Winning the Hearts and Minds of Your Training Clients
Every now and then I’m struck by a lightning bolt of realization. A genuine “why didn’t I think of that before” moment (although sometimes it’s a “how on earth did I ever forget that” moment, too). I have to apologize for not writing a workout type article, but the last week has been such a smack in the face as far as my job goes that I had to share these thoughts once I’d worked my way through them.
A few years ago I came to the sad realization that as a trainer I would never make a million dollars a year. And I’m okay with that. The reason this was so important was because if I was doing something I enjoyed immensely, then the money, while important and necessary, wasn’t the only consideration in doing my job.
The next part of this may shock people who aren’t trainers…but we don’t actually like all of you. Just the same as you sometimes don’t feel like getting up early to come and be told what to do, or be questioned as to why you didn’t fill in your food diary, or you’ve basically showed us by your actions that you don’t care at all for our advice (that you paid for), we sometimes don’t want to get up early to come and listen to you bitch about us trying to help you get in shape like you’re paying us to do. In fact, if you’re one of the people who, for some reason, has set themselves up in an adversarial relationship with your trainer I will guarantee that before you walk in the door your trainer wishes he or she were somewhere else for the next hour.
There are not too many businesses that will deliberately get rid of customers, but at one point that’s exactly what I did. The short version was anyone I didn’t enjoy spending time with was told that it was nothing personal, but I would prefer not to do business with him or her. The look of shock on some people’s faces or the tears when they were told was hard to get past. Like most normal humans I have (some) empathy and it’s hard to not want to help someone in tears. But I’d made a plan and now had to pull the trigger. Anything less, after having mentioned it, would be the same as telling people that despite how annoying they were, I would put up with their awful bratty behaviour as long as they burst into tears when I called them on it.
Suddenly, even though I was making less money, I couldn’t wait to get to work. I would literally jump out of bed excited in the morning even if it was cold and dark. I didn’t need caffeine or anything else to help me get my game face on – just knowing I was going to work to essentially hang out with friends and help them do something I love was juice enough.
And then something weird happened.
We got busier again, much busier. And the people we were bringing in were essentially all the same person. And here’s how we did it:
Firstly, I sent out an email to most of my clients with two questions on it. The first question was simple and asked, “Why do you like training with us?” They were asked to respond with three words. Not a three-word sentence, but three individual reasons why they liked the training.
The responses were all actually the same and included words like knowledge, honesty, and strength. The words initially may have been written differently, but when I asked people to expand on various words I ended up with nearly the exact same words just flavoured from their own viewpoint. Every single person came back with nearly the same responses.
You’re probably asking why this is so important. Well, to communicate effectively with people, to get them to buy into the plan that we set for them, we need to know how to communicate with them.
My father is one of the best managers I’ve ever met. At times incredibly annoying because of this one trait he has, but such an effective communicator that it beggars belief sometimes. You are never left in doubt about his message when he is done speaking. Every single important thing he says he will say three times. Each one will be a slightly different phrase, but it will always amount to the same thing. This was really vital to me as a child because I soon learned that when he started repeating himself I better listen up and stop daydreaming because whatever he was saying right now was vital.
I don’t often get the chance to say the same thing three times while we’re training. My client may only be doing one or two reps. At best I may have a single chance to get my message across to them. Being able to give them my message in a way that burrows into their brains instantly is crucial to helping them, and in many cases making them safe.
The next step in our guerrilla warfare to win the hearts and minds of clients was to create a culture that they could not only relate to, but also thrive in. When you’re six foot tall, have a crew cut, are ex-military and have spent a lifetime fighting, it’s fair to say that you have a certain type of appeal. When we delved deeper with our client questions we found the things they appreciated the most were the straight up no B.S. approach we took to training. It was bare bones basic and as elegant as a shin kick to the head. But we get results.
Recently we added a specific clause to our training agreements that we call the "Sissy Clause." It reads:
It’s called hardstyle for a reason. This isn’t the kind of place where we’re going to cuddle you and hold hands. Make no mistake about it – we’re going to push you to become a better version of you every day you are here. That’s our job. Not everyone is cut out to train here and we understand this. The atmosphere at our training venue is extremely important to us. If, at any time, you display behavior that is out of line with the rest of the group you may be asked to leave and not return.
While this may not work for everyone, with the group of clients we have and the way they communicate it resonates quite strongly with them. We’ve had good feedback on it and it’s even being shared around now by some of our clients with their own training groups (nearly fifty percent of our clients are personal trainers coming to us for help). So our culture is now growing beyond just our group and into other areas we wouldn’t be able to reach on our own.
And that is the nature of guerilla warfare, of force multiplication. Everyone we teach and deal with takes this away to become part of his or her life. As they touch more people, and ultimately people around them will then go and do the same, I’m hoping that in our own little way we’re right on the front line of turning the tide on the war against obesity.
We’ve started calling our approach Hardstyle Physical Training and you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more about it form me soon enough. If you’re a trainer I urge you to ask your client two questions:
Why do you like training with us? And, What do you get from training with us? Limit their answer to three words. I think you will be very surprised at what many of your clients have to say and it will make you realize that what you are doing and what your clients want are two entirely different things.