Sales – “A Love Story”

30 Aug Sales – “A Love Story”

This was a post I wrote for another website a little while back. Even though this post is about sales, I thought it would be a good idea to share it with you because if you are a strength and conditioning/ fitness professional, you are in the business of sales, whether you admit it or not. Even if you are employed at a school or corporation and not in the private sector, these are great principles in human interaction that I’ve learned that can help you be successful in everything you set out to do.
So there you are, pontificating to a potential client/customer the superiority of your services or products. You’re sitting pretty high with your college degree and your one week long formal sales training.  You decide to go in for the kill and ask him what day next week he would like to start with your services- Assumptive Close.He laughs and tells you he’s doesn’t think it’s for him.  Suddenly, you seem to shrink.What happened?

You used all of the techniques you were just taught to work over your prospective buyer and he smacked you down.  Must have done it wrong right? Or maybe he’s just too stupid to recognize the opportunity of a lifetime to work with you- wonderful you.  Itcouldn’t be that maybe he is a competent individual who has been through the same sales training as you and knows exactly what you are doing.

If this is you I know how dumb you feel because I was you.  Fresh out of college starting a personal training business at lucrative health clubs in New York, I was introduced to traditional sales techniques during my new hire education and told how they were the key to my success.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a lucrative career these days that affords you the opportunity to never have to sell in some manner.  Picking the health and fitness field, I thought I would never have to worry about selling products.

Then I realized- just like many of you have who are in service oriented businesses- that I was the product.  I had to sell myself. Gasp.

The problem is that a lot of what you learn in formal training were based on ideas from a long time ago.  Some of it doesn’t apply to our changing culture and at times can an insult to an intelligent person who has experience in business.  Most of it, as I’ll go into detail, actually hurts your chances of getting a sale according to research.

So let’s go over some of these classic principles.  I’ll be giving examples of everything from a client based service business as this is the bulk of my experience but it can be applied to sales situation.


1. Trying to show the value of your services without asking enough questions about their struggles.

When selling to a prospective client I was told bring the conversation back to what I could do for them every time they told me about one of their weaknesses in fitness/diet etc.  This would supposedly instill confidence in them for me and what I could offer.

What I found was though that the conversation would stall after I did this because the prospective client wouldn’t know what to say after this.

Me: So tell me why you want to get in shape.

Prospective Client: Well, I want to be healthy for my kids.

Me:  Ok, well I’m going to take the information you’ve told me about your fitness level and come up with a 5 week program that will help you realize your goal of being healthy for your kids and increase your external rotation by at least 3 degrees. Sound Good?

Prospective Client:  ………Umm yeah………..


Sounds textbook according to my fearless teachers of said sales techniques.  One problem though.  The prospective client had it and if you’re not a fitness person you probably do to, what the heck is he talking about and why should I care?

He’s not going to give me anything that Richard Simmons can’t in “Sweating to the Oldies.”

Neil Rackham, author of Spin Selling, conducted research upon research to see what techniques top sellers were using.  He found that instead of just trying to express value in products and services,  top sellers focused on the struggles of buyers or asked what Rackham refers to as “problem and implication questions” (1988).

So as I found the hard way through my own experimentation and stubborn attitude to get better at sales and not feel like a sleaze ball the conversation should have gone like this:

Me: So what’s the main reason you want to improve your fitness?

Prospective Client: Well, I want to be healthy for my kids.

Me: That’s understandable, how old are your kids if you don’t mind me asking? Are they pretty active?

Prospective Client: I have a 9 year old and an 11 year old.  They sure are, both of them play soccer and baseball.  I just can’t run around with them like I used to.

Me: Oh yeah? You used to be able to run around with the? What limits you from doing that now?

Prospective Client: I used to play competitive soccer but I had to stop because of shoulder injuries.  The doctor said I can’t fully flex my shoulder.

Me:  So did this injury discourage you from staying active and lead to further problems?

Prospective Client: Yeah I’ve never thought about it like that but it took my motivation away led to more health problems.

Me: What might those be if you don’t mind me asking?

Prospective Client: I’m diabetic.

Me: (summarizing) So you want to be healthy for your kids but you’ve been lacking something to motivate you and it’s led to a disease that will cause you more time that you could be spending with your kids.  Is that fair to say?

Prospective Client: (realizing that they need to change something)  I guess it is.  I never thought about it like that.

(Rackham, 1988)

I’ve already established the value of spending money on my services without saying anything about myself or explaining the fee that I would charge.  In their minds, the value of my service is now higher than the price that I will charge.

I’ve beaten this point to death.


2. Using a lot of uncomfortable closing techniques.

There are number of different closing techniques that I have learned and read of and more that I’ve never even heard of but so I’m just going to stick with what is most familiar to me from my experience.   The two that I was taught to use are the assumptive and alternative closes.

An example of an assumptive close in my case would have been me asking a potential client if he or she would like to meet two times a week or three.  This was done before the prospective client had made a commitment to hire me.  Along the same lines, I was also taught to talk as if he or she had already made a commitment to during my entire presentation of my services.

Example of an alternative close would be asking my prospective clients if they wanted a ten session personal training package or a 20 session personal training package – which of course was less money per session.  This once again was asked before a real commitment from them.

Going back to Spin Selling, research was shown that the best performers in sales did not use a bunch or closing techniques.  Instead they make the customer tell them why they need the product.  This is where using implication questions as well as something called need pay-off questions become vital. (Rackham 1988).

With my old model, I’d present the price, use one of the above closes and then stare at them in silence until they said something.  To someone who’s new to selling this might sound awkward.  Well, you’re absolutely right.  I hated using this technique to try to close a sale but it was actually something that was taught to me. A lot of good it did.  Either I had some strong willed people who were immune to my uncomfortable persuasion or this method wasn’t as effective as I was told.

So what would be more effective?  Using the above example I could have used the implication questions and need pay-off questions to get them to realize and state a need.

After he told me about his diabetes and injuries I could say:   “How would your relationship with you kids improve if you improved your health?”

He would tell me all the benefits of what working with me will do to improve his life.  He will be focusing on the positive- which is what need pay-off questions are used for.

Looking back, my first client at one of the lucrative health clubs I worked at interrupted me before I got a chance to spit out my diatribe of how good I was and used my awesome closing technique on her.  I had already sold her before it was time to close and she told me that she wanted my services first.

Imagine that.


Rackham, N. (1988). Spin selling. McGraw-Hill Companies.
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