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In the world of fitness sales, truly understanding that people are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain is like cracking the code to consumer buying, says Frank Smarrelli.

The pain and pleasure principle is universal. It steers us in everything we do, whether we are conscious of it or not. The principle states that people are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain – the two controlling forces in all human behaviour. For salespeople in the fitness industry, understanding this principle is like cracking the code to the psychology of consumer buying.

My 21 years of practical experience in the fitness industry, combined with academic research and studies into neuro-linguistic programming, has led me to believe that the majority of prospects seek to avoid pain more often than they desire to gain pleasure. This is, partly, because it is a biological survival mechanism built into our nervous system. For example, physical pain will cause people to quickly withdraw from what they interpret to be the source of their pain.

Logically, we understand the difference between physical and emotional pain, but the human mind at times is challenged when distinguishing real pain from perceived pain, and will seek to avoid both in precisely the same way.

Another reason people’s need to avoid pain is greater than their desire to gain pleasure, is fear. Fear can stop you from gaining more pleasure and achieving all the things you desire in life.

Another way of looking at this principle is to look at what people move towards or away from. For example, some people are motivated towards goals, while others are motivated away from non-goals – and whichever motivation they have will affect how they respond to everything in their world.

Applying the principle to fitness sales

In order to use the pain and pleasure principle to your advantage as a fitness industry salesperson, you need to associate not becoming a member of your club with greater long-term pain than joining your club. For example, if a prospect has just been taken through your club tour, including your price presentation, and then says that he needs to think about joining – even after he verbally confirmed how important it was to lose the excess 40 kilos he’s carrying – it’s your job to get him to face the painful consequence of his obesity and to motivate him towards being proactive and doing something about it now.

While maintaining rapport, educate him on the enormous benefits of exercise within your club (pleasure component) and the physical implications of not exercising (pain component). After this, go straight into a reclose;

‘So, Brian, what do you say about getting started today so that I can get one of my most qualified personal trainers to put together a specific program for you to start losing weight now?’

Stay quiet after this, be patient and wait for his response.

Understanding that pain and pleasure are the commanding motivators in human behaviour will allow you to recognise why prospects are actually buying your products and services. The best marketing and advertising companies in the world know how this principle works. They associate massive pleasure with buying their products and pain with not buying them or with using their competitor’s products. It’s an incredibly powerful tool. As a salesperson you must understand at all times that people don’t buy needs, they buy wants.

Further reading

Lose Weight With NLP, Lindsy Agness

Psychology of Influence and Persuasion, Dr Robert Cialdini

The New Technology of Achievement, Steve

Andreas and Charles Faulkner

NLP Field Guide, John Grinder

Get The Life You Want With NLP, Richard Bandler

Tiffany & Co, one of the world’s premier jewellers since the mid-1800s, doesn’t get people to spend tens of thousands of dollars every day because it is logical or rational. No one needs to be wearing a bracelet or necklace worth $50,000. The people that spend this type of money on Tiffany jewellery want to feel a certain way. Their decision is emotionally driven. Remember, wants are emotional, not logical or rational. Members buy emotional wants, not just the facilities they need to exercise in.

When a prospect walks through the door and is contemplating joining your club, he or she is not buying the spin classes, the pin-loaded machines or the spa and sauna. They are buying the emotions they will experience as a result of using your products and services.

The best salespeople constantly uncover and address prospects’ emotional wants. They know that humans do much more to avoid pain than gain pleasure. To increase membership sales, you must be able to sell both types of consequences; the pleasure if a prospect joins – and the pain if they don’t.

Frank Smarrelli
With a distinguished coaching career of over two decades, Frank has written and developed over 20 books and workshops on sales, marketing, and success principles of high achievers. He has been a multiple club owner and is now a presenter and business coach with his FasTrak to Health Club Profits™ program. He has recently launched his new business, Fitness Club Blueprint. For more information visit

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