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Column Marketing & Sales

Sales: Old School Versus New School


The fitness industry grew rapidly in the 1990s. If you are over 40-years-old, I predict that you can remember a time when there was one gym in your town. Maybe two. Nowadays, I sometimes see three gyms in towns with less than five thousand people. Things have changed.

The way you approach membership and personal training sales should have also changed over the years. But I know that some gyms have resisted change and continue to operate on old-school systems that simply don’t work like they used to. Here are some of the top ones.

Old school:

Low base pay with high commission. One of my first membership sales jobs earned me $8.00 per hour. But the commission was high. The problem with this approach is you either get candidates who are using the job as a way to break into industries with more lucrative sales jobs, or you get candidates who are fine with coasting on low hourly pay. Either way, it leads to high turnover. It also increases the probability of salespeople breaching ethics to make sales.

New school: 

Good pay, good commissions. You still advertise for a “sales” position, but you let potential candidates know that the guaranteed money is decent, and the opportunity to make good commission is available. For hourly, pay $3 more than local minimum wage. Find out what they pay the baristas at Starbucks, and add a couple of bucks. Email jason@jasonlinse.com with “commissions” in the subject line and include some basic info about your gym, and I will email you back suggested commission structures.

Old school: 

High enrollment fees and drop closing. I remember selling memberships at a gym and saying over and over: “Our regular enrollment fee is $300, but right now it is only $149.” The problem with this is that in the history of the organization, they never charged over $149, let alone $300. When a salesperson is forced to tell an outright lie or even a pseudo lie, you put them in an unfair position.

New school:

Offer $79 or less and trial follow up. You can charge a small enrollment fee, and you should. $49 is perfect in most markets. Studies show that if you collect more than $79 at point of sale, your closing percentage starts dropping fast. And rather than worry about high closing percentages after a first visit, focus on a closing percentage of 65 percent of all leads through the door within 30 days of their first visit. This is because you should be offering a 30-day paid trial membership, which many folks will choose.

Old school:

No personal training sales skills and one-on-one focus. Trainers and coaches do not choose their profession because they wanted to sell, which is why, collectively, trainers are historically bad at selling fitness coaching. Combine that with making them independent contractors and asking them to “eat what they kill” and you get a gym full of members trying to figure it out on their own. And only a small percentage of members can afford traditional one-on-one coaching.

New school:

One personal training salesperson and options for everybody. With some trial and error, you can find that one trainer who can sell. Funnel all leads through this coach and don’t force him or her to shame members by poking, prodding and testing them. These folks already know they are overweight and out of shape. Instead, empower them by putting them through a strength workout, letting them experience what a true coaching experience is like. Then, present them with several options to choose from, including one-on-one, small group and team training.

Get away from old school systems and evolve into the new things that help you make more sales.

Keep changing lives.

Jason Linse

Jason Linse is president and founder of The Business of Fitness, a consulting company. He also owns a personality assessment company called People Plus+ Fitness. Contact him at jason@jasonlinse.com or 612-310-1319 for resources on scheduling more tours and personality assessments, or visit www.jasonlinse.com.

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