A recession doesn't suddenly make customers and money disappear. However, it does make for fewer customers and less willingness to part with money. That means that in today's economy, you and your salespeople need to be very good at creating more customers, creating more value in the sales process, completing first-time closing and following up.

Because studies show that people want more security and less risk in their investments and purchases, consider offering more service with memberships. A recent study by IDEA also indicated that people want more social connection and interaction at their clubs. To combine the two elements of social connection and more service, consider offering new members a free five-week group program that focuses on different outcomes, such as weight loss, flexibility or enhancing certain areas of their physique. Limit these groups to about 15 people so members can connect with other members and reach their desired goals. Members who get results remain as members and refer their friends.

The main job of salespeople is to create business, rather than to wait for it. To help you with this, I recommend the Five-Point Lead Generation Plan, designed to create a minimum of 50 additional leads per salesperson per month. In this plan, each rep has a monthly goal to produce 10 leads from each of the five areas of lead sources (referrals, alumni members, group sales, community outreach and current lead wrap-up). If each rep gets 50 more leads, and 25 of them come into the club, your sales reps should be able to close between 40 percent and 60 percent of those leads. On the low side, that equals 10 more sales per rep, per month.

First-time closing is a critical skill because when prospects call or walk into the club, they have already decided to do something about their health and fitness. If your sales reps fail to recognize this and do not assist them in making a decision sooner rather than later, the prospects may go to your competitor, may needlessly delay the decision or may not do anything about their fitness.

If your club is the higher priced club in town, it is even more important that your employees learn good, professional and effective sales skills. Prospects may not be clear about the value of your club and may join a lower priced club that they think offers better value.

Another way to grow your membership is to offer a structured, six-week program in which prospects prove to themselves that they can be successful and transition into a membership. This option requires appropriate pricing, structure and excellent follow-up by your staff.

Follow-up is important in every aspect of sales these days. If your sales reps don't close on the first visit, then they must have excellent follow-up skills. The goal is to shorten the sales cycle. Rather than just giving a non-joining sales prospect a guest pass for a future visit, make sure your reps help prospects schedule an activity that they have indicated they would do as a member — a class, a workout with a trainer, a tennis lesson, etc.

The follow-up does not stop there. Your sales reps should be at the appointments to help prospects get set up, ensure they are enjoying themselves and then speak with them afterward about joining the club. By doing so, you will minimize the amount of time and follow-up work your staff must do, and you will speed the sales process.

For more tools to increase club membership and your income, read the online article, "Selling in a Recession," which is part of our Special Report on the Economy.


Karen Woodard-Chavez is president of Premium Performance Training, Boulder, CO, and Ixtapa, Mexico. Woodard consults and trains clubs throughout the world. She can be reached at 303-417-0653 or at karen@karenwoodard.com.