Expanding Clients’ Social Networks: An Overlooked Role of the Fitness Professional
Written on September 10, 2010 at 6:48 am, by Eric Cressey
Back in the early 2000’s, during my early years of personal training, I also worked at a tennis club during the summer. It had been my job throughout high school during the summers, and I’d really enjoyed it and made a lot of friends – so it was a nice adjunct to me learning the ropes in the fitness industry. Because I had two jobs going simultaneously, two of my first personal training clients wound up being a new member of the tennis club and his wife.
This couple – we’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. H – had recently retired and purchased a summer home in Southern Maine, and the tennis club and gym were two opportunities for them to make friends in a new place. Knowing that they were the new kids in town, I went out of my way to introduce them to as many members in both arenas as I could; it just seemed like the right thing to do, and I didn’t mind at all, as they were great people.
Little did I know just how much these introductions meant to this couple.
I trained them both in the summers up until August of 2003, when I left for graduate school at the University of Connecticut. About a month after I started at UCONN, I received a note in the mail from Mr. H talking about how much they enjoyed training with me, how they admired my work ethic and passion for improving at my chosen craft, and how much they appreciated all the introductions I’d made for them when they first came to Maine.
Enclosed was a $500 check with the message “Consider this our contribution to the ‘Eric Cressey Student Loan Repayment Fund.’” Needless to say, it was completely unnecessary and unexpected, but very much appreciated by a poor graduate student!
The story doesn’t end there, though. Unfortunately, just a few months later, Mrs. H died unexpectedly during a surgical procedure. I heard the news from my grandmother, and immediately sent a card and written note to Mr. H expressing my sympathy. A week or two later, he called me and we chatted for about an hour on the phone. I was absolutely heartbroken for him. Here he was, ready to enjoy years of retirement – travel, grandchildren, and relaxation – with his wife, only to become a widow out of the blue.
Fortunately, there is somewhat of a silver lining to this cloud – and a message for the fitness professionals reading this. Mrs. H’s passing led to an even stronger friendship between Mr. H and I. We’d chat on the phone on most holidays and exchange holiday cards, he’d have dinner at my grandparents’ house with us each summer, and I’d stop by to see him in the summers when I was back at home visiting. In fact, my fiancée and I just saw him over Labor Day weekend. For geographic reasons, he’s not a client anymore, but he’s a great friend – and he’s taught me an important lesson without me ever realizing any teaching was going on.
He still summers in Maine, and the introductions I (in part) made for him that first summer have led to lasting friendships at the tennis club and gym to keep him upbeat. While nothing could ever replace his wife, the social circle he built up has helped to sustain him in spite of the challenges life has thrown his way.
Nowadays, you’ll find 897 customer retention strategies available on the web. Sure, sending thank you notes and birthday cards (among other strategies) is valuable, but nothing will ever replace the common sense that tells you to make quick introductions between new clients and existing clients when they first arrive in your program.
In the context of our business, I’d estimate that we have a lead conversion rate of about 99% – because just about every time an up-and-coming athlete and his/her parent enters our facility for the first time, there is a professional or high-level college athlete hanging out in the office. That’s a pretty cool experience – and one that could turn into a lasting friendship or mentor/mentee relationship down the road. This actually shapes our business model, as we only have to focus on lead generation, and not lead conversion; the people and environment take care of themselves.
This isn’t something for which you need to shell out big bucks, either; making an introduction is free. Next time you have clients in front of you, think of a way to connect them.
I’ve introduced kids who have had jaw surgeries to oral surgeons, brides-to-be with women who have recently wed, and pitchers who struggle to learn a change-up with those who have already mastered the pitch. The possible connections are endless – and frankly, you don’t even need a connection. Introducing someone is pretty easy even without a middle ground; just say “Joe, this is Bill. Bill is usually here around the time that you’re going to be training, so I figured you ought to get familiar with one another sooner than later.”
While you may not see the benefits right away, trust me; in the months and years to come, you’ll be glad you made these introductions.