“Hi, tell me about your gym!” she said. She had just walked in off the street—but our street didn’t have foot traffic. She’d driven across town, found us despite the poor signage and boldly walked up to the front desk.
I was desperate for new clients. But still, I had no idea what to say.
“Well, we’re a CrossFit gym,” I started. “Have you heard of CrossFit?”
“Just heard of it. How does it work?” she asked.
I went into the description of “constantly varied functional movement” and so on.
She looked at her watch. I was losing her.
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m the world’s worst salesman.”
“Well, sell me.” She replied. “I don’t have much time.”
I told her about classes and gave her the rates. Miraculously, she signed up. I was surprised: My usual “sales pitch” took almost an hour and didn’t always result in a new membership. My “short form” bullets of price and schedule were actually successful.
It was my first inkling that maybe my normal “sales pitch” wasn’t the best.
The Hard Truth About the Gym Business
Looking back over the years and data now, I can see that my fear of “sales” might have been the biggest barrier to entry to my gym. I thought I had to convince skeptics with facts and data. What I really had to do was say, “Here’s how I can solve your problem for you.”
When you’re trying to convince someone to do something, you’re selling.
Selling gets a bad reputation because it’s a tool often used for evil. When we think of a “salesperson,” we sometimes think of someone dishonest: a man or woman who wants to trick us. We think of a one-sided deal: a lemon that’s going to break down as soon as we leave the parking lot. We think of a character we don’t want to play: the poorly dressed shyster who’s going to leave town as soon as we write the check.
But if you’re trying to convince someone to join your church, you’re selling belief.
If you’re trying to convince someone to stop doing drugs, you’re selling sobriety.
If you’re trying to change someone’s life through diet and exercise, you have to sell fitness.
The uncomfortable truth in business is this:
If you can’t sell them, you can’t save them.
All that money spent on Facebook advertising? It’s a total waste if you can’t convince them to sign up. Only Zuckerberg benefits.
All that time spent researching advertising, listening to podcasts and even going to gymnastics clinics? A waste of time if you can’t get someone to pay you for your service. Sorry.
All the technical expertise in the world won’t help your business if they won’t pay you for it.
Maybe you should get good at this part.
Maybe you should spend one-tenth as much time learning how to convince people as you do learning how to teach the clean.
Maybe you should get more reps in growing your business and fewer reps in the butterfly pull-up (or arguing about the butterfly pull-up in Facebook groups).
Maybe you should spend twice as much time selling as you do advertising (or, as we teach, 20 times).
Maybe you didn’t think about this when you opened a gym. It’s time to think about it now. Because the stuff that makes you a good coach doesn’t really make you a good business owner. If you’re not training your sales process, the biggest barrier to entry in your gym is you.
We teach the sales process step by step in the Incubator. Then, in Growth Phase, you can have our sales specialist, Jeff Burlingame, train you and your staff to be even better.
The potential client is sitting in front of you.
You’ve done some uncomfortable work to get the person here. You’ve asked a client how you can help his or her friends. Or you’ve been sending texts and emails and double dialing to urge a person to show up for an appointment. Or maybe you’ve spent $100 on Facebook ads just to get a good lead. Whatever the situation, there’s a lot on the line.
Now what do you say?
That depends on the client. As you’re about to read, no secret sales script, no memorized lines and no “gotcha!” close will solve all your problems.
There is a proven process—we teach it in the Incubator—and great ways to overcome objections to price and schedule. Those are also in the Incubator. But the real truth we teach—the best way to sell anything—is this:
– Make someone comfortable.
– Ask what the person wants to achieve. Get a clear picture of his or her vision of success.
– Using your expertise, show a clear path to success.
– If you can, give the person the first step right away.
– State the price.
– Ask how the person would like to pay.
We teach this in a “tree” format: If the person gives X objection, ask Y question next, etc. But the core of a good sales process is care: If you care about the person, you’ll be curious enough to ask the next question.
The process should feel normal, not rehearsed. So the real secret isn’t a script: It’s reps.
The Real Game Breaker
In fall 2019, we tracked sales conversions in Two-Brain gyms. A few dozen did a “specialist” call with one of our mentors to focus solely on sales. And while every call showed a good return for a month, conversions actually dipped back to baseline after two or three months.
But why? The gym owners had the knowledge forever; they didn’t magically forget the questions to ask or how often to follow up with their leads.
I was happy to see the short-term improvements in conversions, but I wasn’t satisfied. So I started digging deeper. What I found was that it’s not really the script that matters in the long term. It’s not the knowledge of how to overcome objections. It’s the reps.
When we assigned Two-Brain gym owners more reps at selling, their conversion numbers came up—and stayed up. If they stopped practicing, their conversion numbers dipped again.
Like a tennis backhand, if you don’t practice your sales process, you get rusty.
To be effective at sales, you have to be comfortable selling.
Practice—Then Practice Some More
In 2008, when every client who came in the door at Catalyst represented money I desperately needed, I had a pretty poor close rate—maybe 70 percent. Keep in mind that these folks were sold on my service until I talked to them. Facepalm.
By 2018, I was so comfortable with selling that many new clients would say something like this while handing me a credit card: “Thank you! I was worried this was going to be a sales pitch!” The sales process felt completely natural to me by then because I’d done it 1,000 times.
The fastest way to increase your conversion rate is to practice doing conversions. That means getting your reps in.
We now prescribe practice reps to gym owners in our Incubator and Growth programs. We make it fun—we have a scenario card deck so people can “play” at sales. Here are five sample scenarios from our deck of over 50.
We also make gym owners practice sales before we teach them how to run ads because we don’t want them to waste money. On the Two-Brain Roadmap, we guide gym owners through everything in the correct order. For example, they have to reach Level 7 in Sales before they start Level 1 in Paid Lead Generation. That means reps.
Just like there’s no secret program or diet, there’s no secret sales script. Just reps.
When you get a coaching job, you should try to be the best coach you can.
When you open a business, you have to sell.
Fitness is a hard business. No one is compelled to work out. Most people don’t want to work out. No one wants to do meal prep on Sunday nights.
Like it or not, you have to sell people on the idea of doing something they don’t like. Then you have to sell them on the idea that they will like your service better than the alternatives. Then you have to sell them on the idea that your price carries better value. And then you have to sell them on continuing—every damn day.
In this series, I’m going to shine light on the “Dark Side of Your Business.” I’ll tell you:
– Why you don’t need secret scripts (and what you actually do need).
– Why you don’t have to feel like a slime ball to sell more.
– Why I write about “selling” more than anything else these days.
– The huge epiphanies I learned from my first coach, Joe Marcoux (he’ll actually be on Two-Brain Radio with me).
First: the two sides to your business.
Operations and Audience
Your business has two parts.
First, operations. This is how you actually deliver your service. Great operations mean excellent coaching and care for your clients, consistency in your pricing, and clarity in your processes. A great measure of your operational excellence is how long people stay with your gym (we call that length of engagement or LEG).
Second, audience. This is how many people pay attention and how many of those people pay you money. Great audience building means high-value sales, following a Prescriptive Model, and using the Help First philosophy. A great measure of your audience-building excellence is how much people pay for your service (we call that average revenue per member or ARM).
Now, most coaching businesses and certifying agencies don’t tell you about the second part.
They say, “Just be a great coach and your clients will refer their friends!” or “Follow the path from Level 1 coach to Level 4 coach and you’ll make more money.”
Of course, they’re selling certifications. But I don’t need to give you my opinion on the value of this advice: Just ask yourself if it’s been true for you.
The truth reported to us by thousands of gym owners is this: It’s not enough to wait and hope. Your clients aren’t salespeople. You have to take control of the conversation and build your audience. As a business owner, that’s your job.
How to Build an Audience
First, you need to know exactly what your “core” audience wants. Then give it to them. This almost always results in your clients paying more (an increase in their ARM) for longer (an increase in their LEG).
Tip: They don’t all want the same group classes forever.
Second, you need to know what the people closest to your clients want.
Tip: You can give these people what they want, too.
Third, you need to tell strangers how you’ll solve their problems.
Tip: If you can’t actually solve their problems, don’t waste money on marketing.
Start from the inside out. Most gym owners don’t actually know what their best clients want from them or how much they’re willing to pay for it. Why would they start spending money on marketing before they figure this out?
You don’t need to hire a special “sales training” or “marketing” program. We teach you how to do all of it in the first stage of mentorship, then give you access to sales specialists in the second stage.
“Don’t find an audience for your product. Find products for your audience.” —Seth Godin
In this series, I’ve been telling you how to get clarity in your business.
Now let’s talk about how to give clarity: to your staff, to your clients and to your audience.
All the people around you want you to be reliable: to do things the same way every time. They want you to be predictable: to apply yourself fairly to everyone. And they want you to be clear: to help them gain direction in their lives through your expertise.
Here’s how to do it.
Clarity With Your Clients
You need to provide the same excellent value to everyone.
That means your operations must be excellent always—for everyone.
That means your prices should be the same for everyone at each service level. No discounts, no special deals, no trades, no “I’ll tickle you there if you kiss me here” deals.
That means clear and even application of your policies, rules and standards.
If your policy says “two weeks’ notice for cancellations,” you have to uphold that rule every time. Otherwise you have no rule.
If your policy says “class starts at 7 a.m.,” you have to start at 7 a.m. Not 7:02. Because if you don’t start at 7 a.m. every time, you don’t start at 7 a.m. ever.
If your standard is “squat below parallel,” you have to squat below parallel every time for the rep to count. Every time. If one rep is a maybe, then every rep is a maybe.
If a client is negatively affecting the experience of another client, he or she has to go. If you don’t have clear values, you don’t have values.
Clarity With Your Audience
Are you a coach or are you a “functional movement specialist”?
Everyone knows what the first thing is. No one knows what the last thing is.
Maybe you’re trying to say “I’m different from other fitness coaches!” And maybe other fitness coaches can tell the difference between a Core Vibration Expert and an Animal Utilitarian Movement Expert (Level III Certified). But other fitness coaches are not your audience.
Your audience needs to know “that girl can help me lose weight.”
Your audience doesn’t need to figure out what your logo means, what your name means, what your certification means, what your philosophy means, what your religion means.
When they look at you, do they see themselves?
What they see (or hear) is your brand.
Clearer brands are better.
Clarity With Your Staff
First and foremost, you have to get everything out of your head and onto paper.
No one can read your mind.
No one sees things the way you do.
There’s no such thing as “common sense.”
If you’ve been unclear with your staff, you have some detangling to do.
You’ll have to edit the things you’ve told them before—or maybe stuff they’ve tried to figure out on their own—and put them on the right path. That should come as a relief to everyone. But change is tough: If you need to radically edit what they’re doing, you’re going to have a tougher conversation. This is my weakness, but I’m training hard to make it my strength. Here’s what I’ve learned:
I hate confrontation.
I build things up to be too big in my mind. I’m a “people pleaser,” and I want everyone to like me. And I know that arguments usually distract me from doing the real work; I can’t resist them when they happen, so I try to avoid them.
But as I grew from Founder to Farmer to Tinker, hard conversations became more important. And they just got harder.
As a Founder in the gym business, firing a client was very hard. There were hundreds of dollars at stake, which was big money back then. But, more important, I worried about the client’s reaction: How would she feel? How would she react? What would she say in my gym? What would she tell people on Facebook?
In the Farmer Phase, I had to start managing staff. That meant evaluations and correcting their actions—and even firing a couple of people. Those conversations were harder by an order of magnitude: The decisions affected the staff people and their families, and sometimes my clients, too.
And in Tinker Phase, every conversation set the precedent for the company, hundreds of clients and dozens of staff. Most decisions were held with tens of thousands of dollars in the balance; some literally had hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in the balance. And some were more important than any amount of money.
One of my mentors, Marcy, was chosen precisely to help me with leadership. And leadership means having hard conversations. On our first call, Marcy told me:
“Chris, sometimes you’re being tactful. But sometimes you’re just hiding.”
And it’s true. Sometimes I do avoid tough conversations and tell myself to “cool off for a bit” or “phrase this politely.” Both are wise—but not when they’re avoidance techniques.
Thanks to years of experience, dozens of hard conversations and Marcy, I’ve learned a lot about hard conversations. Here are some things to keep in mind for context before you start:
1. Anticipation is always worse than the event.
2. Every tough conversation you have is just practice for a tough conversation in the future, when the stakes will be higher.
3. People aren’t really paying much attention to you. You might be staying up all night worrying about The Big Talk, but they probably aren’t.
4. The greatest gift you can give the other person is clarity. Respect him or her enough to say what you mean.
Here are my action steps:
1. Hold the conversation at the highest possible level of the communication hierarchy. Face to face is best. If that’s not possible because of geography, use a video call. If that’s not possible, call on the phone. Email is poor for having hard conversations because it’s very hard to read intent into the written word. And text isn’t an option at all.
2. Be sure but act quickly. Get the facts. But be aware of procrastination strategies like “I need more information” or opinion gathering. This isn’t a democracy.
3. Avoid emotional language. “I feel like … ” and “I think you should … ” completely dampen your message. They say, “I’m unsure.”
4. If you’re talking to a staff member, client or friend you’d like to keep around, work through this next step. If you’re going to end your relationship, skip to No.5.
Let the person release emotion first. Picture the person’s anger, frustration or sadness as a big black balloon that’s floating between your faces. You can’t really see each other while that balloon is there, so let the air out of it—slowly. Get right to the heart of the concern by asking a pointed question: “So you’re worried about this rate increase?” Then let him or her vent all the emotions.
When the balloon is a little deflated, poke it again. You want it completely empty. “You’re concerned you won’t be able to afford the gym anymore?” You might have to poke it a third time. Only when the emotional content of the speech is gone can you begin working on a solution. This was outlined in Chris Voss’s excellent book “Never Split the Difference.”
5. Then lay out your case clearly. “More words don’t make people feel better,” Seth Godin wrote in “This Is Marketing.” If you’re breaking up with the person, start the conversation with, “We’re breaking up.”
If you’re removing the person as a client, say, “I’m so sorry this isn’t working out. We do our best to please every client, but we’re just not a good fit.”
If you’re firing the person from your staff, say so. Don’t do him or her the disservice of hiding behind stock language like “we’re going another direction.” Say: “I can’t have you coaching anymore because you haven’t corrected X and Y.”
6. Give the person a cool-down period. “I’d like you to take a day or two before you respond. Think about what we’ve said. Then, if you want to talk some more, we can set up a phone call. In the meantime, I promise to be discrete about this conversation and trust you’ll do the same.”
There’s a lot more to it, and nothing beats practice. You’ll get better as you go. Luckily, you can practice on your loved ones or your staff (we made a deck of cards called the Two-Brain Scenario Deck for this precise purpose).
You’ll feel funny asking others to role-play with you, but it’s worth practicing, and practicing on neutral parties will save you painful and expensive practice in real life.
Other Media in This Series
How to Get Clarity
Building Filters in Your Business
Filter, Don’t Find
Clarity: The Two-Brain Roadmap and Mentorship
How My Mentors Help Me Focus
If you want to go far, travel in a straight line.
My mentors help me combat overwhelm. They don’t dump ideas on me. Instead, they help me trim my branches and grow higher.
Here are some of the lessons learned from my mentors over the last decade:
1. Denis Turcotte
My first paid mentor, Denis had me focus on the operations side of the business. I thought I needed more marketing; Denis taught me I’d built a system that couldn’t handle the weight of one more client.
Actually, I hadn’t built any systems at all, so I was just piling every new client onto my back and struggling under the load.
Denis had me focus on systems, and under his care I built a real business instead of just working the job I’d bought myself.
2. Mike Warkentin
While working for CrossFit Media, I learned how to “cut.” I learned that good writing requires fewer words, not more. I learned that editing is the hard part—but it’s the important part. I learned that simpler is better.
I took those lessons to business writing and then to business systems.
Mike also taught me that powerful leaders can stay in the background. Over his 10 years at CrossFit, Mike was the foundation of the Media department, propping up writers and videographers with standards and systems. We got the byline, most of the time; he got the real work of editing. But Mike has the incredible skill of correcting people tactfully.
3. Dan Martell
Dan taught me to stay in my lane.
This blog is popular with gym owners because I am one.
As Two-Brain grew from startup to—well, we’re still a really big startup—new ideas and opportunities started popping up everywhere. Every software company wanted us to be a partner, every person on staff had a great new idea, and money seemed to wait around every corner.
Dan’s greatest gift was keeping me focused on one thing at a time and cutting out the distractions to move forward. Dan taught me how to say “no” to good ideas, to say “not yet” to great ideas and to trust my own vision.
4. Marcy Swenson
Marcy taught me how to get the people around me focused.
Marcy had me tie everything—my ideas, my systems and my team—to my vision. That meant some powerful team upgrades. It also meant editing my team.
Marcy brought clarity to my conversations: Instead of saying “good job” all the time, she taught me that honesty was the best gift I could give my staff. It’s hard to give people critical feedback. But those conversations make a huge difference: The best staff will take your candor and use it to grow. The worst staff will feel attacked and leave. Clarity is a wedge between greatness and mediocrity.
At this level, a business needs radical clarity. Marcy mentored me to it.
5. Todd Herman
Todd Herman helped me build a leadership persona.
I have a clear picture of the leader I want to be now, and when I’m faced with a decision, I ask myself “What would Chris do?”
Herman calls this “The Alter Ego Effect,” and although it’s a powerful new idea, the exercise is really not a creation but an edit: You filter through every person in your life, find the aspirational characters and then put them together into one Alter Ego.
6. Brian Strump
Brian, a Certified Two-Brain Mentor, took my call yesterday. I pitched a new idea for the mentors on the Two-Brain team. I thought he’d love it. I thought it was a great idea. I’d already invested time and money researching the idea with our legal team.
Brian said, “Don’t do it.”
He said, “The system we have right now is way too powerful. No one else can build it. No one else wants to.”
So I stopped my plans, saved a few thousand dollars on legal fees, and stopped myself from wasting a year of focus in the wrong direction.
Dial in Your Focus
In every case, the mentor had me focus more.
None of them gave me a big, new idea.
All of them took me back to the basics: Turcotte had me write out the roles in my company; Warkentin made me ask “Is this process or person necessary?”; Martell had me define and hire a COO; Marcy had me edit my conversations with my team; Herman had me edit myself as a leader.
Strump gave me the greatest gift of all: “No.”
Want a really great example? Todd Herman has a program he calls “Start Up.” It’s for people who are thinking about starting a company. I don’t know the cost of the program, but fewer than half the enrollees actually go on to start a business at the end.
That doesn’t mean people complain; in fact, many people say, “Thanks for saving my life!”
Finding out that you don’t really want to do the work of entrepreneurship before it’s too late? That’s worth $500. Or $5 million.
Good writers have ideas. Great writers have editors. Good consultants pontificate. Great mentors cut.
Clarity creates focus. Focus creates results.
Other Media in This Series
How to Get Clarity
Building Filters in Your Business
Clarity: The Two-Brain Roadmap and Mentorship
Clarity: The Greatest Gift You Can Give
Has a client ever given you business advice?
Like this: “If you dropped your prices a bit, you could get a lot more people in here.”
If you’ve been around awhile, you probably just smile and thank the client for the advice. You probably know that his or her only business experience is as a consumer. You’re probably comfortable in the wisdom you’ve gained through your experience and focus.
But if you haven’t been around for long, that advice might be tempting to take. You think about it, right? Because, deep down, you think, “Everyone knows more about business than I do.” Or maybe you doubt your own value. Or maybe you just need filters for this stuff.
Even longtime box owners are susceptible to “advice” given online or by other business owners. Some of it is good; some of it isn’t. In Part 1 of this series, I told you how to filter the ideas you get outside your business. Here, I’m going to tell you how to build these filters for the people you care about most: your staff and your clients.
Because everyone wants to help.
Everyone has ideas.
Opinions are everywhere.
Facts are few.
First Filter: The Priority People Filter
“You don’t find an audience for your products. You find products for your audience.” —Seth Godin
You have to know who your best clients are and listen to them.
Do the “Apples exercise”: Figure out who your five top clients are. When they talk, you give them your full attention. When others talk, you smile and say, “Thanks.”
Second Filter: The Precision Filter
“Everyone is complaining about our programming!”
Exactly who is complaining and exactly what was said?
Most of your staff members have been taught to report problems instead of fix them. And because they care about you, they want to make sure you take their reports seriously. So they amplify their reports with words such as “everyone.”
But not everyone hates your programming. A few people might hate it—or they might just have questions.
Read “Killing the Canary” (it’s one of my best).
Third Filter: The Proposal Filter
I’m lucky enough to win the lottery every day.
I have enormous “who luck”—amazing people align with my vision and jump on board the Two-Brain bus.
Because they’re entrepreneurial, they have huge ideas.
But success in the Tinker Phase means saying “no” to good ideas and “not yet” to a lot of great ideas.
I love hearing ideas. My team knows it. They love to “brainstorm” stuff with me (and I with them). To make sure their ideas are fully formed, we have a Process Proposal Sheet to help all of us think through our ideas before sharing them with the team.
Many of my ideas die before I fill out the form completely. And that’s good: Putting them on paper means I won’t forget them. On the other hand, if they’re not ready to fill the page, they’re not ready to share with others yet.
If your business is small, you might not need written proposals for every idea. But you should limit brainstorming and ideation to specific forums: Have a brainstorming session at the end of a monthly team meeting or during your staff’s Career Roadmap meetings. When a staff person says, “I have a great idea!” respond with, “Awesome! Please bring it to our meeting on Saturday so everyone can hear it!”
That way, you avoid repetition, you avoid distraction, and you get to celebrate your bright ideas together.
Fourth Filter: The Perspective Filter
No one but you sees the entire landscape.
An idea might be great, but it doesn’t fit into your annual plan.
Or a complaint might be important to the complainer but shouldn’t distract you from the bigger vision.
This is a very tough filter to build because we’re hard wired to seek out threats and avoid them. It’s always tempting to shut down the entire school because the pencils aren’t sharp enough. We actually look for drama and then dwell on it instead of staying focused on the work we should be doing.
This one requires an objective third party, like a mentor.
One gym owner said this last week:
For perspective, that gym owner is changing the lives of dozens of people in our city—and she was focused on the work she wasn’t doing.
We all do it, and that’s why successful entrepreneurs have mentors. Every one of them!
Other Media in This Series
How to Get Clarity
Filter, Don’t Find
Clarity: The Two-Brain Roadmap and Mentorship
Clarity: The Greatest Gift You Can Give