2 Counterintuitive Sales Tips for Your Gym

I spent six months repeatedly crashing and burning during the sales process when we started Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) in 2007.

Day in and day out, leads would roll in to our voicemail and email accounts, and my business partners Eric and Tony would sit alongside me in a tiny little office listening as I delivered cringeworthy fitness instruction sales pitches despite having never actually instructed fitness myself. This period of trial and error was a necessary evil, as the guys knew I’d be a far more effective salesman in the long-term if given the opportunity to develop my own approach, as opposed to simply memorizing and regurgitating a canned pitch.

Here we are, almost twelve full years later, and I’ve got more than 4,500 pitches under my belt. During that time, I’ve come to learn that the effectiveness of my pitch is often more driven by what I’m not willing to commit to during the process, than it is by what I’m willing to promise.

With this in mind, I’d like to share two of my favorite counterintuitive selling lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Lesson #1 - Sometimes clients need to hear what you can’t do

I’d venture a guess that roughly 80% of the parents of young athletes I speak to will ask me what kind of training outcomes can be expected. How many pounds will my son gain if he works out with you? How much faster can I expect him to become? My boy is a pitcher…how much of a velocity increase can he expect?

If my answer to any of these questions is anything other than “that depends on your son’s commitment to the process,” I am doing my business a disservice. As gym owners, we need to fight the urge to assume optimal training outcomes for each of the potential clients we pitch. This doesn’t mean that we need to tell parents that their kids likely have a shitty work ethic. Instead, it means that a little transparency and education in your response can go a long way toward closing a sale.

“You know, Mr. Johnson, your son’s potential in the weight room and on the field is really a function of his ability to put a number of good habits together. What he does here in the gym will be an important piece of a big puzzle. We’re going to give him all of the tools he needs to be successful in this space and make sure he has an understanding of how to execute the material properly. Assuming he compliments this training with quality nutrition habits and plenty of good sleep, increases in athleticism will be an inevitable outcome of the process.”

Translation: We can’t be accountable for the lifestyle habits your son maintains outside of our space, but we can guarantee that we’ll knock our role in the overall process right out of the park.

To date, I have yet to have a parent take issue with this response. In fact, more often than not, they find the honesty and logic refreshing. When every gym in town is promising the world to you during the sales process, it must be a nice change of pace to find the rare one that is willing to be brutally honest about the challenges ahead.

Your post-it should probably read: “Be honest and up-sell less.”

Your post-it should probably read: “Be honest and up-sell less.”

Lesson #2 - Up-sell in the gym, not on the phone

It is appalling to me how eager the average performance gym owner is to process payment on a 4+ day/week training package for a pre-pubescent thirteen year old with zero training experience. Is there a single thirteen year old on planet earth that needs to lift weights four days per week and mix in some recovery days and movement training?

If your answer to this question was anything other than “hell no,” then you’re thinking with your wallet and not your head. I make a habit of telling every one of those parents that I refrain from making training frequency recommendations without the benefit of actually assessing an athlete in-person, and that I can’t imagine a scenario where we’d advise for a kid that age to train more than two or three times in a given week.

“But I talked to a guy at XYZ Gym down the road and he insisted that my kid wont make the progress he desires with anything less than four days a week on a twelve month contract. What gives?”

If I make a habit of selling young athletes more training than they need, I’ll eventually be exposed as someone who is more interested in monetizing an immediate opportunity than I am in taking an athlete’s best interests into account. That 13 year old can make great progress in one or two sessions/week, and will soon grow up to buy justified three and four day/week packages from me when the time is right.

Try it Yourself

You’ve probably been programmed to “always be closing” over the years. At the same time, you likely have not been programmed to say no to potential clients who are dying to give you money for services they don’t need. Take a transparent approach to your sales process in moments such as these, and you’ll soon earn the reputation of being a guy who delivers desirable results while maintaining integrity.

People like to recommend that guy’s business to friends.


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