Wouldn’t it be great if prospective new members were constantly walking through the front door of your fitness facility, ready to join? Unfortunately, the reality is that the trend of membership growth over the past five years has flatlined. In fact, the supply of fitness facilities has now reached its saturation point, which makes acquiring new members more challenging than ever. The bottom line is that fitness centers should focus on keeping their members longer, and to do that you have to zero in on engaging with new members in the critical first month.
When someone first walks through the front door of your fitness facility and is ready to join, you have about thirty days to create an amazing experience for this member. That is, if you intend to keep that member for the long haul. The trick is to make sure that all of your new members are onboarded properly when they join. I am sure that you have heard the term onboarding several times, but just to make sure that we are on the same page, let’s define it:
Membership onboarding is an intentional process whereby a NEW member is introduced gradually into the fitness center by meeting one-on-one with a dedicated professional/coach. Discovering the member’s goals, their barriers, and self-efficacy, as well as helping them reach those goals, and getting integrated into the facility, is a key component of the onboarding process. (Lance Perkins)
Extensive research shows that new member onboarding is the most important element in reducing membership churn. One landmark study conducted by Dr. Paul Bedford over a two-year period with over 77,000 members showed that properly onboarding new members improved retention by 75%. So, let’s go over some new member onboarding solutions and how to create an experience that will keep them coming back for more.
The Critical First 30 Days:
Step 1: The Tour
The 30 day counter begins the moment a prospect walks in your front door. Typically, the prospect will request a tour of your facility, and that tour needs to be AMAZING. Your membership team needs to sell an experience—not a fitness facility—and should start building relationships and engaging with every person that they take on a tour. Download our e-book to learn more about Developing the Ultimate Membership Sales Machine.
Step 2: Signing up new members for your onboarding program
We have already established the importance of having an onboarding program, but does your membership team know how to sell the program to your new members? First of all, your membership team shouldn’t offer the onboarding program as an option. Their talk track should go something like this, “What day works best for you to schedule an appointment with a wellness coach?” Most of your new members have joined a fitness center before and are reluctant to sign up for yet another orientation. So, don’t make it easy for them to opt out by asking if they would like to schedule an appointment. Instead, your staff should know and be able to clearly explain the benefits of going through the onboarding program. Convincing new members that they are much more likely to achieve their goals by participating will help your staff overcome at least the first objection from a member not wanting to sign up for the program.
Step 3: Prepare Wellness Coaches for the Appointment
The hand off between membership and wellness staff is extremely important. Wellness Coaches should be able to easily review all notes and conversations that have already happened with each new member, prior to the appointment. That way, if the member has already told your membership staff that they want to lose weight for their upcoming reunion, the wellness coach can easily connect with that member when she arrives for her appointment.
Step 4: Coaching Sessions
Every member that joins your facility has a goal and some kind of story. Your coaches should be striving to become the hero in that story, and to do that, they need to be implementing behavior modification and increasing self-efficacy strategies. There is no research out there that shows that exercise prescription and a nutrition plan in itself will improve lifestyle changes for your members. Download our free e-book to help your coaches understand Behavior Modification.
Also, don’t stop with just one appointment. Coaches should make sure to always schedule the next appointment with each member until they graduate from the onboarding program. A study looking at simple engagement interactions between staff and members and found that if members have fewer than 2-3 interactions within the first 30 days of joining, then they have less than a 50% likelihood of coming back the following month. When a coach is able to interact with a member more than four times during their first month of membership, that member is 80% more likely to come back next month.
Remember—every member walks into your facility desperate to reach a goal, and they are depending on the staff at your facility to guide them on the right path. A path that will make this time different. By engaging and interacting with that member three to four times within that critical first month, you’re not only improving your facility’s retention rate, but you’re also changing lives.
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