Understanding What Makes Your Members Tick

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Recently, my son and I were in an old-curiosity-shop kind of store on a quaint little Main Street. It was the kind of place seemingly designed to ignite the imagination of a nine-year-old boy, full of tomahawks and fishing equipment, moccasins and hiking boots, old-fashioned toys, unidentifiable objects, kitschy souvenirs, wind chimes. We’d spent nearly an hour poking around in there, and I was on parenting auto-pilot: “Mom, can I have this?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because.” “Mom, can I have this?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because.” Finally, my son stomped his foot and shouted in frustration, “Don’t just say because!”

What struck me was his reason for getting frustrated: It wasn’t so much that I was saying no to most of the junk/treasures that he wanted to purchase, it was that I wouldn’t give him reasons for my refusal. When I looked him in the eye and explained how I felt — the real feelings behind my “no” — he relaxed. We left the store with just a tomahawk (don’t worry, it’s wooden) and a better understanding between us.

All of this was still on my mind when I was reading IHRSA’s blog the other day, and I stumbled on an article about the best ways to understand a prospective’s motivations for seeking a health club membership. The fact is, when we understand another person’s reasons — when we have more from them than just a “because” — we’re able to make things happen. My son could calm down and accept my refusal to buy him all the things he wanted when he understood why I was refusing. You can make sales to prospectives more effectively and up your member retention when you understand why your clients are seeking — (or renewing, or considering giving up) — membership. As Casey Conrad Tamsett, President of Communication Consultants in Wakefield, Rhode Island, puts it on the IHRSA blog, “If you don’t know why a guest happens to be standing in front of you, or what a member wants from your club, how can you possibly meet their needs?”

The question is, how do you go about discovering your prospectives’ and members’ true motivations? Justin Tamsett, Managing Director of Active Management in Sydney, Australia, advises, “In your first face-to-face conversation, when asking about them and their life, you need to show an authentic — not a feigned — interest.” In other words, you have to earn a client’s trust before being allowed to understand his or her true motivation. Earning that trust is a process, Tamsett says, one that begins with your staff’s commitment to making the moment of initial contact a special experience. “You need to convey the fact that you genuinely care about them,” he says. And that caring has to carry through, with every employee in the club working hard to regard the visitor as a guest.

Keep in mind, though, as Conrad warns, that most people purchase gym memberships not for logical reasons but for emotional ones. “Their ‘trigger,’ the factor that brought them to your door, usually is related to some significant personal experience,” she says. But that experience is hidden under layers. Conducting a needs analysis, in which you peel back the layers with careful questions, gives prospective clients a chance to open up. You have to spend the time listening until you get to the feeling that prompted action — just like my son had to spend the time listening to my underlying feelings in order to understand my reasons for saying no. Of course, it’s a give-and-take: I had to be willing to reveal my underlying feelings to my son before he could listen to them. But if you create the right environment in your facility, one in which the client is respected as more than just a commission score, one in which employees work hard to gain clients’ trust and form true relationships with them, the willingness to open up will come naturally. And the opening up will lead to more successful business operations.

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