Jim Thomas is the founder and president of Fitness Management USA Inc., a management consulting and turnaround firm specializing in the fitness and health club industry. With more than 25 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, Thomas lectures and delivers seminars and workshops across the country on the practical skills required to successfully build teamwork and market fitness programs and products. Visit his Web site at: http://www.fmconsulting.net.

Sales training participants in seminars I conduct across the country often ask how they can better control the sales process with their health club guest. Unfortunately, many health club salespeople have been trained to spend the majority of their time talking about their club’s features and programs, believing that telling is selling. However, it is an ineffective approach and only invites comparison to other clubs. The most effective way to control the sale with a guest in your health club is to ask more questions. It’s that simple.

Selling a health club membership is like driving a car down the highway with a friend. The person who asks the questions gets to sit in the driver’s seat and control the direction of the sale, while the passenger—the person who answers the questions—goes along for the ride. Unfortunately, many salespeople feel that they are selling when they respond to their prospect’s questions. They mistakenly believe this will demonstrate how smart or knowledgeable they are about the club and will help their prospect make a buying decision. In reality, prospective new members take control of the sale whenever they start asking questions.

Sales staff members need to ask questions, too, but they must ask the right kinds of questions. I have talked with many salespeople who have learned to ask questions that all too often sound like this: “If I could lower that joining fee and save you money, would you be interested?” and “What will it take to earn your business?”

The problem with questions like these is that they do not help you gain the knowledge and information you need to effectively present a solution to your prospect’s problem. These questions only demonstrate a lack of sales ability that will quickly cause the prospect to lose interest in the phone call, the tour or the membership price presentation.

Instead, you need to ask high-quality questions that will demonstrate your health club’s product knowledge and expertise and make your prospect think. For example, focus on learning more about the prospect’s goals, objectives and challenges. Also, be sure you are using a well-thought-out needs analysis or guest profile. This approach helps you gain more insight into your prospect’s situation, which means you will be able to present an attractive solution while selling benefits and results, not features and price.

Here are some proven tips to help you develop good sales questions when showing a prospect your fitness facility:

1. Determine your key objective with your guest. What information do you require in order to move the sales process forward or determine the best solution for your prospect or guest? Your questions may vary depending on the prospect.

2. Consider the person with whom you will be touring the club. Probe, probe, probe. Questions about the prospect’s goals, objectives, and the challenges and barriers that are preventing them from reaching those target goals will give you valuable insight. Remember, professional salesmanship is more about gathering than giving information.

3. Use “what” questions. What caused the weight gain? What were you doing when you were in your best shape? What action are you taking right now to achieve your goals? What specific challenges or obstacles are preventing you from reaching your goals? What kind of results are you expecting? By determining the cause of your prospects’ problems, you will be able to better adjust your tour and presentation and show your prospects how the program at your club is the solution.

In today’s ultra-competitive health club world, it is actually easy to stand out from the competition. Most health club salespeople are so focused on trying to get the sale that they don’t learn anything about their prospect’s situation. If you truly want to control the sales process in your club and positively influence the outcome, you must teach yourself to ask questions instead of talking. Contrary to popular belief, telling is not selling.