The Overlooked Power of Member Referrals

The Overlooked Power of Member Referrals

Blog post written by: The IFBA

What do marketing and sales in the fitness industry mean to you?

Expensive GoogleAds campaigns? Facebook advertising? Local outreach?

What if we were to tell you that one of the most effective marketing strategies, based on ROI, was simply getting your existing members to refer their friends and family to the gym?

We often focus most of our energy on external marketing: but if we’re doing a good job for our current members, referrals are one of the easiest and most profitable ways to get new clients.

Here’s how.

Internal and external marketing

To understand why referrals are so powerful, we need to strip back the marketing approach.

Oftentimes, people use the word ‘marketing’ to refer to efforts targeted solely at external sources. These would be the examples we mentioned above: social media campaigns, SEO, print advertising, etc. And while this is a crucial element of any fitness establishment’s marketing strategy, it’s only one part of the picture.

Hand in hand with these external channels comes the internal marketing.

Internal marketing is what happens once somebody has signed up to the gym. It’s the feeling they get when they think about heading through your doors in the morning. It’s the music you play, the smiles your staff offer to every person they meet; it’s the quality of the training experience and the cleanliness of the changing rooms.

In short, internal marketing is all about what you do to make people stick around once they’ve signed up.

As well as being an excellent way to retain your members (it’s far more cost effective to keep a current member than on-board a new one), internal marketing is the key to a successful referral strategy.

The Three Ps

So how do you approach internal marketing effectively?

Introducing: The Three Ps.

  • People
  • Product
  • Place

Your People are the heart and soul of your gym. In all our years supporting personal trainers, gym owners, and fitness managers, one of their biggest challenges is getting the right people on their team. Develop an outstanding staff team, and you’re 90% of the way there.

Your Product is the bread and butter of your business: the programming and coaching. This has to be solid, or everything else will amount to nothing.

Your Place is your physical space. The home of your community and the face of your brand, your facility needs to be fit-for-purpose, immaculate, and showroom-ready 24/7. 

Get these Three Ps on point and the quality of your service will speak for itself: no pushy sales techniques or bells-and-whistles marketing techniques necessary.

Why referrals?

The natural consequence of knocking your client’s socks off every time they walk through the door, is that they’ll be excited to share their new membership with their nearest and dearest.

By creating a strategic approach to referrals, we are maximising the benefit of this natural inclination. We get proactive about asking for referrals at key points in the member journey, then watch as qualified warm leads trickle in at a steady rate.

The great thing about referrals is that a lot of the hard part is already done. Because the person has already heard about how great the gym is from their friend, we just have to push them over the line. If marketing is about getting people to know, like, and trust the business – with referrals, you’re already a good 70% of the way there.

This improves your conversion rate and decreases your cost per lead significantly.

Designing the referral process

When it comes to designing your referral process, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. No two businesses' target population will share the exact same characteristics, and what works for one won’t work for another.

You need to use the Cycle of Action (Research, Plan, Implement, Evaluate) to put your best guess into action, then measure your results and improve the approach over time.

Having said that, there are some key principles that we’ve found work well universally.

  • Lay the groundwork

Good client relationships are all about trust: you say you’re going to do something, then you do it. Prepare clients right from the beginning for the fact that you’re going to ask for referrals, so they won’t be taken aback when you do.

  • Choose your moment

There’ll be certain times in the member lifecycle where a request for a referral will yield especially positive results. The ‘honeymoon period’ of the first 90 days is one of these – ensure your member onboarding is outstanding to maximise this. Even the initial evaluation can be a great opportunity to ask new clients to bring a friend along. Major events like a birthday or Christmas are another time where people are likely to refer. Create a clear process for when you will ask for referrals, and how

  • Make it worth their while

Offering an ‘ethical bribe’ to current members for every one of their referrals who signs up (a free month of membership, for example) is a powerful incentive for engagement. You can even offer them a free trial voucher to gift to their friends and family, making it a win-win for everyone involved.

A steady stream of leads is vital to keep your facility thriving. But the high-churn model of the past is an expensive and unreliable way to do business. Instead, focus on creating such an outstanding experience for your members that they not only stick around for the long run – they happily refer all their friends.

When it comes to successful marketing, looking inwards may be more productive than you thought.

Looking for a tried-and-tested framework for driving both retention and referrals in your fitness business?

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