Dave Thomas Owner The Business of Lifting WeightsWritten by Dave Thomas

Fun fact. I quit the one sales job that I ever had a week before I knew my sorry ass was going to get canned. I despised my life and brief tenure in sales. When sitting in your car eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and listening to sports radio is the highlight of your day, you know you’ve made a questionable life decision.

My abrupt encounter with cold calling real estate agents and trying to sling websites taught me two unmistakable things. First, I am painfully bad at sales. I don’t like being sold as a customer and I hate selling someone as a provider. Second, I knew I never wanted to sell in this manner ever again if the opportunity ever presented itself. 

If you’re expecting this to be gym sales training along the lines of the traditional form of a guy in an extra medium polo shirt with a faux-hawk, over developed biceps, and an unfounded sense of accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. Today’s sales landscape is all about experience and empathy, and I am going to show you how a terrible salesperson has an 80% lifetime success rate with new members joining our gym

Here’s the rub. We don’t sell. We don’t push. We don’t stick a clipboard in people’s faces. The first and only emphasis is on coaching. Expose people to your best effort and let them decide. That’s it. Our focus is on providing an attentive, engaged session, getting out of the way and allowing the experience of being coached replace the salesmanship. Our conversion numbers are predictable, reliable, and most importantly, the result of a highly regimented process of training, coaching our staff on the protocol, and collectively sticking to our team ethos of not selling.

We’ve talked how to attract new trials, but today we’re focused entirely on how to convert more trials to members. These are the three biggest mistakes you can make when someone tries your gym. 

Failure To Hit the 3 Pulse Checks

First impression is everything. At Performance360, we have no typical front desk or greeting person. We don’t do card swipes or check ins. We want to present ourselves as place of fitness and fitness only, not the terrible gym joining experience that so many are used to these days. Even in our busiest classes of 25 people, the coach always has time to step aside for a 30 second interaction upon the new member arrival and introduce his or herself. Most people are very intimidated upon entering, so we want to welcome them and be friendly as quickly as we can. Everyone has a wall, and this is the first pulse check that chips away at it gently.

The second is immediately after your class walkthrough to ensure the workout explanation made sense. When someone tries your gym, they likely have a roughly 0 – 50% idea of what you explained to the class. Perhaps they have done the major movement of the day and understand how basic circuit training works, but they don’t know what the fuck an EMOM is, or what percentage work entails, or even the beginner progressions that you hopefully have programmed. You have to check in after the group talk and get with them individually. Let them know it’s completely okay that they don’t understand, and that’s why you are there as a coach. Do not let them proceed into the workout without high confidence in what they are doing, and that you have their back.

The third pulse check is an ongoing series of interactions throughout the workout. Asking how they are feeling, telling them they are doing great, providing very minimal, yet clearly digestable coaching cues to let them know you are paying attention. If you ignore them, they will feel that. Do not be the place that’s too cool for new people, or puts up a cold shoulder because you want to seem elite. That’s just being a rude dickhead.

Failure to hit any of these three pulse checks can result in a new trial who isn’t convinced you care about them or their results. They are all important, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to spend some time with your trial.

Making It About You, Not Them

Here we go again. Fourth blog in a row where I have mentioned this, and I promise you it’s not the last since so many fitness professionals suck very badly at this. Today’s tone is more of a business one than personal, since one of the easiest ways to turn off new prospects is to drone on and on about your gym. My partner Bryan is great at this and always relays the importance of making our communication about the customer, not the business. If they ask you questions about the gym, that’s a greenlight to talk about your gym but always revert it back to the prospect, their goals, interests and why they are coming to see you in the first place. By the end of your initial conversation with them, you should be fully equipped to customize their expectations and how you tailor your speaking style for that particular prospect.

For example, Sarah is a former college athlete who is heavily experienced in squats and cleans. She’s likely most interested in programming and atmosphere, and seeing if this is a place she can express her athleticism than say, making sure she isn’t intimidated. It’s probably a safe assumption that she doesn’t need the same constant positive reinforcement that someone who is new and highly intimidated might need, like Frank. Frank has never touched a barbell and likely would need more coaching, positive encouragement, and assurance that he is in a safe place and doesn’t feel like an idiot around all of these seemingly high level athletes.  

Your time is scarce with someone new, so what you learn from your prospect during your 60 second conversation can make all the difference for their experience you provide them, and how you manage your interactions with them. 

You treat every person the same, but you engage each person uniquely. 

Used Car Salesmanship

With good staff training and culture in place, your gym experience will sell itself if done properly, and no amount of sweet talking is going to convince someone otherwise who had a dog shit experience. I cannot tell you how many times our anti-sales approach has been complemented by trials who were impressed by and appreciated our lack of pushiness. The prospect is going to be exposed to your coaching, atmosphere, community, and workouts. Treat them with respect, ensure they are safe, and make them feel welcome and they will sign up more than they won’t. Many times, someone will leave to think it over and end up joining a few days later. If you are pushy or rude, this will not happen. 

Pushing people appears desperate and urgency is a stinky cologne. 

Remember that this process is also to weed out those who are not a fit for your community, so it’s okay to see some folks walk if it means you don’t jeopardize your culture. I have often gone the opposite route of salesmanship because I adamantly do not believe in it. Over the years, I have had a few prospects tell me to sell them on Performance360 versus X, Y, and Z competition and my response is always along the following lines.

“With all due respect, I don’t get into comparisons between our competition. If you are unsure, I encourage you to try out a few places and see what the best fit is for you. We have great people and coaches here, and if you feel another gym is a better fit for what you are looking for, then we wish you the best of luck.”

I don’t stammer away listing facts and resume bullet points of what we’ve done because I don’t believe in convincing people. While we have no doubt lost a handful of potential members by not being more aggressive, that’s a calculated decision that we deliberately make because we believe that kind of business is bad psychology to start someone at our gym. We want everyone to be excited about joining, not skeptical and reluctant. If they don’t love it or are excited at the prospects of becoming a part of your community, it’s okay for them not to join or to take their time in thinking it over.

The trial process is always something we are refining at our gym, as we believe it’s one of the most important aspects of running a successful gym. Don’t be pushy. Don’t jam memberships down their throat. Engage people and be empathic towards what they want to accomplish. Be present. Pay attention. Allow them to absorb all of your culture and make a confident decision for themselves.