The generational divide is pretty huge in the fitness industry. The historical and traditional focus on the under 40 population is still very strong. However, the humongous growth of the Boomer population (ages 52-70) is turning the industry upside down. Trainers are now realizing that this population is ideal as there are huge numbers; they are financially capable of paying for even premium training memberships; they are becoming even more and more interested in exercise as a way stay “young” and healthy; and they are good clients to have.
However, I find that the vast majority of trainers (even those who happen to train quite a few Boomers) really don’t know how to communicate effectively with them. This is especially true for younger trainers who are from a different generational cohort. A big key to your success will be to learn how to shift into their generational style when trying to attract and sell to them.
Understanding how to do this can create a paradigm shift for your business that catapults you to the next level. Think about it this way. Relationships between men and women are often confounded or even ruined by their two vastly different communication styles. It isn’t that the two people don’t love each other or that they are incompatible. It is that they approach communication from two different perspectives…and they expect the other person to communicate like they do. That is the real kicker. Once the couple understands that 1) their communication styles happen to be different; 2) neither style is right or wrong; and 3) how to shift into the other person’s communication style, then most of the tension and conflict falls away.
The same can be said for different generations. Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials all have slightly different communication styles because of the era in which they were raised. Neither style is right or wrong! They are just different. If you are a Gen Xer (age 37-51) or Millennial (age 17-36) then you are probably going to naturally communicate like a Gen Xer or Millennial and wonder why in the world you aren’t effective in selling to Boomers.
Here are some tips for becoming more effective with Boomers (adapted from Unlocking Generational Codes by Anna Liotta, MA):
Take Time to Build the Relationship
For Boomers it is all about the relationship. Whenever you talk with a Boomer about your fitness program you should FIRST get to know them AND let them get to know you. Topics like your kids, their kids and grandkids, where you grew up, people you both know, what their interests are, etc. Don’t rush into your rehearsed dialogue about why your fitness program is so much better than everyone else’s (which isn’t a good approach with a Boomer anyway). Take time to build the relationship (and increase the trust factor) first. This is best done face to face because it is the Boomers preferred style of communication (not texting, not email, not phone). If you really want to take it to the next level then work on building the relationship even before they walk in the door by getting involved with charities and organizations (e.g. Arts Council, Rotary Club, Gardening Club, local fundraisers, etc.) that your ideal Boomer clients are into. They like to schmooze so get out there and schmooze along with them.
Be Patient and Have Good Follow Up
One of the “rules” of fitness sales is to close the sale on the first appointment because if they have to “go home and think about it” or “ask my spouse” then you’ve lost the sale because that is really code for “no thanks I don’t want to join”. Boomers despise high-pressure “this deal ends when you walk out the door” sales tactics and they like to make good purchase decisions. The reality is that we want them to think about it. We want them to talk to their spouse. We want them to check their schedules. The majority of the time this is not code for them not wanting to buy. In fact, it could be quite the opposite. If you have demonstrated excellent value then this is an opportunity for them to solidify it in their mind so that when they do join they are “all in”. What does this mean for you? It means signing them up for long-term, high dollar memberships. But part of this process is also that you have good follow up. In fact, they expect good follow up. You accomplish this by asking them when and how you can follow up. “Barbara (yes use first names), could I call you next Wednesday if we don’t hear from you before then?” This way there is a clear expectation of when a decision needs to be made. Then, of course, you need to stick with it. If you fail to follow up then the message they hear is that you don’t care enough about them.
Boomers are the original “What’s in it for me?” generation. They were raised as children with the eyes of the world upon them, a secure growing economy and the message that they were the most important. Well they took this to heart and as they grew they realized they had the luxury of focusing on “ME”. Boomers have carried this message with them into middle and late adulthood. While it is important to demonstrate your expertise and authority in order to be credible to Boomers ultimately what they really want to know is how that expertise translates into helping them. So be sure to listen to their needs, goals and preferences so that you can address those specific issues in your conversation.
Remember the Non-Verbals
Communication is often interpreted (or misinterpreted) through non-verbal methods. Boomers are no different so be sure to consider all aspects of the communication process that might be interpreted differently by a Boomer. Use direct eye contact. Avoid multi-tasking at all costs. Turn your cell phone off completely or put it away while speaking to a Boomer. If your phone buzzes when a text comes in you MUST RESIST the temptation to pick it up and glance at it. Whatever it is can surely wait so that the Boomer doesn’t think you are disrespectful even if your generation doesn’t care about it. Consider your attire. Boomers prefer a casual but professional look. Obviously fitness is fitness but don’t meet with a potential client when you are sweaty or even wearing a tank top and shorts or a sports bra and tights. Take the time to present yourself nicely. In fact, I would highly recommend that you have a dress code for all of your clients or members that keeps them from wearing revealing attire. This is not only a generational thing but also an issue for many people that are new to exercise and the fitness environment.
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