way [Fake Gym Name] wanted it done, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

What you must understand–It was a terrible job if you actually had to “do it” the way they expected you to. Lots of cold calls, lead generation… that sort of thing. Not my wheelhouse. I got away with a lot of laziness because I’d found a way to make myself somewhat indispensable selling the personal training and I didn’t want to lose that by teaching everyone how to do it. I had just graduated from college. I had a degree in molecular biology, and I was looking for a job at a lab. The gym was keeping me employed until an opportunity came along… but you know how it goes with employers… One must maintain the illusion that gym sales was the career I was passionate about.

Actually, I eventually had to confess that I was looking for another job to one of my managers. He wanted to promote me and the only thing worse than the job I had was the next step up (more cold calls, more lead generation, more coaching of the other salesmen, more getting yelled at for not meeting corporate sales expectations… not much more money). I ended up turning the promotion down.

I’m going off on too many tangents…

The formula for selling Personal Training was three things:

(1) I worked out every day, so I “looked” like I knew what I was talking about.

(2) I’d always slip in a mention of my degree. Early on I picked up a change in customers if they realized I wasn’t some stereotypical gym d-bag from an 80’s movie. They also kind of flipped a switch in their thinking, started assuming that a molecular biology degree informed my physical fitness knowledge (which was like 7% true, mostly… BS)

Now, once establishing yourself as an intelligent authority on the topic, who ‘looked’ the part…

(3) Sell personal training as an educational decision.

Remember how I said I wasn’t pitching personal training the way [Fake Gym Name] wanted me to? Well, that’s because they wanted it to be pitched as something you keep coming back for again and again. It’s a terrible angle. “You can keep paying us for personal training indefinitely, sound great or what?”

People just saw a never-ending bill and personal training isn’t cheap. Remember 2008, economy bad… etc

I would sell it by saying that if they spent 5 sessions with a personal trainer, they would learn the things they needed to know about getting results that eluded them in the past. How to make a workout plan, how to build their diet around it, how to rotate their targeted muscle groups blah blah blah. The reason this is effective is because we’ve all had the experience of deciding it’s time to get in shape, not getting any traction, and quitting. I was basically telling them that a lack of education was what kept that cycle repeating itself.

I had a whole speech describing what it would look like if they came to the gym with no idea what they were doing… it was very accurate speech, because I spent 8 hours a day at a gym watching people who didn’t have a clue what they were doing.

Thing is, this worked for me because I “wasn’t” lying to them. [Fake Gym Name] was happy to have me lie to make sales at the time, but I’m transparent as hell when I try to lie. Basically, (1) it really does help to have a personal trainer build a personal training regimen for you (2) you do learn a ton from them.

See if you aren’t a sociopath, it’s hard to sell someone something you don’t believe in yourself, but I had no reservations about the paragraph above, so I could be persuasive about it.

Back to the point, I wasn’t supposed to sell PT as a thing the customer thought they weren’t going to need more of. See, that’s the other thing, I almost never tried to sell more than a 5-session package. Because I knew that just repeating the exercises you did with a Personal Trainer over 5 training sessions would be a launch pad for most people that would get them through the hardest part of getting started at the gym.

That said, lots of personal trainers were able to sell those clients additional training packages even after I did this, for the obvious reasons… a coach makes it easier…

Confessions of A Gym Membership Salesman

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