// You CAN handle the truth!
Why honesty is the best policy for client retention

A disparity between member expectation and the effort needed to achieve results is a major cause of attrition. By being upfront about the work required you can increase retention and revenue says Emmett Williams.

Picture this scenario:

Prospect: I need to lose 10 kilos

Salesperson: Why do you need to lose 10 kilos?

Prospect: I have my daughter’s wedding in 12 months

Salesperson: How will you feel on the day if you lose the 10 kilos?

Prospect: Amazing!

Salesperson: And how will you feel if you don’t lose the weight?

Prospect: Terrible, with all those cameras, I don’t want to go there (emotion now stirring)

Salesperson: OK, let me show you our amazing facilities and how they can help you lose those 10 kilos, and look amazing on your daughter’s wedding day – how does that sound? (solve the problem)

Prospect: Great!

The lie we are guilty of telling

The conversation above sounds familiar doesn’t it? What the salesperson will then go on to insinuate is how ‘easy’ it will really be: ‘Just two to three times a week for 30 to 40 minutes is all you need’ Right there! What a lie! It ‘may’ be true if the member does high intensity interval training for those two or three sessions, but the salesperson will tend not to stipulate this.

New members are led to believe that moderate activity two or three times a week will be enough to lose those unwanted kilos. And why would a salesperson want to challenge this notion and put the sale at risk? Allowing an individual to think that this amount of moderate activity will solve their problems is an easy way to get them over the line – but it’s untruthful, and shortchanges both the new member and the club in the longer term.

At a recent lunch with Meg Sharp from the prestigious Cambridge Group of Clubs in Toronto, Canada, I came away with the message that ‘withholding of the stark truth’ is responsible for much of the ‘discretionary’ or preventable attrition in our industry (i.e. members choosing to leave rather than being forced to leave due to relocation or other reasons).

Meg did her thesis on exercise adherence, and found conclusively that the majority of gym members stop exercising due to something called ‘expectancy violation’. The member joins the club, is given a promise that he/she will be able to lose 10 kilos, but doesn't really understand what level of physical activity will be required to reach their goal because sales people, and even instructors, don’t make it absolutely clear. By collectively concealing the truth, the club sets the member up for a fall.

The solution we must adopt

A program card with a plan is what the member typically gets given, whereas a confronting conversation along the following lines is what is really needed:

‘Mrs Jones, to burn half a kilo of body fat you need to burn 3,500 calories. So 10 kilos would mean 70,000 calories. Subject to you not changing your eating habits, I need to help you burn 70,000 calories over the next 12 months. However, the success will come down to this – YOU need to execute the plan – YOU actually need to burn 70,000 calories, that is 5,833 calories a month for 12 months. If YOU jump through the 5,833 calorie hoop every month for 12 months, then YOU will get there – if YOU don’t, YOU won’t. Does the reality of the mathematics make sense to you?’

As a club you can then go on and say: ‘Mrs Jones, do you mind if we contact you via text message, email or phone to either pat you on the back, or kick you up the rear end in the nicest possible way? We know the 12 month road is long, and we know consistency will win the race, so we would like to support you’.

By employing this ‘bracing’ technique from the get go, the onus of motivation is put on the member and you receive permission to ‘nudge’ them. You brace them for the fight and instill the need for self-motivation. You want them to use the facilities in your club and to get results, because the members who use your club most will be the members who stay longest. It’s good business because everybody is a winner.

Once you have presented the ‘calorie spend’ equation, you need to help members log results as they go. This can either be done with pen and paper, or through a wireless and automated system like MYZONE. The member’s results then need to be monitored monthly, and will dictate whether you encourage them via text message, email or a phone call when they hit their monthly goal, or intervene when they struggle. Technology means that this actually takes surprisingly little time or money.

Further opportunity

Once you have braced the new member for the fight, given them their calorie quota, and shown them how to log their calorie spend, you are in a position to contrast the workout they do on their own with a workout they would do in group training or one-to-one personal training session. This enables you to get the member involved in some form of personal training – the real profit centre of any gym: ‘Mrs Jones, you can see that when you work out by yourself you are burning 400 calories, but in group training we will have you burning 800 calories. So by doing a group training session twice a week, you will burn an additional 800 calories a week, over 3,200 extra calories a month, which is an additional half kilo of body fat – can you see the value of group PT?’

I encourage you to try the ‘bracing’ technique and the subsequent up-selling opportunity it provides. Whether the member upgrades to the personal training services in your club or not, your member retention will be bolstered. It is worth noting that for every extra month a typical club can increase its ‘average length of stay’ by, 20 per cent is added to the net profit line. If you are scared of losing new members with the upfront approach, I suggest you measure your retention and your average length of stay of a cancelled member – that is far scarier.

Tap into Emmett’s wealth of fitness marketing and business during his sessions at FILEX 2012 where he will be presenting:

  • 50 new angles, models and methods to make your club rumble! ● A1C
  • Business Breakfast: The very best of fitness marketing, Expert Panel chaired by Emmett ● B1D

For more information on Emmett’s sessions see pages 17 and 18 of the printed brochure with your Summer Network magazine, or check out the fully interactive site at www.filex.com.au where you can also register for the convention or the all-inclusive Business Gold Pass package, which includes a seat at the Business Breakfast.


Emmett Williams
Emmett is director of CFM, an international group of businesses with over 300 staff. Emmett also owns seven gyms in Australia and is currently based in Chicago while he launches the new MYZONE product in the Americas. Emmett is passionate about the fitness industry going beyond marketing, beyond sales, and truly engaging its membership base.