I tried to join a new gym today. It was really more of a health and fitness club than a gym and my main interest for joining was to play squash. I was a walk-in with no appointment. So they handled me pretty well. Nice smile from the lady on reception and a promise that someone would be with me within a few minutes, which they were.

The sales person duly arrived and invited me to have a seat in the café. It was a very cold day and I would have really appreciated a hot drink. She didn’t offer one. She also didn’t ask me how I had found the club, or had I seen an advertisement, had I been recommended etc. We got straight to the fact that I was looking primarily to play squash. Instead of picking up on this, my sales person insisted on telling me about every piece of gym equipment and the details of a recent refurbishment. Bored? I would have preferred to go back to work.

When I repeated that I was really just interested in the squash facilities we eventually went in search of what turned out to be some very nice courts. Six in total, but she could only find five and after saying that there was one upstairs, eventually had to admit that she did not know much about squash at the club and called a colleague. He immediately found the missing court and was generally knowledgeable. But I did say on reception that I was interested in squash and I did explain to my allocated sales person that it was my prime interest. So there were opportunities to direct me immediately to someone who wouldn’t lose a whole court – all 62.4 square metres of it – in their own club. After the tour, we talked about prices and guest passes and I provided an email address and left.

The sales person ended up knowing very little about me. But there were quite a few things that she could have done to make me want to join her club:

  • She could have offered me a hot drink to make me feel welcomed and valued!
  • She could have listened carefully to the fact that I was primarily interested in squash and tailored her pitch in that direction.
  • She could have been more knowledgeable about the squash facilities and activities without having to get a colleague to rescue her.
  • She could have politely asked me for some basic information that would have added considerably to the things they knew about me.
  • She could have invited me back for a squash taster of some kind.
  • She could have got me to join.

Now, from an operator viewpoint I have no idea if this sales person was empowered enough to offer me a drink or not. But what I do know is that health and fitness clubs spend small fortunes on marketing aimed at attracting new members, only to find that when they actually identify them (a huge task in itself) they commit the cardinal sin of achieving poor sales conversion rates.

Clubs continually gamble that they can find more members than they lose. They generally have ‘face to face’ sales conversion rates of well below 50%. I wonder why? And at the other end of the cycle they lose thousands of members due to a lack of any real engagement.

Even worse, when they have lost members who were demotivated or unhappy with the club, they spend more money doing something called ‘win-back’.

Here’s what can health and fitness club groups do to help eradicate this vicious and very expensive cycle:

  • Work hard at understanding their current customer satisfaction rating. If potential new members are not impressed with the showers, frayed carpets and so on, there is a good chance that the existing members have already noticed these things. Listen to them and react.
  • Understand data and handle it properly. The experience I have illustrated left them with nothing that they could turn into deep data that could enable them to target me personally and properly and keep me engaged.
  • Do enough research to really understand ‘churn’ and then do something about it. It’s going to be a lot cheaper than finding new members. Stupid!
  • Empower properly trained, empathetic and experienced staff to listen carefully and react to the aspirations of their new member’s enquiries/targets/people/someone’s mum. Also, give them a budget to cover a welcome drink or sandwich. A PT with time on his/her hands is not a sales person and never will be. It’s a bit like asking a mechanic to work in the showroom and sell a lot of cars. Not going to happen.

I was a member of one club for 7 years and they, or course, did the thing that infuriates the recipients of most automated platform emails – they never once recognised that the only activity that I ever undertook at the club was tennis. Every email I got was about swimming, kid’s clubs and gym facilities – even losing weight, which I don’t need to do (although after Christmas that could be more relevant).

They held enough data to be able to bombard me with tennis features and offers. They just didn’t or couldn’t use the data that would have kept me engaged (and they never did fix that hole on the indoor carpet court, which I told them about 4 times).

At LAW, we not only know and understand the gym and leisure market exceptionally well but we also understand how to personalise messages to the individual level to boost engagement. There is no wastage and ROI is maximised. We call it Hyper-Targeting and it is part of our KAM (Key Account Management) augmented data analysis process, which, incidentally, we carry out in-house.

We also have a unique, award-winning Sales Presenter tool that can be adapted specifically to perfect a pitch whilst the sales person is sitting with the potential member, so that only facts and results will come up that are of genuine interest to them. This tool also maximises the data yield from any sales/customer interface.

Had I ever received an email from my old club that said, ‘Well done, Brett, you have just played your 500th match at our club and we would like to reward you with a 10% discount on any tennis gear at our shop,’ I might still be there today.

As long as they fixed the hole, of course.

For advice on fitter marketing practices for gyms (and plenty of other places, too, for that matter) contact brett.sammels@lawcreative.co.uk