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6 Ways to Establish Rapport With Your Clients

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

People buy trainers, not training — you’re in a relationship building business. Want more clients? Learn to build rapport using these 6 strategies…

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People buy trainers, not training — you’re in a relationship building business.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, rapport is “A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.”

One way to build rapport is to become the expert. You need to be more knowledgeable than other trainers and be able to communicate it. Essentially you have to follow my two rules to success:

1. Do a great job.

2. Make sure everybody knows about it.

But giving you advice to do a great job is pretty superficial. Here’s 6 ways to establish better rapport with your clients today. This list comes from Chet Holmes fantastic book, The Ultimate Sales Machine and I’ve altered each section with examples specific to personal training.

1. Ask Great Questions

I’ve spoken extensively about the importance of asking the right questions and not taking the client’s goals at face value. I’ll link some articles below for further reading.

The best coaches are not the ones who know how to give advice, they are the ones who know how to ask the right questions. So often we hear the phrase “the customer is always right” but frankly, it’s not true.

If you ask a client what his goal is, he might say to put on muscle. If he’s read a fitness magazine he might even adopt the lingo and say “to get a shredded six-pack”. But why does he want a shredded six-pack? Probably to get laid right? Well then getting laid is the goal, not the six-pack.

My point is not that the secret reason for every trainee to exercise is to have better sex although the science is pretty convincing:

My point is that you need to get deeper. In my 5 step selling system linked below I advise you to ask “why” a minimum of 3 times.

When building rapport it’s also important to use questions to make a connection and find common interests. The faster that you can make the relationship personal, the more successful you will be with that client.

Everybody loves to talk about themselves so with that in mind, here are some questions to ask:

“What brought you to the gym?” “What did you do for exercise before?” “Oh cool, how did you like it?”

Lastly, you want to include questions that allow you to transition into your sales proposition. A couple examples might be, “are you familiar with our gym?” “do you live in the area?”

The last major benefit of asking questions is that it keeps you in the control position. When a client starts asking you questions, the power shifts in the meeting. Don’t allow this to happen. If they ask you a question, maintain your composure, and ask them another question and allow them to speak.

Below are some related articles (click to open in a new window and read after):

Your Smat Goals are Stupid – Jonathan Goodman

Selling Personal Training in 5 Steps – Jonathan Goodman

2. Have a Sense of Humor

Why so serious?

Members of the gym would tell me that they knew that they had arrived the minute they walked in the door because they could hear my laugh. My clients worked hard, but we had a great time doing it.

It doesn’t even have to be in the gym, do a simple Google search for “best fitness jokes” and find a great one (or comic) and email it to your clients. Heck, send your clients the “fitness joke of the week”. Just make sure that the jokes that you send are actually funny.

Took me two seconds, but check out this gem from the Far Side

In my famous desk (article about it linked below) I kept toys. These were given to me by a client. Toys are cool and something to talk about, but too often another trainer would place them in a precarious position.

Coming back to your office to sign off on a session with a client and seeing Gumbi mounting Poki is always good for a laugh.

3. Commiserate

Be a supporter. Clients might be in a bad state when they come into the gym.

I followed a 5 minute rule in these cases. If I sensed that something was wrong with my client (which you can almost always tell), I’d ask them to join me in my office.

Rule #1 is not to discuss these matters on the gym floor.

Create a physical barrier in an office where you close the door behind you and ask them “what’s up?” and continue asking questions (don’t offer advice, it’s almost never your place). Once you feel as if they’ve finished venting a simple, “thanks for sharing that. Are you ready to train? We can leave this in the office.”

Give a big smile (and hug if appropriate, fist pound if not) and stand up and lead them out of the room closing the door behind you. Take them through a fun warm up and get training.

4. Be empathetic and care about them

I’m going to take the words directly from Chet here. “If you’re going to be interesting, be interested. If you want to be fascinating, be fascinated.”

“Maturity is when all of your mirrors turn into windows” – Anonymous (CLICK TO TWEET)

Take an avid interest in your client. Know what’s important to them. Know their family members names. Know what important events are coming up. Keep track of their hobbies, interests, and quirks.

When I trained clients I created a spreadsheet for keeping track of these details. It’s become very popular and is now used by 10,000+ trainers around the World. I urge you to read about it and implement it into your business immediately. Click the link below to open in a new window and read after.

Tracking Personal Training Clients [Please Steal My Worksheet] – Jonathan Goodman

5. Find the common ground

Finding a common interest either now or throughout your childhood could be the key to unlocking a bond. What music do you listen to, what are your favorite books, movies, sports teams, anything else?

I love to read and always made sure to “forget” that I left the book that I was currently reading on my desk. My taste is pretty eclectic and ranges from non-fiction marketing books to fiction to classic literature to comics.

One year I got 6 different gift cards from clients — all to the same book store. Books were something to talk about and we’d often take a minute to discuss what we were reading before or after the session. I had one client that I traded books with for over a year. We had such similar taste that we both simply gave the other one a book when we finished if it was good.

Another client of mine loved to eat out in restaurants and is a big red meat eater. Well one day I invited him to have lunch after the session at a deli down the street. We would tell each other about great smokehouses that we found and still meet up for dinner every couple of months.

6. Mirror

In my book Ignite the Fire I speak about the importance of isopraxism, or mirroring.

When a client stands, you stand. When they kneel, you kneel. If they speak softly, so do you. If they are sitting on a bench after a set and you want to speak with them, pull up a ball and sit beside them — don’t speak down from a standing position.

Aside from it being respectful, we’re a herding species. Matching body language and tonality to somebody else creates a connection and a subconscious affinity for one another.

Want to increase referrals and retention? Work on establishing rapport. There’s no point in trying to get more clients unless you already know how to treat your current ones.


About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is the creator and head coach of the PTDC and has a distaste for third person bios ... Hey, I'm Jon and I'd have to say that this site is pretty awesome. Thanks for being here. If you're interested in my brand new book, it's called Ignite the Fire (revised, updated, and expanded). My team and I have also created the first Academy and certification for online trainers. Click here to check out the Online Trainer Academy.