Using trials to sell memberships

December 5, 2017

We’ve been using a two stage membership sales process for some time, where we effectively discount peoples first month of training, making our service more accessible, but more importantly allowing people to make buying decisions based on our service, results and culture, rather than price and perception of value.  And it works.  So well in fact, that we no longer offer another entry point into the gym – body transformation programmes and so on – everybody starts their journey with us with a thirty-day trial.

We’re not letting space by the workout or offering pay-as-you-play budget fitness. Our tiered membership structure is unique relative to the way most people are used to buying fitness, and this, coupled with the fact that people have become skeptical of any ongoing commitment to pay for a gym membership (most gyms don’t deliver), means that we need to make it easier for people to buy from us.  So we use a trial membership to give people a low barrier (price and commitment) entry point, allowing them to test drive the gym before they make a longer term commitment.

The trial period works for the customer, as it gives them insight into what we offer, beyond equipment and location, and the chance to sample the people, the place and the product. But it also works for us, as we get the chance to showcase our services and authentically make recommendations (sell) specific to the persons needs and requirements.  It takes the pressure off both parties.  The customer doesn’t feel under pressure to make snap buying decisions and we don’t feel under pressure to sell, as our product and service will do that for us organically.  What I personally like most about this approach is that we get the chance to earn peoples business, rather than have to ‘sell’ to them.

But whilst leading with a trial offer works, there are some critical bits that you need to get right, including these below.

Price point.

We offer a paid trial priced at around half the cost of our core membership (not our lowest membership).  We are in a densely populated area, in a relatively mature market, and our gym has developed a decent reputation locally, so if we offered a free trial, we would be inundated with people taking up the offer, who had no intention continuing with us beyond the initial trial period.  And given that the goal of the trial is not to sell the trial itself, but to convert people into an ongoing membership, this wouldn’t work for us.  Free might work for lower priced services and in some smaller, less established markets, but it doesn’t work in ours.

Trial length.

We have previously to offered a fifteen-day trial, which was cheaper than our current thirty-day option. The advantage of this is that is more accessible to people, both in terms of time and commitment.  But the problem is that it does not convert as well as the longer and more expensive thirty-day option.  Some of that is to do with a potentially more hyperactive buyer, but thirty days is also long enough to get people some decent results. Again, shorter, seven day options, might work in smaller markets, but it doesn’t work in ours.  Thirty days is the current sweet spot to sell our core membership.

Supporting infrastructure.

You need the supporting infrastructure to service the trials that you sell.  Session availability and effective on-boarding are obviously vitally important, for both the new trial member, but also ensuring that there is no disruption in service for the existing members (this is critical).  If you sell thirty trials per month for example, thats 30hrs of one-to-one strategy sessions, and typically between 60-100 extra sessions each week to deliver.  You need to have somebody dedicated to tracking trial members and doing the necessary to convert them into longer term members.  You need to have your systems on point if you want to do any sales volume.

KPI tracking.

What works for one business in a given market may not apply to a similar business in a different market.  You cannot blindly copy somebody else’s approach and expect it to mirror the delivery.  You need to track your KPIs, daily, weekly and monthly, and adapt accordingly.  Using price as an example, you need to position this at a point where you sell as many trials as possible, but conversions remain high enough.  Sell it too cheap (or free) and you will sell more trials, but convert fewer of them.  Make it too expensive and your conversion rate will be high, but you won’t sell enough trials to grow as you could.  You need to track and evaluate what you do.