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Be a storyteller, not a salesman: Marketing your Fitness Business

Posted Jun 17 2013 11:32am

Salesmen_blogsize2Have you ever been lied to?

I have and it’s no fun. When someone is intentionally misleading it leaves us feeling used and insignificant. And, for any would-be business owner, that is no way to attract clients. Despite that fact, the fitness industry doesn’t seem to have received the memo.

When it comes to marketing a fitness business, product or service the game plan usually includes a scantily-clad trainer, celebrity endorsement, a massive price cut (if you buy now), and results that really are too good to be true. This marketing mix is most recognizable from late night infomercials, but it is the same approach used by personal training studios and fitness websites.

Does it have to be this way?

I don’t think so. Whether or not the product, program or trainer can produce results is not the issue. There are a lot of great trainers and solid products out there. Fitness pros seem to go wrong when they try to be something or someone they’re not. They see the tactics that others employ – weight loss guarantees and catchy tags lines – and set out to copy the same approach. 

What I want to know is why do fitness pros try so hard to be salesmen?

Nobody likes a salesman. Well, no one likes the perception of salesman – slimy, sleazy and scammy. And, when you’re trying to earn trust and build relationships, none of those attributes will work in your favor.

But, selling is part of the job

In his book, To Sell is Human; Daniel Pink suggests that we’re all selling something. We might not be a door-to-door salesman, but we are still trying to influence the actions of others.

However, in the present day, salesmen no longer hold the upper-hand. Thanks to the power of the internet, consumers are able to make well informed decisions without relying on the word of a salesman. Despite this fact, there’s still a negative connotation associated with selling and the perception of a fast talking, product pusher remains intact.

The trick is selling without being a salesman; in the low-brow sense of the word.

Be a storyteller

We already know that the way of the salesman – bloated promises and outlandish claims – always comes up short. To sell, without being a salesman, you need to take a page out of the storyteller’s playbook.

All humans are strongly influenced by stories. We’ve communicated using stories since the beginning of time; on cave walls, around the fire and now via the internet. As Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, points out; “we live in stories all day long…stories are how we learn and think”

Gottschall goes on to say that; “Storytelling is a key competence because it’s the most powerful method we know of riveting the attention of others and of connecting with them emotionally.” So, when we are consumed by a story we let our guard down and connect with the storyteller. And, when we sell, that’s exactly what we’re going for – connection.

Craft your story

Here’s the part most people leave out, they don’t tell their clients why they chose to work in fitness. Sure, it’s an awesome gig that allows you to help others, but you’ll need to dig a little deeper than that. What motivated you to get started? What do you hope to achieve? How does it make you feel when you help someone reach their goals?

I know, I know, all of this stuff is too touchy feely for you. But it is important and it works. Your story is what will separate you from every other trainer or gym in town.

Take me for example. Before making fitness my career, I was in the Marine Corps. I was a regular guy who thought fitness would always be a hobby for me. Then, when I was 19, my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. I moved home to help care for my dad and started personal training to make some extra cash. After my dad lost his battle with cancer, my brother Joe and I decided that we couldn’t go back to living lives that were devoid of meaning; we wanted to help others transform their lives.

To me, fitness means taking your life back; it’s about being in control of your mind and body. It means living your best life before it’s too late.

That’s my story. It’s the same story I share with clients. And, guess what happens next. They share their story with me. We find common ground, we connect. They’re able to buy into me as a person, my values and my commitment to their goals.

Yes, it goes without saying that you have to be a qualified professional capable of deliver results if you expect to be successful in the fitness world. But, your story is a vehicle for communicating those facts, and others, like how can you help someone reach their goals and why they should trust you.

You already have a story; you just have to start sharing it.

Sell without selling

Considering what we’ve learned about selling and stories, let’s shift our attention back to the fitness world.

Say you were looking to open a gym or launch an online fitness business; you need customers and want to turn a profit. Sure, you could take the traditional marketing route and play into misconception that there is a magic bullet solution to weight loss and healthy living. You could make sweeping promises and swear up and down that your product, your program and your way is the one and only solution.

Or, you could set out to establish your personal brand by creating a community and platform from which you could share your story. Begin by being honest, transparent and genuine with potential clients. Stop telling them what you think they want and ask them what they need. Actually listen to what they say, and over deliver. Commit to understanding the unique needs and perspectives of your clients.

If you’re willing to engage with others, build a community and share your story you don’t have to be a salesman; your story and your clients will do the selling for you.

So which is it, when you market your fitness business, will you be a salesman or a storyteller?

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