How To Have Better Client Consultations

I recently brought on an intern to our coaching roster and, similar to many of my hires over the last few years, Nick came from the Exercise Physiology program at Kent State University.

To date, I’ve had some really great experiences with all of the students who have come over to help me and, thus far, all of them have become paid coaches beyond their intern experience.

Nick and I were having breakfast the other day and I was asking him about his studies. He plans to graduate later this year and, in addition to interning with us, he’s working at a box gym in the area where he has the ability to build clientele of his own.

As part of that onboarding process, I was curious what type of training they had given him to help him grow that clientele. He said that there was little to no training in that regard. As a result, he was basically winging it when it came to building his roster.

I thought back to what client consultations have looked like for me over the years and how things have evolved. Much of what I’m sharing with you today (as fellow coaches) I was also discussing with Nick in efforts to help him be successful with client consults too.

While I am certain there are always things I could improve on, I’ve found a general system that has worked well for me in not only “closing sales” but developing rapport and helping to forge a path for client success should the client elect to get started with us.

Most of this will apply to in-person trainers but my fellow online coaches may find some insight they could swipe for their own uses.

I’ll refer to the client as PC (potential client) moving forward since, for the purposes of this article, there is no guarantee they will join as members.

Pre-Consultation Expectations

Depending on how a PC has found me (Facebook, Instagram, Website, Email, Client Word Of Mouth), I am normally contacted first by them. They could be inquiring about prices, the layout of the sessions and possibly their own scheduling concerns. Once we’ve covered those items, I will ask if they have time to come in for a formal consultation. I remind them that most of my consultations last approximately an hour and are free of charge. If the PC is coming to me primarily for fat loss, these sessions can run an hour or longer. If they are coming to me for general strength training, they are likely much faster consults because we’re not spending as much time covering nutrition.

Some PCs ask if they need to bring any particular clothing (with the assumption that they will be working out in addition to the consult). I don’t do this often but if we were to go directly from consult to a training session, it could be due to timing constraints and how quickly the PC wants to get started.

The Environment

Nearly all of my business as a trainer happens face-to-face. While I do have online clients, it is not the demographic I aggressively market towards. If an in-person PC has scheduled a consult with me, that’s typically happening at RevFit.

When the PC comes in the door, we typically have music playing (house music, rock, etc) and there may or may not be other training sessions happening at that time.

I introduce myself, welcome the PC into the studio, introduce them to anyone else who may be in the studio and ask if they’d like a cup of water before we begin.

My office sits off of the training floor so if there are no other sessions happening, we can keep the door to the office open. If training is in session, I’ll close the door so we’re less likely to be interrupted.

I’ve always appreciated a less formal approach to consultations but I do like the warmth of a well-lit room and open space between the PC and myself. I used to have a desk set-up which allowed that openness by default. However, I recently changed my desk position and it closes off part of the room. Now, when I handle consults, I bring a separate chair in front of my desk so that nothing is standing between myself and the PC.

I have a questionnaire that is already printed and waiting on a clipboard in the office. I’ll typically ask the PC to spend a few moments filling those pages out. I’ll discuss more detail about the questionnaire shortly.

In addition to the clipboard with the questionnaire, I’ll have another clipboard handy with a blank sheet in case they would like to take notes during the consult.

Depending on the person, some PCs are already actively engaged in some small talk while they’re filling out the questionnaire. I try my best to remember anything pertinent that might apply to who they are and what they currently have on their plate (life stressors, work/life balance, scheduling around kids/family, etc). If something sticks out to me, I’ll take some notes on the questionnaire once they’ve finished it.

The Questionnaire

I have opted to go a particular route with my questionnaire. There are many questions I prefer for the PC to answer on their own which may or may not need a great deal of background. There are other questions I save to ask that are not on the questionnaire. I’ll break these down accordingly.

On the questionnaire

Date

Name

Address

Phone Number

Birthdate

Email Address (if they would like to be on our weekly newsletter)

Do you have any current ailments or injuries that should be taken into account before exercising?

Have you had any injuries in the past which required surgery? If so, what happened?

Have you ever been a member of a gym? If so, which gyms and how did you like your experience there?

Have you ever had a personal trainer before? If so, what did you like/dislike about their approach and methods of training?

Are you currently on any medications? If so, which medications and what conditions are they used to treat?

Do you drink alcohol? If so, what do you drink (beer, wine, hard liquor) and how often?

Do you use any recreational drugs? If so, which do you use and how often?

Do you smoke cigarettes? If so, how many and how often?

I also have a checklist of items which may be of interest to the PC that they can select if it’s part of their goals. These include:

-fat loss

-lean muscle gain

-dietary advice

-better endurance

-proper form when exercising

-more agility

-stress relief

-lifestyle change

-improved social life

-higher self-esteem/self-worth

It’s not uncommon for some clients to select all of these options.

On the last page of the questionnaire is where we have a breakdown of our pricing, how we accept payment, other services we offer such as: on the go workouts, grocery store tours, pantry/kitchen interventions, and continued nutrition coaching (beyond the consult)

The last section asks that should the PC not elect to join today, if they could list any pertinent reasons why.

Off the questionnaire

These are the questions I will ask that are not listed. I feel this allows me to develop better rapport and understanding of who the PC is and what makes them tick.

Verification of age

Height

Current weight

If there is any family history (maternal/paternal) of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or Type II diabetes. If so, what side and what conditions?

If it’s a female PC: are you currently peri-menopausal or menopausal?

How are you sleeping? (If sleep is not adequate) Is there anything contributing to the current sleep patterns?

On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being not noticeable and 10 being intolerable, where is stress for you?

If the PC is coming in for fat loss, I’ll ask for a 24-hour recall of the diet (everything they’ve had to eat or drink in the last approximate 24 hours).

These are the questions which I believe open up the most dialogue. If a PC is not coming to me for fat loss, we generally do not cover nutrition in depth and I may only be answering more in-depth questions about how and when we train and what they could expect if they join.

If the PC is coming in for fat loss, I describe a handful of different options we can use to help them reach their fat loss goals. Prior to COVID, I would use a tape measure and a handheld BIA monitor to submit into our client tracking software. I currently use BodyEvolver PT Pro and it’s worked very well for my needs. I know there are a host of different software offerings out there but this one does what I need it to. This software allows me to calculate caloric estimates and macronutrient goals so that the more data-conscious PCs have more detailed information to work with.

However, because of COVID, not every PC has wanted me in close quarters doing tape measures, so we have been focusing more on behavioral changes and diet tweaks to still get to the same end goal of fat loss. This is where the 24-hour recall can be helpful.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

I’ve heard horror stories of trainers who incorrectly assumed a PC was coming to them for fat loss and treated them accordingly. Not every person who “appears” to need fat loss is coming in for that goal. Many PCs are perfectly happy at their current weight, and unless specified in the pre-consultation stage or in the questionnaire, I’d suggest you only service the goals they’re asking specifically for.

Problem Solving Trumps Sales Hacks

I have been in some aspect of sales since I was 16 years old. I will be 46 this year which gives me three decades of learning a great deal of brilliant and not-so-savory sales practices. I try my best to not “sell” our services. It’s my goal when a PC is talking to me to simply help them solve their health related problems (assuming they are within my scope of practice).

I also do what I can to overdeliver with information.

With fat loss, my goal is to give someone enough information and wisdom that even if they decided not to join, they could still see success with. Fat loss works most efficiently through dietary changes and, it’s my belief, that the average fat loss seeking PC needs better eating skills.

Regardless of what obstacle a client is trying to overcome, it’s my job to come up with a solution (sometimes several of them). When appropriate, I might also reference other client scenarios which might be similar as a way of showing that:

A) We’ve worked with that type of scenario

B) The PC is not alone in going through it.

For instance, if a PC has a history of shoulder pain, I’ll ask what type of movements aggravate that joint. As the PC is describing those movements, I will make note of movements I believe will be a lower risk of injury for them and discuss some options I think we can utilize to help them train more effectively. I might also use another client as a reference point who also struggles with shoulder pain and how we were able to help them.

When I first started in this industry, I took every single client I could possibly take on. Over the last several years, I’ve found my comfort zone with who I like to work with and who I believe I can do the best job for. If I don’t feel I’m the right fit, I will refer to someone who I think can do a better job than I can.

I’ve found that as long as I can continue to offer reasonable solutions to what a PC is struggling with, I don’t have to “sell” anything. The service, at that point, basically sells itself. I should add that if the PC has been referred in from an existing client, this is one less obstacle to overcome in the selling process.

There are a lot of books out there about how to sell and I would never say they don’t have effective tools. What I will say is that I know how I feel as a consumer and if I were the PC, I would want the person providing the service to listen to my concerns and provide realistic solutions. It’s simple…it’s not easy (kind of like dieting).

Be Painfully Honest

If you’ve been in this industry for any amount of time, you’ll know that some clients have unrealistic expectations of what their bodies can and can’t do. You might answer questions such as: “Do you think I can get down to “X” weight?” or “How quickly can I lose twenty pounds?” You might also answer questions like: “Will I be able to run like I did in my twenties?” or “Do you think I can bench press what I did in college?”

I’ve become really accustomed to responding with: “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure”, and the industry favorite “It depends”. However, more detail has to be given to help a client understand why there is no black-and-white, one-size-fits-all solution to those questions.

What I do know is that human behavior is messy, unpredictable and goals can change on a dime. The more you know about your PC, the better answers you can provide by helping them understand if the goals are realistic and achievable and how you might be able to get them closer to reaching said goals.

I don’t blow any smoke in consultations. If a PC wants to know how I feel about the keto diet, I’ll tell them. I’ll give them pros and cons based on what I’ve learned to date and what I’ve seen happen in real life within the four walls of RevFit. The more accurate and honest I can be, the better we can have a mutual understanding. If a PC is very closely aligned with a dietary philosophy (for instance, veganism), I try to show them how to keep that diet in line with their physique goals. I never suggest a PC to eat like I do so they can look like I do. For the record, most PCs don’t want to look like me. I’m a skinny bastard!

What If They Don’t Immediately Sign Up?

Years ago, I worked for a computer company, who, at the time, only sold their computers via phone. I worked in one of their call centers and it was one of the most stressful jobs I’ve ever had. However, I heard a term back then that still applies today: close rate.

Your close rate is essentially how many leads you sign compared to how many come in for consultations. In my case, I average an 85-90% close rate. Using simple math, let’s just say that I’ll sign 9 out of every 10 people who come through my door.

Sometimes, a PC will appear to be interested in the services but they will need to verify the expense with a spouse or family member. I encourage them to do so. Some coaches might do an immediate follow-up within the next 24-48 hours but I typically do not. If I have done my job during the consultation and answered their questions to the best of my ability, even if the PC does not sign up on the day of the consult, they will usually circle back to do so later.

Every so often, I’ll have a PC who simply does not sign up.

I don’t worry too much over this. While I know that I could take it on the chin that someone truly does not want to join in, I make the assumption that something I said was not the solution they wanted, perhaps the cost of joining was not financially feasible for them, or they found another facility that was a better fit. If my close rate was significantly lower, I would start to dissect how I handle my consultations. I might also look for a mentor to help me understand where I could improve my consultation skills. It might also be beneficial to record consultations (with the approval of the PC) so that you can listen back and see how you might have answered some questions better or provided more appropriate solutions.

If a PC does not sign immediately, it is not a direct indication of anything you did wrong. There may be other factors at play which are out of your control that affected their decision or delay in joining. One thing that has been helpful for me goes back to something in the questionnaire. Since you’ve asked for their permission of email use, you can put the PC on your mailing list and they can see your correspondence. When a better time comes for the PC to join, you would be the top of mind selection.

In Closing

If a PC signs up, explain to them the process for getting on the schedule for their first session. Thank them for the opportunity to work together and let them know anything else you believe they’ll need to know before officially starting. Before they leave, ask them if there is anything else they need from you in between the conclusion of the consult and the next session together.

If a PC does not sign up, thank them for taking the time to meet. Ask them if there are any other questions you could help with. Let them know that you are available when/if they need and you look forward to any opportunity to help.

Much like crafting the ideal workout regimen or meal template, consultations can go a host of different directions and still have positive outcomes. Continue learning how to provide a warm environment, a glimpse of who you are as the coach so the PC knows who they will be investing their time and money with, and offer solutions that make sense for that person and what they bring to the table. The process will never be perfect and there will routinely be things that you think of outside of the consultation that could have been explained or expressed better. Use those opportunities to improve your skills so that the next PC can benefit from the service you have to provide.

Below you see me with my longtime client and friend, Randy. Randy was one of my first clients around 11 years ago. He and his partner moved out of state and we remained in contact all those years. When they moved back to the area, Randy came back into the fold with us and it’s been a really amazing experience having him back here.

The goal with any consultation is to not only help your PC live a healthier life but, in the case of Randy and myself, hopefully forge a lifelong friendship of camaraderie and support (even outside of gym walls).

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