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Free Trials - Miracle or Menace?

Free trials…  I am not really sure why we offer them.  You certainly don’t get to try out a new pair of running shoes before you buy them.  Perhaps you are signing up for a new phone contract, or Sky TV.  None of these product suppliers will offer you a free trial.  So what if you don’t like it … unfortunately you have to pay for your contracted period …

It always made more sense to me to offer a ‘cool down’ period.  You know … get the person to join … if they are not entirely happy with everything then they can cancel their membership within 7 days and get a refund (minus an administration fee of course).

However, it has become a well accepted part of fitness centres that many will offer a free trial if you wish to ‘try before you buy'.

Just the other day in fact I rang a club … (with absolutely no intention of joining) and asked for a free trial.  It was duly granted one without question.  The gym was new and I wanted to check it out.  I thought to myself, why are they giving me a free trial?  At least they should check that I am a genuine prospect first.

This month I thought that I would discuss free trials … their purpose, and a couple of suggestions if in fact you are offering free trials. 

Don’t get me wrong … I actually do think that in certain circumstances free trials are a good idea.  The following are a range of situations in which you might offer free trials… to try to encourage a member of the public to join your club.

  1. Many clubs offer a couple of free 7 day passes to all new members of the gym as a benefit of their membership.  The gym will then proceed to contact these leads and arrange for them to begin their trial.  Often an incentive is given on the first day of the trial to encourage them to join.
  2. Some gyms operate lead boxes … where some sort of competition is run and interested individuals enter their details to win - say a gym membership.  The unsuccessful applicants are often offered a free 7day trial of the facility as a consolation prize, again with some sort of incentive to join on the first day.
  3. Perhaps offer a free 1 day trial to previous enquirers of your centre who have not subsequently joined.  This may be a chance to get them back to the gym using your second follow up call following their visit.

There are other situations too where a free trial may be a good idea.  But remember it is not an excuse to give someone a free visit to your club!  It is a chance to try to convert a prospect into a member of your club.  Always bare in mind the following …

  1. Free trials are by appointment only.  If someone just turns up with their friend and wants to take advantage of a free trial, chances are that they have no intention of joining.  Also, members will believe that bringing a person for a free trial is a right not a privilege.  You can kiss your guest fee goodbye if word gets out that you give out trials willy nilly!
  2. Free trials should have an expiry date.  For example – if someone wishes to refer a friend for their 7 day pass … make them aware that it must be done at POS, or perhaps within one week of joining (give them a call 7 days after joining if they have not given details at POS).  If there is no expiry date people will just turn up 3 months into their membership with long lost cousin Judy who is over on holiday and wants some free training … certainly not a prospect of the gym!
  3. List all referrals for free trials on a tracking sheet.  This way you can keep tabs on who has been in … and you will not get chancers sneaking through the net. Also, it will show you your free trial conversion rate.
  4. Send a letter to free trial nominees.  Whether it is via referral, or competition boxes etc … when you receive the details of your free trialists send them a letter to outline their nomination.  Then follow up with a phone call a few days later to book them in to start their trial.
  5. Compete a confirmation call on the morning of their trial appointment.  This will increase you show rate exponentially as many people will forget otherwise!
  6. Treat the trial as an ordinary enquiry.  Complete a needs analysis with the prospect, tour the facility, uncover objections, present the price etc (see our business database for the 8 steps involved in your sales process) … and you may also wish to offer some sort of incentive to join on the first day of their trial (get them joined up while you can!)
  7. Introduce the trialist to a gym instructor.  Have the instructor show them how the equipment works and perhaps a few exercises to complete during their visit.  Ensure that the instructor notifies you when the person has completed their workout.
  8. If the prospect does not join on the first day of their trial, give them a follow up call midway through their trial period and attempt to book them in for a chat with you on the last day. 
  9. Finally, if the prospect still doesn’t join … chances are they were never that interested anyway … however you should still complete your normal sales follow up procedure.

If you keep in mind these steps when anyone trials your facility you will find that you convert a substantially higher number to members.  Think of the difference this could mean to your bottom line!