In the first post of this series, Increasing Revenue: The ROI of Product & Services in the Fitness Training Market, we identified the simple truth that there are really only three ways to grow revenue:
- Increase the number of clients
- Increase prices
- Increase the number of products/services sold
As a result of that post, I had several discussions on how coaching and training clubs fill different niches and thought that, before we dive into the revenue side, we talk through what is called differentiation.
All training services—from the small yoga shop to the large training chains to the elite coaching facilities—are in effect personal services businesses. (For this set of posts, we won’t include remote training. Clearly, remote training is a solid and growing business model, but without location-based limitations, differentiators are heavily weighted towards references and credentials. I’ll take a shot at remote training strategies later this spring.)
A differentiator in its purest sense is something that is unique, measurable and defendable (borrowing from Edward Chamberlin). What is that one thing that separates your training business from others in your immediate geography? For non-trainer based businesses, say web design firms, the most effective differentiator is financial performance, i.e., if I can show you how my product will make or save you money, then the discussion will continue and a possible sale will be made.
For personal services it’s a bit tougher, because expectations for results are individualized.
What’s Not a Differentiator
What often pass as differentiators in any market are really just “me toos.” For training centers, items such as basic equipment, clean restrooms, courteous trainers and easy parking are things to be pointed out but are not differentiators.
Remember, to be a differentiator, it must be unique, measurable and defendable. Examples from our partners:
- Credentials – ITU Level 2, former S&C coach at USC.
- Levels of achievement by the owner and/or the coaching staff – Kona Finishers
- Full service – Cycling/endurance centers that have an expertise in S&C, bike fitters on staff and an affiliated cycle club.
- Niche focus – For example, we have a partner that focuses exclusively on folks between 40-85 years old and has built a position supported by maximizing information from the latest technology in unique ways.
- Integrated technical capacity – Related to #4 above, this is physiological positioning that implies two differentiators: first, the use of the latest technologies that provide new info in support of achievement; second, the requirement to understand the data de facto positions the trainers as having superior knowledge.
- References – i.e. worked with Jane Smith, World Triathlon winner 2011 & 2012.
So without having to go back for your PHD or recommitting to an ultra-marathon, what can you do today to build your differentiator?
The First Consideration – Ask yourself, “who are my present clients,” and, just as important, “who are my targets?” Diving a bit deeper, you’ll want to break customers into categories, which will help you identify your value for each. For example:
- Older men and women who are trying to improve or maintain fitness.
- Elite athletes that are looking to get to the podium.
- Serious athletes that are working towards a new personal best.
- High school-aged athletes that are just trying to do better.
Build your own definitions; working with one partner, we landed on six categories.
The Second Consideration – Ask yourself honestly, “why do people sign up?” And for those clients that have been with you for a while, “why do they stay?” Is it your focus on quality movement that helps keep older folks heathy, minimizing down time? Or is it your intensity that works well with younger aggressive athletes? Are you leveraging technology in a way that provides insights to both novice athletes while helping elites continue their journey?
Another good question is, “why don’t people sign up?” Usually price is the fallback excuse, but more often than not, real value was not perceived by the buyer. If you focus on price then that will be the main decision influencer (bad idea). That brings in the concept of fit as leading you to your differentiator.
As a consumer of training services and as someone who works with dozens of top trainers, the concept of “fit” is critical as you look to your value. With regard to long term collaborations, which all successful trainers seem to maintain, you can think in terms of three keys to fit.
- Personality – This may seem soft, and it is tough to measure, but it is a real concern. If you are intense, then either tone it down or look for clients that work best in a serious environment. If you are more personable, then look to folks that match your easier rhythm. For clubs with several trainers, an honest discussion among the team will help match up the right person for each new client, providing a better chance at long-term engagements.
- Experience matching – This is one of the bigger disconnects that we see. In smaller clubs, the pricing model is often the problem, as it does not differentiate deeply enough between levels of services and the experience of the coaches providing those services. For example, if I’ve never learned to swim but want to; does it make sense to work with a Level 4 Certified coach? (BTW, I can imagine it making sense, e.g. an advanced cyclist/runner wants to move to Tris…that feels like an exception though.) We’ll cover this in detail in further posts, but the takeaway here is you’ll want to understand your clients’ needs and charge substantially more for the advanced services.
- Process – Using a methodology or protocol can be a differentiator, and it works best when you tie it back to results. I’m not talking about the online softwares that are being used to “guide” a client through a regimen; they’re quickly becoming “me toos” as well. In this instance, process refers to the physical steps that you as a coach take a client through to achieve their goals.
A solid example of a differentiator within the process is during the assessment phase. Assessment is the important first step in building a relationship; the personal interaction during the assessment sets the basis for all future engagement. Assessments, depending on the sport, can range from a simple flexibility analysis that might include a visual/video review to a full technology-based physiological analysis.
When comparing an assessment offering without the use of advanced technology to one that does use technology, the latter clearly differentiates because: a) the coach can discuss with his/her client details of their limitations and how to overcome them with information that is fresh and personal, and b) it allows the coach to educate the client while showing off the coach’s experience/knowledge and, by implication, their commitment to getting it right.
In conclusion, differentiators are often difficult to assess, especially from inside the organization. But asking good questions about your present client base as to why they buy, why they stay, and why they walk away is a good starting point. From there, having a discussion about what things you can do and investments you’ll need to make to add true differentiated value will help establish a solid foundation for your go-forward strategy.