Stop asking clients how they want to look. We have limited control over that. Instead, ask them how they want to feel.

This starts on day one with a technique known as motivational interviewing (MI).

MI is a technique used by counselors, social workers, and other health care providers to elicit "change talk" in their clients. Change talk is about getting clients to identify behaviors they need and/or want to change, as well as assessing their readiness for change. The process has four steps, known as OARS: Open-ended questions, Affirmations, Reflective listening and Summaries.

For clients who come to us because they want to change, the size-four bikini body is likely the only way they know how to define their goal due to society's expectations. We need to find out if their goal is a memory or a dream for them and what feelings surround it. Do they want to feel beautiful, confident, sexy, and strong? It's not just about the look.

For clients who come to us because they need to change, we must practice tough love. Despite the need, the client may not want to change. But if we can discover how the client wants to feel, feelings will sell much better than facts.

One of the greatest lessons I learned while working on a political campaign is that it's much easier to change someone's acceptance of facts than it is to change their feelings about an issue they care about. Additionally, it's important to define yourself before someone else defines you.

In today's world of mass media consumption, it's easy to put yourself in a perceived box. Personal trainers are educators. You're only as good at teaching as that which is understood by the student.

New science on macronutrients and cardio intervals is published daily. Feelings of happiness, confidence, and significance are felt for a lifetime, and it's our job to capitalize on those feelings.

Trainers need to do a better job of meeting clients where they need to be met. Too often, trainers ask if the goal is to lose fat, gain muscle, or get stronger. Sometimes it's just about feeling better, sleeping better and keeping up with the kids. The greatest gift of personal training is changing lives.

If someone wants to change how they look on the outside, they can grab a magazine, lift some weights, buy new clothes, put on makeup and do their hair. But if they want to change their lives, how they feel about themselves and the world, it takes a team. Changing how a client feels cannot be achieved by following a magazine workout or by fumbling through a circuit. Helping the client understand that on day one is the key to a successful and sustainable relationship.

Using the OARS method, as well as applications listed below, personal trainers need to move the conversations forward. The goal at the end of the first session is to achieve a commitment. Too often trainers get stuck in a lateral shuffle of questions around "How did you get to be 50 pounds overweight?"

Although this information is important, trainers can move the conversation forward by asking,

"What actions can you start to take today to feel happier and more confident?"

With that, here are...

...5 Steps to Closing Sales for Personal Trainers

1. Refine your critical thinking skills and assess those skills when interviewing trainers to join your team.

The future of fitness professionals is much more than a certification or exercise science degree. The successful trainer is a leader who can influence change in clients' lives. Read daily, ask your clients for feedback, listen, and continuously adapt the training program to the client.

2. Move away from PAR-Q scripts and sales presentations.

Being overly concerned with a script results in thinking more about what question is next than actually listening to the answer to the first question. Instead, spend 10 minutes asking nothing but open-ended questions, questions that don't end in a yes or no, with a partner or small group. Follow up each answer with an affirmation to be sure the answer is understood by all parties.

Here are some examples of open-ended questions:

  • What's your goal?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • What obstacles have you faced in the past?
  • How will you feel, six months from now, if you achieve your goal?
  • How will you fell, six months from now, if you don't achieve your goal?
  • How can I help you?
  • Where do we go from here?

3. Talk less and listen more.

Even when the client pauses, don't feel the need to fill in the silence. Practice this with a partner and don't speak for five minutes after you ask a question. Debrief how you both felt about the experience. Often, the speaker is relieved to have the uninterrupted time to speak his or her thoughts aloud.

4. Dig deeper three times before moving on to the next question.

For example, if a client says he doesn't have time to exercise, your follow-up questions may go like this: "I understand you're busy, so what made this appointment important enough for you to come?" Wait for client's response. "Great, what other steps can you take today to make more time for exercise?" Wait for client response. "How much time are you willing to dedicate each week to feeling healthier and more energetic?" By the end, you've achieved a commitment.

5. Repeat commitments back to your client throughout the consultation.

You want to see your client nodding in agreement as you summarize answers in building the next question and gaining the next commitment. Refer back to clients' commitments frequently throughout subsequent training sessions.

For general population clients, as opposed to sports performance clients, you're being hired for your ability to influence behaviors as much as your ability to prescribe an exercise program.

Follow the process of open-ended questions, affirmations, reflection listening, and summaries in order to continue to assess readiness for change and to progress your clients to larger commitments.

By allowing your clients to take some ownership of their commitments, you increase the likelihood of sustaining them for a lifetime.