I recently attended a small conference that included some of the best and brightest minds in the industry to discuss solutions to current economic issues impacting our industry. This conference included manufacturers, club owners and consultants to the industry. The focus was on stabilizing and expanding the commercial fitness business through turbulent times.

The tone was optimistic, but what struck me most was the uniquely realistic perspective that I have not seen before. Some people at the conference were competitors, and after being in this industry for more than 23 years, I was struck by their candor and openness. It was as if everyone was recognizing publicly — for the first time — the outside economic issues facing our customer base and, more importantly, discussing solutions that will help all of us.

The most pervasive message came from a well-known CEO in the industry who said that we've all been through difficult economic downturns through the years and made it through them, but this one is different. If anyone is expecting the next busy season to solve our problems, we are not being realistic. This is not a one- or two-year cycle. He went on to say that in order to survive and thrive, the best clubs will need to not only control costs but also, in some cases, completely re-think how they engage and keep customers. Finally, he stated that traditional selling and referral models would not work going forward.

One solution is online lead generation, which many mature industries have been using for years with great success. Many companies are experts at helping create architecture for your business that will take your existing tools (Internet, intranet, e-mail addresses) and sculpt them to systematically and regularly drive and capture qualified leads and referrals.

Online lead generation systems have become very adept at focusing on the highest yield populations within your club and also targeting those most likely to join through search engine optimization and strategic partnering. Those that specialize in service businesses in this category will also take into account your current sales system, including your sales staff, to embrace and use this technology. There is a cost to using these services, but it can be much less, and more “surgical” than traditional lead sources that cast a wide net and can waste time and resources.

Without sales and staff support, technology will fail. Technology is simply a tool to help facilitate the sales process. Your sales team must be both personally invested and skilled in using these tools to close sales and drive referrals into your club. Even if you don't engage an online lead generation system, it is time to have your team meet and determine a targeted strategy that squeezes every ounce of productivity they can out of your existing technology. You'll surprise yourself at the ideas that come from your internal staff.

Depending upon your size and level of sophistication, this targeted strategy can range from capturing e-mail addresses for every member and prospective member to creating outbound fitness and nutrition content and messaging that adds value to a call to action for members and those likely to become members. Everyone reading this has some technology capabilities that they can use to proactively “touch” members with support and guidance that will lead to more fee-for-service opportunities and a greater chance to gain members.

Get creative. The only cost is in taking the time to meet regularly with customer-facing employees to create a blueprint for taking action in these turbulent times by using your technology tools.

Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at gregory@fitadvisor.com.