Leslie Nolen is CEO of The Radial Group, which provides wellness businesses with seminars, publications and coaching about starting and managing profitable and personally rewarding businesses. E-mail her at lnolen@radialgroup.com or visit www.radialgroup.com to subscribe to free weekly business tips tailored to wellness businesses.

"I can't believe she didn't join. Our fitness center is exactly what she was looking for. What went wrong?”

If this sounds familiar, you may want to use this guide to prevent subtle sales missteps.

Start by understanding three factors that influence potential customers. If you’re like many health clubs, your sales process and marketing materials overlook these aspects. First, competing choices often seem alike to prospects. Sure, you can rattle off important differences between your club’s weight management program and Weight Watchers, but those distinctions may be lost on your customer who doesn't think about these differences all day, every day. Second, customers buy important wellness services infrequently. The one exception is the annual doctor's visit. Limited experience often means less confidence in selecting a membership or comparing programs and services. Third, customers listen to multiple voices when making buying decisions. They hear what you have to say—and they also listen to friends, coworkers, family, people at church, at the PTA, at the golf course, standing in line...you get the idea.

These factors produce a jumble of conflicting considerations for potential customers. The result? Prospects usually follow the path of least resistance. They simply delay their decision indefinitely, mentally flip a coin to resolve conflicting information or pick the most objective, least subjective decision criteria—usually price. Does that mean price was really the most important consideration? No. Price was simply the easiest element of the decision. Your goal, therefore, is to make every other element of the buying decision just as easy for the customer, by closing any gaps of expertise, confidence or information overload.

Use these questions to guide a fresh look at your sales process and marketing materials:

1. What expertise do prospects need to properly evaluate your services? Give potential customers the information they need to fully appreciate your services. For example, many consumers think nutritionists and dietitians are identical, and that physical therapists and personal trainers are the same. Yet each profession offers different value to clients. If your club offers chiropractic and rehab services, educate prospects about these unique capabilities. Explain the value of certification or licensure to reassure potential customers. Prospects who are unaware of the pros and cons of hydraulic strength equipment versus free-weights may not recognize the value of a fully-equipped fitness center compared to a circuit-exercise facility.

2. What aspects of your services are most difficult for prospects to appreciate? Consumers often don't realize, for example, that strength and cardio routines need to be changed periodically to eliminate the training effect. Similarly, prospects often don't initially see the value of recurring visits with nutritionists. They expect to get "the diet" in the first visit or two, and their assumption is that everything will fall into place after that. Explain the importance of ongoing coaching and support to help them appreciate a structured program.

Case studies of current customers who have tried other approaches and picked yours illustrate these points very effectively. Highlighting “insider" knowledge that typical consumers wouldn't have (for example, the importance of a mini-meal shortly after an intense workout) is also effective.

3. What aspects of your services do prospects most often overlook? Highlight these elements in your marketing materials. After all, these aspects often distinguish your business from the competition. For example, many fitness centers don't make personal trainers available unless you pay for their advice. That means customers are left to figure out the equipment themselves. If your trained staff is available at no additional charge, explain why that's so important.

4. What misunderstandings confuse or alarm your prospects? Potential customers buy when they feel confident. Lack of confidence delays buying decisions. The health and wellness field is full of misinformation and half-understood science. This misinformation directly affects your prospect's interest in your facility. For example, many parents believe that it's dangerous for kids to do strength training. Many women believe weight gain after menopause is unavoidable. Many unfit people worry that even a little physical activity could kill them.

Design your sales process to proactively address and clarify confusion and misunderstanding. Don’t assume prospects will raise these worries themselves. Address these four areas in your sales process and marketing materials, and turn, “I can’t believe she didn’t join,” into, “I knew she’d love it here.”