So I was mindlessly scrolling the web in search of newsletter content and I stumbled upon a title that caught my eye:
“5 VC’s Share the Worst Ways Founders Botch Their Pitches”
My interest was officially piqued. I love hearing how others screw up the selling process. Why not see if there’s a lesson or two to be learned from the way founders routinely bungle their approach to securing financing? (Full article here)
Roughly 4 minutes (Fast Company always shares a “read time” projection) and 4 points later, I realized that some of the most prevalent ways to blow a request for funding pitch to a VC also happen to be ways that I can quickly mess up a sale here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP). Here’s a look at each of the common founder’s mistakes as listed in the article, and how they can save me from failure as I sell at CSP:
1. Overconfident Name Dropping
“Using names of investors who are “almost certainly in the deal” is a big red flag.”
Some founders feel a need to gloat about big name investors who may be in on a deal, much like some gym owners can’t seem to stop from discussing the high-profile athletes who train with them. Assuming that everyone will be impressed by who you train is a dangerous game. In my experience, the parents (or athletes) who place a priority on the fame or professional status of your other clientele are going to be driven by the wrong motivators. They either have an unreasonable expectation for their own potential to play their sport at the highest levels, or are more concerned with saying that they train at the same place as a big leaguer than they are about actually training at said facility.
This rule isn’t limited to gyms that accommodate professional athletes. Just about every town in the country has a “star quarterback,” or athlete who is considered to be the best in town. That athlete very well may train at your gym, but you have no idea what his or her reputation is off of the field. Be careful about leaning too hard on that relationship as a selling point with potential clients.
Leveraging your relationship with high-profile athletes can certainly be a single tool in your selling toolkit, but it can’t be a standardized component (or the entirety) of your pitch. There is a very specific time, place, or type of candidate who is best fit for this selling approach. Once you learn to instinctively implement this strategy when appropriate, it can be an effective closing tool. Until then, pump the breaks on broadcasting how famous your clients are.
2. Market-Size Misses
“A huge turnoff is when founders come to us with a totally overblown estimate that doesn’t reflect their corner of the universe.”
Much like founders are fond of overstating their potential market-size, fitness professionals have a dangerous habit of promising specific weight loss achievements and other metrics that are not entirely within their control as the service provider. In our baseball-specific niche, a similar mistake would be guaranteeing velocity gains for pitchers, or specific power improvements at the plate for the batters.
The reality is that work done in the weight room is only a small piece of the puzzle in the grand scheme of accomplishing those objectives. There isn’t a strength coach in the country who can guarantee that their potential clients will leave their gym and focus on putting the right food in their bodies, consume plenty of water, and get 8+ hours of sleep per night, so why are they making promises that are contingent upon each of these factors being closely controlled?
If you’re honest with the person you’re selling, then the pitch should sound a little bit like this: “We can put you in a position to succeed. We’ll give you the tools you need in the weight room to accomplish your training objectives. Combine this with a healthy diet and good lifestyle decisions, and you are likely to be extremely pleased with your results.”
You’ll never find a disgruntled former CSP client complaining that they didn’t add 10mph to their fastball like Pete promised.
3. Subtle Signs of Character Flaws
“If there is one validating factor–assuming we already like the business in the pitch, of course–it is the level of ethics/conduct we get from the entrepreneur at the very first meeting.”
Much like you’ll never find someone complaining about me using misleading sales tactics, you’re also never going to find someone who’s heard me speak poorly of the competition during the selling process. Eric and I take the whole “level of ethics/conduct” component of running this business seriously, and that means that we’re committed to never making enemies in our field. Speaking poorly of another gym or training philosophy isn’t going to serve any purpose other than to make us look territorial and immature.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last ten years I’ve told someone that “I’m an advocate of anything the promotes physical activity and gets people moving” when asked for my take on a fitness alternative. If I always take the high road, my brand will be one that carries an image of unrelenting positivity.
4. Tone-Deaf or Insensitive Language
“Words matter, and the language people use reflect the type of founder they are and the type of company they are going to build.”
You’ll seriously hurt the effectiveness of your selling efforts if you make a habit of disregarding the unique needs of the person in front of you. While we don’t see a ton of drop-in inquiries here at CSP, it is something that I encounter. Every time this type of lead walks through the door, I need to quickly determine if this is someone who is going to feed off of our high-energy training environment, or someone who is a little bit overwhelmed by the idea of joining a “rugged” gym.
If this person falls into the former category, I kick things off with a tour of the gym and let the training environment sell itself before discussing dollars and cents. If the person falls into the latter category and hints at the fact that they’re a little intimidated by weight training, the last thing I should start with is highlighting our “badass training environment.”
The look on a person’s face, the tone in their voice, and the questions they ask are all going to tell you what you need to know about the optimal way to pitch them. Don’t be tone-deaf to the signals they’re passing along and assume that every person walking through the door needs to be wowed by the guy chalking up for a max-effort deadlift single.
Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?
I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.