People buy trainers, not training. Whether you like it or not, you're in a business based on building relationships. Clients who feel a connection will remain your clients; those who don't will move on.
The following six rapport-building techniques come from Chet Holmes' fantastic book, The Ultimate Sales Machine. I've added 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 aren't the ones who know how to give advice. They're the ones who know how to ask the right questions. You often hear the phrase "the customer is always right," but anyone who's worked in a service business like personal training knows it's not true.
Ask a client what his goal is, and he'll probably mention his waistline, which he inevitably wants to shrink. He might even get specific about how he wants his abs to look, once they become visible.
But why does he want that impressive six-pack? Probably to get more sex, right? So the six-pack isn't the goal. What he really wants is to be more appealing to people he's attracted to.
My point is not that the secret reason for every trainee to exercise is to have better sex, even though 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.
Be a supporter. Clients might be in a bad state when they come into the gym.
I followed a five-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."
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 - Jonathan Goodman
5. Find 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.
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.