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The Devil’s Contract…Don’t Fail Dale! (Carnegie): Part #1

If the Devil had Robert Johnson at a crossroads, then the average punter who wanders in to a ‘globo gym’ foyer ain’t got a chance. They’ll be walking away in forty minutes at one end of an extreme.

If that extreme is high with excitement on their new purchase…hell, they’ve ‘inhaled’. Surely, it will bring them that ‘self’  they’re dreaming of! If that ‘high’ successfully propels you into a start, great. Let’s remember though, unlike home decor, it’s not the purchasing that changes anything. With a gym membership? It’s using it. You can’t sit your membership tag on the coffee table to feel adequate when the neighbours come over. No ‘two years on a recumbent bike’ with Cleo mag sitting over the display. [That said, if you use the membership to achieve your goal…the everyday of  going shopping in a tracksuit may be completely different. That is, not ‘gimme the Betty Crocker frosting and a loaf of mayo sandwiches’.Instead, your scowling checkout girl (who sees a lot of FrootLoops come by on that conveyor) finally erupts:  ‘You come here in Lycra every week. I feel guilty each time!]

Alternatively? The ‘signee’ walks away guilty and alienated.  By a sales technique, an atmosphere, an apparent lack of people who ‘are like them’. You can’t pitch a gym as ‘welcoming, supportive and family-friendly’ if a whacking great blonde poster-goddess sells fat burners from the wall of the Ladies change room. Family friendly my ass. Maybe if you’re from Jersey Shores. ‘Ain’t no Partridge Family here,nossir…that Danny needed to work out more’. He could have wandered vaguely around the weights section, clutching a copy of Men’s Health.

The catch with these two extremes is…a new sign-up can experience both alienation and excitement at once. Possibly in the form of spiralling dread called ‘buyers remorse’. Essential to catching buyer’s remorse? A “membership consultant/customer care officer/(euphemistic predator)”  who makes your average Joe & Josephine feel dirty after shaking a hand. These types are in plentiful supply at globo gyms – but why?  You might think, the greasy and insincere are most keen to chase those tasty targets on the franchise hamster wheel.

The truth? That hamster got minced up long ago.

The juggernaut of sales targets set by head office stops for no rodent. Here’s the spill. Of all those who find themselves doing  it: very few want to be selling gym memberships. A poor base wage, plus unrealistic targets set by head office (in a capital city, with 20 times the population to draw upon)? It’s generous to say any sales person in this system gets a ‘salary’. It’s a retainer: one that’s not enough for any mother to support a child on. Regardless of how many “Look, we have a steam room!”  tours she does (or cold calls, or leads followed, or outreach hours put in at a shopping centre). Hey, at least the kids can forage through the mall bins during outreach hours. “Paleo scraps only, kids! Leave the McPatties for the Atkins rats!”

Your signature stands between that mother, and a paid rent. Groceries. And, workplace dignity.

She’s been trained in Dale Carnegie sales tactics. Then inspiringly head-screwed by a manager  who has been to even more Carnegie classes than she has. That’s why he’s a manager. (Actually, he’s manager because he screwed his second in charge over and occasionally defrauds the business, but hey, that just shows his commitment to ‘the chase’). “Start with an innocuous question they’ll be obliged to politely answer ‘Yes’ to : ‘Are you well? Great day, isn’t it?’. Get them saying yes”. “When you show ’em the details on paper, keep your prices on the left hand side: their visual focus sits on the right.

Salespeople don’t fail,Dale. They just die of desperation. (Or starvation).

The gym’s management strategy determines the tone of their sales team. Survival desperation adds quite a distinct odour  to a sales department.  It’s  an odour that a potential signing can smell. You see, human beings share a herd-safety ability to read each other: a remnant kind of ‘watch-out-for-the-woolly-mammoth’ alarm. The greasy salesman works industriously to distract you against that instinct (it’s how he manages to maintain a social life in the face of some unpleasant characteristics). Give ’em the old razzle-dazzle. That said, that same guy  displays his pecs as a topless waiter on weekends…well, it’s some kind of focus on serving the needs of others. (Yes, involving a cocktail delivery and free-grope-with-tip.) But at least he’s been using the (gym) product he sells: it speaks volumes when so often, the salespeople are not regular trainers themselves.  Overpainted women do well in sales,too. For a while . But between a fog of hangovers (and a bit of gang-banging memberships in), the eligible market quickly narrows.

In this environment, approachable types burn out. They can afford to last a little longer than the single mothers (since sincerity sells to a broad demographic), but  they struggle on (unsupported, unpromoted) in a ‘win a gold star’ culture. The issue with ‘shiny-stickers-and-kudos’ is that, in the long term? Those external, reward-based motivations are  immature motivations.  The sales team you end up with has a new face each week. Members escape their contracts at the first (free) opportunity. Regular clients are mistaken for potentials, and preyed upon if they stand too long in the foyer. Sales managers steal leads and comissions from their teams: if you’re lucky. Someone’s girlfriend, and money from the till usually go too. . Yet managers are surprised when their ferocious sales dog bites the hand that feeds it. Guess them bones just weren’t big enough anymore.

Just like a newly signed gym goer learning to train, membership sales too must evolve from those external, gold-star motivations. What gets you started initially, has to mature  to be sustainable. That evolution is in client retention. The classic symptom of a fundamentally immature, short-term, financially unsustainable  management practice is when customer care and retention goes out the window.

When that happens in a gym, people don’t talk. They walk.

Hold that: they talk amongst themselves, share their dissatisfaction – then even more of them walk. This is why those membership numbers are puzzling ‘Upstairs’. The people on the floor ( p.t. staff and regular clients) know – and no-one is telling. Why would they? The club’s priorities have been clear. The gold-star sales culture is just one unconvincing plastic smile when staff turnover is high…equipment maintenance takes months… there’s no hand soap in the dispensers…the floors are unswept… the steam room is broken…and the front counter tells you to ‘ring the debit company and yell’ about admin errors, rather than ask the gym. The members’ Christmas party?…Dear God, use a bowl for the crackers! A hand-dip in a communal packet does not appeal to people who put sweat towels on shared surfaces.

Clients notice when the contract they’ve signed only runs one way. When the promises people have paid for aren’t kept, the gym experience feels mighty like the receiving end of  ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’.Without the thank-you.  Your sales staff can high-five each other, but Facebook pep-talks never fixed a changeroom hand-drier.

Why prefer a ‘people puree’ of membership statistics? (That is, the numbers that are juiced out of continual turnover.) In a health-associated industry, a perception of integrity starts with the people who are currently buying your service. The greasy slick of being sold a fast-food-fitness experience? It’s enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

Next Post: Part #2 – Who really profits from your signature




2 thoughts on “The Devil’s Contract…Don’t Fail Dale! (Carnegie): Part #1

  1. Pingback: The Gym Devil’s Contract – Don’t Fail Dale! (Carnegie: Part #2 ) | savingboofheads

  2. Pingback: saving boofheads | The Gym Devil’s Contract – Don’t Fail Dale! (Carnegie: Part #2 )saving boofheads

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